Dixon Osborn serves as Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). Everyday, this remarkable organization fights to protect the rights of military servicemembers who are part of the LGBT community. Hundreds of brave men and women have turned to SLDN for legal assistance so that they can continue to serve their country. SLDN estimates that tens of thousands members of the LGBT community have served in Iraq. SLDN is at the forefront of the battle in Congress to lift the horrible “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy established by President Clinton in 1993. This organization serves and protects brave men and women on a daily basis and deserves our praise.
Lift the Ban
by Dixon Osborn
Before today ends, at least two more service members will be fired. Not because of a failure of duties; not because they are unqualified; not because they are unwilling to serve. But simply because they happen to be lesbian, gay or bisexual. Since 1993, under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on open service, more than 11,000 men and women have been booted from our armed services. They include doctors, helicopter pilots, combat engineers and Arabic linguists. About 800 of those 11,000, according to the Government Accountability Office, had skills deemed ‘mission-critical’ by the Pentagon. Their ejection from the services, there can be no doubt, has had an impact on our national security and our country’s commitment to ‘liberty and justice for all.’
Today, what is ‘mission-critical’ is the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It is too costly – both financially and resource-wise – to our country. It flies in the face of our ideals as a nation. And it dishonors the service of 65,000 lesbian and gay Americans already on duty, and another 1 million gay veterans who have served our country with pride.
At long last, the ‘tipping point’ on gays in the military has arrived. We are at a critical moment in the movement to topple the ban. And every day, each of us at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network knows we are one step closer to ending this un-American law once and for all. Here’s why.
Attitudes in the military are changing. In 1993, barely 20% of military personnel supported gays serving openly. A December 2006 Zogby Poll found that 3 out of 4 service members are now comfortable with gays. In 1993, few military leaders voiced any support for open service. Today, many are on our side, including retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili; Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, USA (Ret.); former West Point Superintendent Daniel Christman; and retired General Wesley Clark, among others. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with the military’s dire need for good people, has resulted in a fresh perspective on this issue for many inside the services. It no longer makes sense, they finally understand, to lose good people who can get the job done.
Attitudes in our country are changing, too. An overwhelming 79% of the American public now supports lifting the ban and allowing us to serve openly. Polls show that a majority of conservatives and regular church-goers all support gays serving openly. Respected conservative leaders like former Senator Alan Simpson, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and former Reagan Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb all agree the time has come to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
And today, perhaps for the first time, we have clear evidence – directly from the horse’s mouth – that the real justification behind the law is not military readiness, unit cohesion or anything similar. It is pure homophobia and personal discomfort. When, last month, General Peter Pace spoke out in favor of the ban, using ‘morality’ as his justification, he pulled the veil off the law. General Pace shined a bright light on the true reasoning behind the exclusion of gay troops. And he tried to use his outdated, personal opinions to influence national policy. But the nation fought back.
The debate about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is back on the front burner and the front pages. Presidential candidates are lining up to issue strong statements about their commitment to repeal. A bi-partisan coalition of more than 110 lawmakers is fighting the ban in Congress. And twelve lesbian, gay and bisexual veterans – all dismissed under the law – are fighting back in federal court, challenging the constitutionality of the law. An impressive coalition has been born, and it includes advocates, advocacy groups (including People for the American Way, Log Cabin Republicans, American Veterans for Equal Rights, The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and The Human Rights Campaign, among others), veterans and other important leaders.
Senator Simpson recently wrote that, “This policy has become a serious detriment to the readiness of America’s forces as they attempt to accomplish what is arguably the most challenging mission in our long and cherished history.” And he went to ask “Is there a ‘straight’ way to translate Arabic? Is there a ‘gay’ Farsi? My God, we’d better start talking sense before it is too late. We need every able-bodied, smart patriot to help us win this war.”
More and more Americans, from every walk of life, are agreeing with the Senator. With such overwhelming support on our side, there is no question: The days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are numbered and its repeal is no longer a matter of decades, but perhaps just a few years.
Our allies and advocates are coming together to demand change, and together, we will lift the ban.