Doublethink on Don't Ask Don't Tell


On January 27, 2010, President Obama promised America to put an end to Don't Ask Don't Tell this year. But just five days later, at a closed-door meeting with select LGBT leaders at the White House, administrations officials indicated they would not push for the DADT repeal to be included in this year's Defense Authorization bill. More recently, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has indicated that the administration will sit on its hands until December 1st, 2010, to wait for the results of a Pentagon study on the issue; Senator Carl Levin has said the White House wants Congress to wait for the study before taking legislative action.

Let's not pretend that the idea of a study to determine the effects of DADT is anything other than myopic, patronizing, and offensive. DADT isn't an issue to be studied or a policy to be reviewed. It's blatant discrimination that needs to end. And it doesn't just affect people in the military: when the government enforces the closet, it hurts all bisexuals, gays, and lesbians by making us less visible.

But don't we need to know whether gays serving openly would damage "unit cohesion"? That study has already been done. Twice. The Pentagon's current review, by contrast, is using its time to literally poll homosexual troops about their thoughts on ending DADT. "How would you feel about keeping your job?" "Actually, I'd prefer it if you suddenly ended my career for an arbitrary reason unrelated to my performance."

While the White House wants us to believe that we can wait until December to repeal DADT. And December is still this year, right? Sure. But because of Senate procedure and the impending elections, waiting until December could mean that DADT won't be repealed at all.

If you want to see DADT repealed, you should get on the phone right now.

The issue is urgent because waiting until December would mean the DADT repeal would be put out as a stand-alone bill, making it a lot easier for Republicans to block. "You can't do the standalone bill," says Representative Barney Frank. "It belongs in the defense authorization." Tacking other issues to the Defense Authorization is a proven way for Democrats to pass measures that would result in a legislative battle or filibuster if they stood on their own. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed this way last year. Now, without an urgent bill like Defense Authorization that the repeal can piggyback on, delay tactics might push the issue into the next Congressional term. Depending on the results of the midterm election, this could mean the end of the repeal effort.

Now, there's been quite a bit of conflict recently among LGBT advocates about the effort to repeal DADT. One of the main issues is that the HRC wasn't honest about the White House's lack of enthusiasm on DADT, even though they were represented at the February 1st meeting. The criticism is completely valid, but what's urgent right now is getting DADT repealed--and as a practical matter, the HRC's strategy of lobbying key Senators seem like a necessary part of the effort. It's also one that you can get on board with immediately, right from where you are.

The HRC has identified six Senators that need to be lobbied for the DADT repeal to have a chance of passing:

  • Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) 202-224-5623
  • Sen. Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts) 202-224-4543
  • Sen. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) 202-224-3954
  • Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) 202-224-6551
  • Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) 202-224-5274
  • Sen. Jim Webb (D-Virginia) 202-224-4024

These are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is in charge of writing the bill. If DADT is included in committee, it's almost guaranteed to pass the Senate.

If you oppose Don't Ask Don't Tell, you should make phone calls to all of these Senators. It will take ten minutes. I am making mine right now. Just leave a message--phone calls do make a difference, and you're not the only one making calls this week. Some talking points (mostly from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network):

  • Don't Ask Don't Tell is discrimination. This is a government policy that tells people they're not good enough to serve their country--not because they lack the strength or the skills--but because of who they are.
  • It's irresponsible to continue Don't Ask Don't Tell in a time of war. DADT is hurting the military. More than 13,500 service members have been fired under the law since 1994. The military has discharged almost 800 mission-critical troops and at least 59 Arabic and nine Farsi linguists under DADT in the last five years.
  • Don't Ask Don't Tell is a waste of money. The first decade of Don't Ask Don't Tell cost taxpayers at least $364 million.
  • Seventy-five percent of Americans support gays serving openly. Majorities of military members, churchgoers, conservatives, and Republicans favor the repeal.
  • All of the relevant studies have already been done. Openly gay people don't hurt the military. A 1993 RAND Corporation study showed that openly gay people in the U.S. military do not negatively impact unit cohesion, morale, good order, or military readiness. 
  • One in four U.S. troops who served in Afghanistan or Iraq knows a member of their unit who is gay.

Since President Obama has failed to lead, it's up to us to push for a DADT repeal.


Johannes, great post. What do you think about the "Don't Ask, Don't Give" campaign launched by John Aravosis? Assuming the Democrats (yet again) balk at repeal this year, does it make sense for LGBTs to not donate to the Democratic Party? Does that help or hurt? I'm very conflicted about this and would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for bringing peoples' attention to this important issue.

I understand why waiting until December is not good, and many of the other reasons why repealing DADT isn't something we should be okay waiting for. However, there is a part of me that would love to see it appear as a standalone bill. It might dampen its chances of being passed (so for practical reasons I hesitate to support this route) but at least it would force individual lawmakers to take a stand on this issue. This, maybe, speaks to Ryan's point: we shouldn't support anyone who doesn't represent us-- especially on these critical issues of discrimination; what a better way to make this an easier choice for voters/donors than to demand a clear display of support or opposition by those we elect?

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