The following official statement concerning the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the statute banning “homosexual acts” by service members has been submitted for the record by American Veterans for Equal Rights to the Senate Armed Services Committee. A duplicate version has also been submitted for the record to the House Armed Services Committee.
STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD OF
AMERICAN VETERANS FOR EQUAL RIGHTS
SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE
REPEAL OF THE DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL POLICY
Chairman Levin, Ranking Member McCain, and members of the Committee, American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) would like to thank you for the opportunity to present our views on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy and the ban against openly gay and lesbian personnel serving in the United States Armed Forces. As the oldest and largest gay veterans service organization in the United States, AVER is composed of military veterans from all service branches, men and women, officer and enlisted, having served in all conflicts from World War II to Afghanistan and Iraq. As proud veteran service members we support the mission of our nation’s military and we care about the success of America’s armed forces and the well being of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who serve in our uniformed services. AVER is in a unique position to offer a perspective based on the experience of gay and lesbian soldiers who have served in the military and would see no harm come to the honor, integrity, or proficiency of the armed services in which we ourselves served or the morale of those to whom we passed the torch of freedom.
AVER supports the removal of the DADT ban in this year’s Defense Authorization Bill for the safety of our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the successful completion of our mission in those countries, the security of our homeland against terrorism, the continued crucial expansion of diversity in our military, and the integrity of the forces directly charged with the defense of the United States Constitution. We believe that the ban on gay service members directly endangers the lives of our troops by removing critical combat support, and compromises the security of our nation by removing vital resources at a time when we are demonstrably stretched to a dangerous limit, all for a policy that can be proven to accomplish nothing more than damaging the morale of soldiers and the success of units, and the undermining of the military’s primary defense of our constitution by supporting a form of discrimination which is clearly opposed to the freedoms proclaimed within it.
Virtually every nation with which the United States now ally ourselves in the “free world” has dropped its ban on openly gay and lesbian service members with no detrimental effect to the unit cohesion necessary to military success. These countries include Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Great Britain, which is not only our closest and most faithful ally with whom we are currently engaged in a joint combat operation in Afghanistan, but the nation which shares the most similar cultural roots with the United States and has a military that is all volunteer, tactically superior, and battle-tested.
Of all the nations that no longer discriminate against gay and lesbian soldiers, the British military command fought longest and hardest against lifting their ban on openly gay service members. The legendary image of the celebrated British military was at stake. The British Ministry of Defense commissioned a detailed assessment on the effects of allowing gay troops to serve openly, and despite the overwhelming evidence from other countries that openly gay service had not undermined performance, the commission concluded that the ban should be retained because surveys of British military personnel indicated that the majority of troops preferred not to serve with openly gay people. Many of those surveyed said they would refuse to work with gay soldiers or obey commands given by a gay officer. When the European Court of Human Rights forced the British military to remove its ban in 1999, the Ministry of Defense begrudgingly gave in and removed the ban with the expectation of mass desertions and the degradation of centuries of illustrious British military tradition. Nothing happened. The British military experienced exactly the same result as every other military that had lifted its ban on openly gay military service members: no effect on morale, no disruption of unit cohesion, no damage to military effectiveness. Nothing.
Supporters of DADT claim that foreign militaries have easily accepted openly gay service members because they are somehow different from the American military. These critics claim that foreign soldiers are somewhat effete, effeminate, or “girlish” compared to American soldiers, and are therefore more culturally inclined to accept gay soldiers who are assumed to be equally effeminate. AVER suggests that these critics be introduced to a pair of Aussie drill sergeants in a private alley where they can express their beliefs in person. Regardless, the insinuation is that American soldiers could not successfully integrate gay and lesbian service members the way our allies have done.
AVER proudly affirms that we have the best trained and most professional military force on the planet, and if other nations can lift their bans with no adverse effect then the United States can not only do the same but do it more quickly and more efficiently. To claim otherwise is to insult the intelligence and discipline of America’s fighting men and women. The professionalism of United States service members should not be called into question. We are second to none. Anything they can do we can do better.
Other critics claim that lifting the ban at a time when our nation is involved in two wars overseas would be too disruptive to the armed forces. AVER does not believe that any military resources should be diverted from the war effort in order to implement inclusion. Nor do we believe that such resources will be necessary. Again, our allies have stopped discriminating against gay and lesbian troops and there has been no negative effect on military performance or morale. AVER believes that the fact we are engaged in two difficult wars is exactly the reason that the ban should be lifted as soon as possible, because the ban costs the lives of America’s soldiers engaged in combat.
No American soldier should ever die on the battlefield because the medic who could have saved his life was kicked out of the military for being gay. This life-and-death situation is where the “rubber hits the road” with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The policy removes highly trained personnel who are necessary to save the lives of our soldiers. No one, from Commandant to private, has the right to tell a soldier that he is better off dead than having a gay or lesbian trauma care specialist save his life. Removal of the ban on openly gay military personnel will save the lives of American soldiers. Plain and simple. If you care about soldiers as we do, you will give them the tools necessary for survival and success. Give them those tools now. Lift the ban.
It goes without saying that the loss of gay and lesbian intelligence experts and translators further cripples a security net already stretched beyond tolerance. How many near misses should the American people tolerate before they demand that Congress find more resources to protect us from terrorists rather than removing highly skilled personnel already in place? How much wasted tax money in the cost of expensive technical training will they accept because our government puts more emphasis on the removal of skilled technicians rather than the retention of highly trained security experts? America must have every resource and every single person available to us in the war to defeat the terrorist threat. DADT costs qualified people and weakens America’s defenses. DADT must go.
United States military commanders deployed overseas clearly do not believe that openly gay soldiers are detrimental to unit cohesion or morale because they routinely retain newly “outed” gay soldiers in the field until their units return home from combat. Because the military understands the essential role that each highly specialized soldier plays in today’s mechanized combat units, commanders know that the loss of one soldier leads to the break down of the entire machine. Nothing damages morale or more greatly jeopardizes the success of a military unit than losing a crucial part of a highly tuned team. The results of the removal of vital team members are degraded performance and extra work for personnel, and that does nothing to promote unit morale or cohesion. Nor does the removal of a dedicated and faithful member of the unit for no valid reason do much to reinforce the essential trust of their fellow soldiers that the military will take care of all service members as promised. Commanders are reinforcing trust and securing success by ignoring the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy or finding ways around it. Clearly, if they felt openly gay and lesbian troops were dangerous to cohesion or morale they would remove them immediately. But they don’t. Give our commanders what they need to succeed. Lift the ban. Do it now.
Ironically, the military has begun to expound on the merits of diversity while some members of Congress still choose to discriminate against our fellow citizens. Command Sergeant Major Hector G. Marin, who assumed the top enlisted position at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 2007, spoke of “strength in diversity” at his installation ceremony. According to Marin, “the many races, ethnicities, religions and creeds” that “make America strong” also help “make the Army strong”. “We take young men and women from all backgrounds, some who come from several generations of Americans and some who are first generation Americans, and turn them into a force with a common focus, the defense of our great way of life. We understand better than most that success has nothing to do with the color of your skin, where you were born, or the type of religion to which you belong. In fact, we know there is only one color of importance to the Soldier and that is Army green… It was only in 1948, when President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order that led to the integration of the military, that we really started on the road to becoming the model of meritocracy that our military is today.”
The Army’s first four-star female general, General Ann E. Dunwoody, Commander, U.S. Army Materiel Command, continued the theme of diversity in a speech on March 6, 2009. “Your Army considers diversity a strength – and we proudly lead the nation in offering equal opportunity to all”. These same sentiments were echoed by General George Casey, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, who stated in the wake of the Ft. Hood mass shooting tragedy by a Muslim Army officer, “Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.”
The words of these exceptional soldiers are not just lip service. Diversity is a strength to our armed forces because wherever in the world our soldiers go to perform their duty they are likely to already have experience with the diverse people they meet because of the diversity they experience in the military itself. Additionally, when the US military arrives in other countries in support of freedom, the first thing people see is Americans in uniform who are black, white, Latino, Asian, male, female, gay, straight, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, all working together as one single unified team. This is the very essence of the freedom we present as the ultimate American value, the ability to overcome differences and work together as equals towards a common goal. American soldiers are already serving with and taking orders from openly gay and lesbian officers and enlisted troops in the ranks of our allies fighting by our side in Afghanistan.
Our troops already have experience in serving with openly gay soldiers. It is nothing to fear. We need to give more credit to the young soldiers who compose the vast majority of today’s military. They are free from many of the prejudices that burden the generations of their leaders. Do not underestimate the flexibility and courage of America’s best and brightest.
Finally, honored members of the Committee, the ban against openly gay and lesbian service members undermines the very mission of our military, which is now and has always been to defend the sacred liberties that are enshrined in our constitution. Perhaps not every young recruit who raises his or her hand to take the Oath of Enlistment in the US military has read every word of the constitution. But AVER does believe in our hearts that each of those young men and women has a clear understanding that they have just made a promise that is truly special in all the world, a promise for which they are prepared if necessary to give their lives, a promise that puts them among the number of a deeply honored group of freedom fighters. They have made a promise to hold the line in defense of liberty and equality.
There is much more at stake with DADT than a simple military policy. “Once a marine, always a marine” must be understood to mean every marine, including gay and lesbian marines. “The Army always takes care of its own” must mean that gay and lesbian soldiers, too, are a valued member of the family that will never leave one of its own behind. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell endangers much more than the technical elements of the modern military. It endangers traditions and truths that lie at the very heart of America and our military. It endangers the aspirations to which countless oppressed people have dreamt great dreams. Equality. Integrity. Justice.
In opposing Harry Truman’s plan to integrate racial minorities into the military in 1948, General Omar N. Bradley wrote, “We all realize that the donning of a uniform does not change a man’s personality, his aptitude or his prejudices”. With all due respect to that great hero, America is better than that. We must be better than that.
When I became one of the first victims of Don’t Ask Don’t tell in 1994 following a statement I made in support of lifting the ban, I probably came closer to honoring my oath to defend the constitution than in the 6 preceding years I had served in the US Army. Honored fathers, please do not chain a new generation of American warriors with old ideas foreign to their own understanding of “liberty and justice for all”. They are America’s future, a future that must continue the dream of one great nation forged from many diverse peoples. Let these young people shape their own vision of America. Give them your confidence and your moral courage. Give them a chance. Support them. Lift the ban.
This concludes AVER’s testimony on this crucial issue. We who once swore an oath to defend our nation’s freedom have never forgotten our promise to keep vigil and stand ready. We would be honored to answer any questions.