Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell vs. Stop-Loss

AVER Press Release

A.J. Rogue
National President, American Veterans for Equal Rights
March 25, 2005

According to figures recently released by the Pentagon, the number of gay and lesbian service members discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy has dropped considerably since the September 11th terrorist attack, and is at its lowest since the Defense Department began keeping such records in 1997.

Should the decline in these discharge numbers be taken as a good sign? Does this mean that perhaps our Armed Forces, like the rest of American Society, have begun to adopt a more lenient approach toward its GLBT personnel?

Surprisingly, the answer to that question appears to be yes. Although it is true that, during a time of war or conflict, an administrative order called a stop-loss order is issued, the order does not apply to gays and lesbians facing discharge from the military. According to attorney Sharon Alexander, a staff attorney with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, gay discharges are explicitly carved out from the stop loss order. Meaning the military must continue to carry out discharges of gays and lesbians, and would do so regardless of whether the stop-loss order is in effect.

According to Alexander, SLDN is in fact interpreting the drop in discharge numbers as a sign of increased acceptance of gays in the military. As a lawyer who handles dozens of such cases a day, she admits to seeing a notable number of cases each month in which commanders are refusing to discharge folks who state they are gay. Whether or not it’s just to keep them for a deployment, or to fill manpower quotas, no one can really be sure. Perhaps it truly is because the military is beginning to buy less and less into the idea of the law. In Alexander’s opinion, more and more commanders appear willing to look the other way in order to avoid having to enforce Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Whatever the number of discharges is, the number is still far too many. The drop in numbers has no bearing on the fact that gays and lesbians are still being discriminated against, their value only recognized when it’s vital to our national security. Once the war in Iraq is over, the persecution of these individuals will continue, and the number of discharges will climb once again.

As if being discharged—or fired, as is really the case—weren’t enough, many of these individuals face additional problems in the future. Widespread cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, something normally common among combat veterans, are beginning to crop up among the estimated 1 million GLBT veterans in the U.S. Medical experts attribute this to the environment under which GLBT military individuals are forced to endure; the constant fear of being exposed and fired, or worse, as in the not too distant murders of Pfc. Barry Winchell and Seaman Allen Schindler. Both were murdered at the hands of fellow comrades in the military.

The real tragedy remains the fact that qualified—and sometimes overqualified—men and women are still being kicked out simply for who they love. With no regard given to performance or at what cost was spent to train that particular individual. The military, solely because of sexual orientation, is firing thousands of vital people such as doctors and foreign language experts, during a critical time in our nation’s history; at a time when terrorism has become an ugly cloud we’ve been forced to live under, something that is unlikely to change soon.

What is truly ironic is the fact that, while gays and lesbians struggle to stay in, homosexuality has been used in the past to avoid service. Something which undoubtedly would happen again should the draft be reinstated, a definite possibility if the war in Iraq continues much longer, or if things with Iran continue to heat up. Already the military has begun tapping into the Inactive Ready Reserves; men and women ranging anywhere from 20 years of age and up. For some of the older men and women, it’s been decades since they’ve worn a uniform or received any sort of military training. Yet they’re being called to active duty.

The message the U.S. is delivering to its estimated 65,000 active duty GLBT servicemembers is even less flattering. The truth of the matter is, and this is something our military is hard-pressed to accept, any form of discrimination against individuals in the military should not be allowed to exist, period. These people should be allowed to serve. Not just allowed, they should be acknowledged with as much praise and recognition as their straight counterparts. Hallowed as the patriotic American heroes they are, whose only desire is to serve their country, while at the same time remaining true to themselves.

Why is this so important? Does one’s sexuality really have relevance on the field of battle? You bet it does. Imagine being one of the 65,000 aforementioned individuals, stationed in Iraq. Imagine having a lover, husband/wife or significant other back home and being unable to share your feelings of loneliness with the others around you; or if you do, having to swap pronouns—he for she, or vice-versa. Even writing letters home can put an individual at risk since, because of security reasons, mail is susceptible to being opened and read. The same is true for telephone calls, which are routinely monitored as a matter of security.

While it may indeed be a good sign, the decrease in the numbers of gays and lesbians being discharged post 9/11 is but a drop in the bucket compared to the countless lives that have already been ruined by the discriminatory policies that have existed within our military services; discriminatory policies that existed long before DADT. Our goal should not only be to abolish DADT. We need to make sure that nothing can ever take its place. Discrimination has no place in today’s U.S. Armed Forces.