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'Don't ask...' repeal is step in right direction

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POSTED: October 3, 2011 4:00 p.m.

Kudos to the United States for repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which banned openly gay Americans from serving in the U.S. military since it was introduced in 1993. It’s about time we brought the military into the 21st century.

It’s a shame that people who are gay were denied the opportunity to serve their country for so long. Those who did serve had to do so while living lies and hiding their sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians who wanted to enlist were forced by the military to hide who they were, yet that same military preaches integrity — honesty and truthfulness — as one of its core values. That never made sense to me.

I’ve been told that unit cohesion, especially among combat troops, would suffer the most with the repeal of DADT. Some troops come from conservative backgrounds and may have grown up with misconceptions and a lack of exposure to gays and lesbians. I understand that they may not feel comfortable participating in certain discussions and activities in a combat zone knowing there’s a gay man around. However, it’s time to take a step toward eliminating that narrow-mindedness.

I know I can’t possibly understand this concept completely because I’ve never served in the military. But I do know that if I was in a warzone and someone was shooting at me, I wouldn’t care whether the guy next to me liked men or women. All I’d care about is if he’s got my back and whether he can shoot straight.

Iraq War veteran and former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy said the following while challenging a witness during past DADT hearings: “You’re basically asserting that straight men and women in our military aren’t professional enough to serve openly with gay troops while completing their military missions. You know, as a former Army officer, I can tell you I think that’s an insult to me and to many of the soldiers. … It was 24 countries that allow military personnel to serve openly without any detrimental impact on unit cohesion.”

I imagine that leaders were worried about unit cohesion in 1948 when the military was integrated thanks to an executive order that mandated equal treatment and opportunity for people of all race, color, religion and national origin. Leaders may have been worried about unit cohesion that same year when the Women’s Armed Services Act allowed women to serve in fully integrated units during peacetime. But here we are in 2011, and I don’t think most people even think twice about seeing a black soldier or a female soldier walking down the street in uniform. I just hope it doesn’t take 63 years for us to be able to say the same thing about accepting an openly gay or lesbian soldier walking down the street in uniform.

“The (DADT) policy is an absurdity and borderline on being an obscenity. What it does is cause people to ask of themselves that they lie to themselves, that they pretend to be something that they are not,” former Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander has said, according to change.org. “There is no empirical evidence that would indicate that it affects military cohesion. There is a lot of evidence to say that the biases of the past have been layered onto the United States Army.”

Studies were conducted to ensure that the repeal would not harm military readiness. I know the government doesn’t always seem to do what’s best for its citizens, but in this case, I don’t think our officials would have supported the repeal if there was a real possibility that it could jeopardize our armed forces and national security.

As Gen. John M. Skalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, once said of the inevitable repeal: “There will undoubtedly be some teething pains, but I have no doubt our leadership can handle it.”

Keep in mind that there always have been gays and lesbians serving in the military — they just couldn’t be open about who they loved or were attracted to. But they still served and supported our country. Just because they’re allowed to serve openly now doesn’t mean they’re going to excessively flaunt their sexuality to their coworkers.

Also keep in mind that people can’t help who they love or who they are attracted to. No one should be denied the opportunity to serve their country as long as they can keep up and serve honorably.

To all of you in the military, I’m asking you to please be patient as we “reintegrate” our forces. I know that for some of you, it’s not easy. It won’t happen overnight, but eventually most people will be OK with the idea. For others, the repeal is a dream come true. Just remember that we’re all on the same side, fighting for freedom for the good guys.

 

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