OPINION: DADT’s dead, just waiting for the service
Stars and Stripes June 24, 2011
JD Smith will write more columns detailing his perspective as repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is implemented.
The last few months living under “don’t ask, don’t tell” have been some of the most interesting in my life. For some serving, the time has been the hardest of their career. On Dec. 22, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the legislation that started the process to repeal DADT. I was one of only a few active-duty servicemembers in the room as he signed the legislation. It was a surreal experience to see the signing of legislation that would literally change my daily life. I never thought that by this time the policy would still be in place, but I now believe we are in the last 90 days of the policy.
Nearly a year ago, I co-founded an organization, OutServe, which launched to help facilitate the transition to open service. It was modeled from a British operation called Proud2Serve, which was founded by gay British troops. Using online forums, Proud2Serve helped raise issues to the chain of command and help gay military members connect with one another. OutServe, using hidden social media, has now connected more than 3,500 actively serving gay military personnel around the world, including in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s helped facilitate growing gay communities in the military that never existed before, even before repeal has taken effect. It has allowed us to monitor across the branches how training has gone and how life after repeal is going to be.
For the past several months, we witnessed DADT falling quickly on its own, even without certification. Gays and lesbians who were currently serving were approached by colleagues about their sexuality and most were being honest about it. I found myself in plenty of arguments in my unit about whether the policy actually even existed anymore. Local commanders were willing to start investigations on gay soldiers, but the discharges never came to fruition once at the highest levels.
This, unfortunately, created situations where active-duty military members were pawns in a political game of hot potato. In all reality, DADT has been dead the past few months. If any negative effects were to have happened, they would have already occurred. Only one person has been fired, yet an increasing number of gay servicemembers are living openly.
The reason for not ending the policy officially yet has been training. Training was done for the most part professionally and the Pentagon had the right intentions with it. However, from the perspective of a gay servicemember, nothing can make you feel more uncomfortable than having to sit in a classroom while others are being told how to “deal with you.” There is something inherently lost when people are held back from having an honest discussion about who they are and how the atmosphere around them affects their job performance.
When I sat through my training, someone asked the question, “What happens if a man shows up wearing a female dress?” All I could do was bury my head in my hands and ask if this was really happening. The typical “shower” question came up and a fellow straight servicemember quickly turned the question against him as he pointed out that he was the one singing Katy Perry in the shower that morning.
Instead of instructing soldiers they are not at risk for HIV infection when the policy changes, servicemembers should be told about how there are gays and lesbians currently serving who are making the exact same sacrifices they are.
A few months ago, I worked with the family of Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, a gay soldier who died in Afghanistan from a roadside bomb. The family had the courage to go on camera and tell the story of their son Andrew and how he was treated in his unit. According to his family, everyone in his unit knew he was gay and nobody cared.
Andrew’s father recently shared a letter with me he received from his son’s Army buddies still deployed in Afghanistan. Andrew’s comrades decided to name their combat outpost after him. Those soldiers didn’t need a PowerPoint presentation to learn respect of their fallen comrade. They respected Andrew because he had their back.
In the next few months, “don’t ask, don’t tell” will end, and when it does it will be exactly like Y2K. The day DADT ends, one gay servicemember will turn to a straight friend to tell him he’s gay and a discussion will happen for 10 minutes, until the straight servicemember realizes it’s a very boring conversation to have. What will matter is leadership. Leadership of gay servicemembers to be honest about themselves and the leadership of straight servicemembers to create an atmosphere of respect. This column was started with that intention: to share what is happening across the ranks with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” to share personal accounts of the change of the policy, and to address any situations that arise.
The baton is about to be passed and it’s now our time to lead.
JD Smith is the pseudonym of an Air Force officer and a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate who is also co-director of OutServe, the association of actively serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military personnel. He can be contacted via Twitter (@JDSmithOS) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/JDOutServe).
The opinions expressed in his columns are his alone and are not connected to his service in the Air Force or to the Department of Defense.