In short, DADT must and will end – for a myriad of reasons that have been succinctly argued by LGBT advocates, but it must be ended via the proper channels, and more importantly, ended with everything considered, and the proper pieces put in place to support LGBT servicemembers. Unlike the corporate world – the military isn’t a business, it’s an organization in which everyone has a responsibility toward one another – and such great responsibilities cannot be met without carefully examiming all concerns relating to the well-being of gay servicemembers.
To be sure – I support gay rights, as I always have – and it is in this spirit that I stand against ending the policy as we speak. I do not take such a stand as a way to impede upon the rights of LGBT servicemembers, or to, as many have accused the White House of doing, hold the LGBT community as political hostages. I take such a stand because my experiences in the military point to one thing: the military is not logistically ready to cater to and best serve gay soldiers.
Separate but equal isn’t equal, and neither is saying a particular group is equal, yet lacking the foundations to help it succeed. As of today, if DADT were to end, young sergeants who are responsible for the training, mentoring, development and welfare of soldiers would not have the skills to work with LGBT members. This is not because gay soldiers are inherently different than straight soldiers, but because they possess different lived-experiences, and thus, have different social needs.
Too many times, young NCOs have to help soldiers deal with personal matters – matters that involve their private lives and navigate them toward the right way. Yet, without any formal training, how are young NCOs supposed to do that, with the confidence they are doing what is best for their soldiers? The same concept also applies for chaplains and community service personnel, especially trained with helping soldiers with couples counselings. Until those personnel are trained and ready, having gay soldiers serve openly without systems of support in place is not fair for said soldiers, and is a profound neglect of leadership that every soldier deserves. More specifically, my point is that it is Congress who puts these plans in place, a ruling by a judge on whether DADT is constitutional is simply not good enough. If we’re going to do this, we must do it correctly.
There are also issues of including gay soldiers – and their needs and concerns – into yearly training, to include prevention of sexual harrassment and assault training. At the current moment, said training is heterosexually-focused, and leaves out a great many situations and problems found within the LGBT community. Until the program is overhauled and changed to include gay soldiers, it is impractical for end DADT.
Then, there is also the matter of medical care and support. Are the training given soldiers including facts about high-risk sexual behaviors as well as safer sex? At the moment, while condoms are widely available on base, what is not available are frank and honest discussions, led by qualified healthcare professionals, regarding the sexual health of soldiers. I take this stand not as an attack on the LGBT community, but rather, because I realize that behind all the talks of celebrating love and respecting all relationships, young soldiers will have sex, whether gay or straight, and the issue must be taken head-on, to protect the health of America’s fighting forces.
Another issue to consider: how to smoothly end the policy without disengaging the soldiers who already have negative perceptions of the LGBT community? It’s easy, of course, to say that soldiers should leave the military if they do not like it. But said sentiments are extremely impractical, and further, will create a wedge between soldiers who support LGBT rights and those who do not. In the end, leaders must have an opportunity to hash out, discuss and put in place the tools neccesary to ensure the transition is a smooth one, for all soldiers. In the end, policies are made via possibilities, rather than what is desired. Such is the case here. Every LGBT supporter may want to end the DADT now, but ending it without a network of support is still as problematic as DADT on its own.
Matters of equality need to also be discussed – does the end of DADT mean the Equal Opportunity Office will include the history of gay persons and achievements as parts of its monthly celebration? If so, to whom should it turn for guidance, and to which extent should be celebrate? Equal Opportunity celebrations within the military are dictated by the law, and thus, the law must also be clear on why, where and when – or if at all – gay rights and histories should be celebrated within the military.
Lastly, there is the issue of the law – while I will leave the judiciary argument for Time Magazine, which did a wonderful job at arguing why a challenge from the Obama administration was important, from a precedence and future cases view points, what I want to focus on are the laws of entitlement. In the states in which LGBT members are allowed to get married, what are their entitlements and benefits within the military, especially for Guard members, who are from those states? Are they entitled to separation pay during combat? Are they entitled to married persons’ rates of housing allowances? In cases of serious injuries, who gets to make the decisions that affect their lives? Will gay marriage only be recognized in duty stations or Guard units in which the state recognizes gay marriage?
These questions, and so many more, regarding how to best serve gay soldiers, must be answered before DADT is ended. We all want to see gay servicemembers get the same rights as the rest of us, but we must also do so correctly, and dot all our I’s and cross our T’s, for if we do not, we’ll create a generation of soldiers who are equal, but on paper only.
Thus the goal of the Obama White House must be, at the moment, ordering studies – as he has done, and to put plans in place, creating Standing Operating Procedures and programs, to let LGBT members serve openly. Only after those plans have been satisfactory shown to be beneficial to LGBT servicemembers should DADT be repealed.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell must end, but only in due time, for if we end it now, we run the risk of handing gay Americans freedoms, but not benefits and entitlements they need to succeed. Freedom without support is not – just ask the millions of Southern slaves who were freed, yet received nothing to help them achieve true freedom.