Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Victory - On the Home Front

Originally Posted on December 23, 2010

There was a time when serving in the military was not in the cards. Being gay and serving your country in peacetime meant sacrifices to the integrity of a solider, sailor or Marine. Our lives went against the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) – as it is as legislated in a majority of the states of this union.

Then, our window of hope soon became available. To fulfill his promise of equality for GLBT persons per his election in 1992, then-President Bill Clinton wanted to eliminate the barriers for openly gay active duty personnel in the Department of Defense (DOD) to serve on an equal basis than their heterosexual counterparts. The precedence was there – when President Harry S. Truman integrated the armed forced in the aftermath of World War II.

Unfortunately, the promise never was fulfilled. Instead, in 1993, Clinton compromised into a policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). It gave GLBT uniformed personnel the ability to serve their country by compromising their integrity – to stay quiet about their sexual orientation. Since the implementation of that policy, over 13,000 active duty personnel were discharged for being out and proud.

President Barack Obama knew the cost of these discharges. However, the mission of the armed forces changed. Instead of peacetime, the United States military were charged to avenge the attacks against New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon of September 11, 2001. As Commander-in-Chief, Obama was simply stuck with two fronts from his predecessor: Iraq and Afghanistan. Ultimately, uniformed GLBT personnel had an even higher stake in these operations in the Middle East while pinned against the pall of DADT.

The President did promise to end this policy – but not to do so via an Executive Order. Instead, Obama engaged the Pentagon, the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to find out whether the armed forces were ready for a repeal of the policy or not. Obama also stated that it would ultimately be the decision of Congress to end the policy. These did not satisfy the activists completely and the community’s impatience grew alongside the avarice of the right-wing movement pushing towards segregation on the basis of sexual orientation.

Guess what? It worked. The Department of Defense issued a report stating that the rank-and-file and their officers would be ready for a truly integrated military. That report provided Congress the impetus to put the repeal to vote. In both houses, the vote survived Filibusters from the right with clear majorities. On Wednesday, the President of the United States signed the repeal into law.

Great – <i>what’s next?</i> Before the repeal can be implemented in the DOD, it needs to be certified by the Commander-in-Chief, the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs whether open service by its uniformed GLBT personnel will not impede the readiness of the military as a whole. This is not a swift action. It will take education throughout the armed forces from the highest officer ranks down to the rank-in-file to ensure that the repeal of DADT results in a professional force charged to defend this country and its allies worldwide. This is not small action – and the President knows it. Yet, the President wants this process to be “swift.” I would expect this will take some time considering some changes in Congress come next month.

There is a catch to the repeal of DADT, however. If the policy is certified to not impede military readiness, there are still many things that will not be available to armed forces personnel. Since only a small fraction of this country recognize the legal status of same-gender couples, if a soldier, sailor or Marine dies, partner benefits will not be available as it is to heterosexual couples.

There is also the issue regarding provisions in the UCMJ in terms of sexual conduct. These provisions ensure that both heterosexual and homosexual armed forces personnel not find themselves in sexual conduct unbecoming of their place in the military. GLBT armed forced personnel know that their loyalty to their country in defense of it means complete obedience to their superiors – all the way through the Commander-in-Chief. But, what if an officer wants to get rid of a gay soldier, sailor or Marine? What of a fellow compatriot’s homophobia want to justify some ulterior agenda to drum out the odd duck in the ranks? Who is to say that these provisions regarding sexual conduct in the UCMJ would be used against GLBT armed forces personnel?

It is perhaps prudent when the Department of Defense prepares to implement the repeal of DADT that they address this issue. That way, the DOD can also eliminate potential “back door” methods using those provisions in the UCMJ to continue discharging GLBT personnel from the armed forces.

A lot of us in the GLBT are ecstatic that the President, Congress and the DOD were able to come together to reverse an embarrassing period of our history. I, however, join the chorus of positive responses through an old Apartheid-era rally cry spoken in Xhosa (and Zulu): “Amandla! Awethu!” - Power to the people!

This is only one victory – and it’s huge. The armed forces will become stronger now that all personnel can concentrate on the job they were sworn to do. Discharged personnel will be able to be reinstated to finish their duty to their country. We can continue to pave the way for complete equality on many facets of American life – including the legal recognition of same-gender couples.

“Amandla! Awethu!” indeed!

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