Azimuth Check: DADT Edition

A potpourri of thoughts regarding the military policy of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT) that was eliminated reinstated repealed partiallyreinstated stayed. I can’t figure out where it is now. I think it is still in effect, but I’m not quite sure.

Oh boy, now these folks are really going to be ticked-off.

I agree with half of the policy. The Don’t Ask part is completely appropriate and consistent with how our government should generally treat its citizens. A person’s sexual orientation is none of their damn business. As far as the last half, I have no use for the threat of losing one’s job for revealing one’s preferred sexuality.

Which brings me to the topics du jour…

Who Suffers Because of DADT?

I’ve represented dozens of servicemembers impacted by the US Military’s Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT) policy. While still an Infantryman, I was on Active Duty when everyone expected Bill Clinton to remove all obstacles to homosexual service. Instead, he signed the current policy into law.

Lets begin with my views on the viability of DADT. I do not believe the inclusion of bisexuals/homosexuals impacts a nation’s ability to defend itself and promote a viable military (for a practical example, see Israel). I say this as a  Kansas-born, Methodist-raised, cornfed, fiscally conservative, heterosexual, former Infantryman and JAG Lawyer. I find it distasteful to observe the stigma attached to those who were either homosexual or reportedly homosexual.

After my time as a prosecutor, and especially my time as a Senior Defense Counsel, I started to see a different side of things. Actually, different sides. I discovered that individuals impacted by DADT fell into one of three specific categories.

Category I: It’s Just Too Hard

These are the individuals who entered the military knowing (or substantially knowing) of their homosexuality/bisexuality, but they felt they could keep it a secret and embark on a military career. Soon, they discover the difficulties of suppressing their sexuality, and those difficulties can be overwhelming to many.

They watch as their heterosexual counterparts openly flaunt their persuasion. Whether it be a married couple openly identifying themselves as a married couple or amorous singles holding hands and engaging in unpunished (and often unacknowledged) public displays of affection, they see others enjoying privileges that would never benefit them. If they find a partner who makes them happy, they could never divulge the secret (almost akin to a person hiding an adulterous affair). Such identification might find them without a job, health benefits, dental benefits, pension, etc.

Additionally, they must constantly hear slurs. Phrases such as “that’s gay!” or “you homo!” or “that’s as wrong as two boys [f-ing]” are commonly used by leaders to describe or denote unmanly or unsoldierly behavior. I heard it on many different occasions starting with my entry into the Armed Forces and continuing with my final assignment at Fort Leonard Wood. I even remember hearing Drill Sergeants using crude, homosexual-disparaging remarks during the performance of their duties (even recently). I’m ashamed to say that I did not correct the situation. I should have, but I didn’t. It may not seem like a big deal to some of us, because we aren’t homosexual. However, it is akin to using the word retard in the presence of someone with a close family member suffering from downs syndrome.

Category II: Ratted-Out

This happens a lot in basic training, but it could happen anywhere. This is where a servicemember believes that he/she can trust others, and they share a bit about their past or present romantic persuasion. Days or weeks later, when there is a falling-out, the servicemember finds themselves facing a multi-page sworn statement written by their “friend.” At that point, the command engages in a “limited investigation” into the person’s sexual history. The young guy/gal tells the truth (an honorable thing to do) and faces a likely Department of Defense pink slip.

Category III: How Can I Avoid this Deployment?

Here’s how the conversation might sound:

Angus: I really don’t want to go on deployment to Afghanistan. I heard deployments suck.

Wilhelm: When does your enlistment end?

Angus: Crap, I owe another 3 years.

Wilhelm: You could say you’re gay.

Angus: But, I’m not.

Wilhelm: So?

Angus: That’s it! Wilhelm, you’re a genius.

So, Angus approaches his commander and loudly declares his [false] gayness. The command, forced to take action per the law, kicks Angus out of the Army with an Honorable Discharge.

Notice the key difference with this one. Here, the policy did not harm a single homosexual person. Instead, it gave a heterosexual person a way to evade deployment and the balance of their enlistment contract. Who suffers here? That would be all the folks who must pick up the slack left by his early exit from duty. Will he be replaced? Eventually, yes. Is any one soldier critical to accomplishing a given mission. No. Is it fair to those who fulfill their promise to serve? Absolutely not.

So, you see, this policy harms more than we originally thought. And, lets not forget the population not addressed in the three categories above–those who continue to serve despite the slurs and constant fear.

A Scarlet Letter, Government Issued

For those individuals leaving the Armed Forces under DADT (legitimately or otherwise), the vast majority receives an Honorable characterization of service. This is good. However, on the bottom of their discharge papers (called a Department of Defense Form #214) it states the general reason for the discharge. In this case it would mention something regarding “Homosexual Conduct Policy.” Additionally, it grants them a Reenlistment Eligibility (RE) Code of 4, a complete bar to entering the military again. (even Angus)

Imagine that–a federal government document memorializing someone’s sexuality. Not only is it a federal government record, but it is also a document regularly requested during job interviews and college applications. Now, I am not saying that those individuals should be ashamed about their sexuality. Far from it. However, I am saying that a person’s sexuality is nobody else’s business–especially future employers and educational institutions. Having an important government document declare someone’s sexuality is simply distasteful.

Finally, for those folks already discharged for DADT, don’t get your hopes up. Remember, you still have that RE Code 4 on your record which completely bars you from reentering the military. In order to change that, you must appeal the matter to a Discharge Review Board or Board for the Correction of Military Records. Those reviews come with a 6-10 month wait, and the outcome is not guaranteed.

Non-Law-Related-Topic of the Week

Some of you may wonder about the picture above. It is of a protest by the Westboro Baptist Church, led by Fred Phelps, a disbarred Kansas attorney.

I grew-up near  Topeka, Kansas and participated actively in Boy Scouts throughout my adolescent years. My Boy Scout Troop met at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Topeka, which was generally across the street from a church that openly accepted homosexual parishoners. How did we know? My fellow scouts and I often observed the Westboro Baptist clan protesting on the sidewalk outside the “dirty, immoral, ‘fag’ church.” The protests were especially vocal on days of a homosexual member’s funeral.

I’m sure my parents enjoyed the questions after each scout meeting.

“Dad, can you show me how to tie a square knot, and what do those signs mean?”