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"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" 15 Years Later

Note From Autumn: This is a piece from the SLDN, indicating that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should be repealed within the first year of President Obama’s administration. The attached thumbnail/PDF file is for a press release — it’s not the same text as this op-ed, but goes over similar ground. Posted by permission.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” 15 Years Later

By Kevin Nix, SLDN

Some of the conventional wisdom circling around Washington these days is that President Obama shouldn’t-or wouldn’t– touch the political hot potato that is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his first year or two in office. They point to the shaky beginning of the Clinton presidency when he took up the issue of gays in the military. What the naysayers are forgetting is that 2009 is very different than 1993.

Public opinion has shifted seismically. Fifteen years ago, the LGBT community enjoyed significantly less acceptance than it does today. Highlighting Differences between Obama, Bill Clinton, SLDN Believes Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' on HorizonRecent polls-including those done by ABC News/Washington Post and CNN/Opinion Research Corp.– indicate more than 75 percent of Americans think gays and lesbians should serve openly in the armed forces. Poll numbers don’t get much better than this and don’t get this good without some support by conservatives, Republicans, and even evangelicals.

Attitudes within the military are changing, too. Go check out the op-ed (“Second Thoughts on Gays In the Military“) in the New York Times by retired Army General John Shalikashvili. Compelling stuff coming from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the Clinton Administration. Darren Manzella, an Army Veteran Sergeant who served as an openly gay soldier in Iraq to both his colleagues and command but was discharged under DADT, has also discussed repeatedly the generational gap when it comes to the military’s acceptance of gay and lesbian Americans.

Beyond changing attitudes within the military rank and file and the broader public at large, consider also that Pres. Clinton didn’t consult early with the Joint Chiefs and Pentagon when trying to incorporate gays and lesbians. Wisely, President Obama has already consulted-and will continue to consult-with Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Pentagon on repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ This president “gets” that the military is integral to repeal of DADT and successful implementation of a non-discrimination law.

Our bottom line: The environment-including public attitudes, the partisan makeup of the White House and Congress, and the deft skill of our new commander-in-chief-gives us reason for practical, if cautious, optimism for repeal sooner rather than later. The question is not if but when.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) thinks repeal can get done not in the first 100 days, obviously, but sometime this year. Let’s hope so. “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” is the only federal law that requires employers to fire people for being openly gay. And the strength and caliber of our military is disadvantaged because 12,500 highly qualified men and women have been kicked out because of their sexual orientation.  

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Autumn Sandeen

Autumn Sandeen