War of the Heart: Scholarly Study on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

“The human heart is the starting point of all matters pertaining to war.” Marshal Maurice de Saxe

Since the beginning of time people have been serving in a time of war and peace to protect the nation they love.  Usually we think of men fulfilling this role, but women are involved as well.  Ignoring the facts of who serves and in which capacity most can agree that people of many diverse types have always served.  One thing that has also been fairly consistent over the years is that  men have left their wives to fulfill duties and women left their husbands to do the same.  We have all seen the smiling and tearful reunions played out in the media.  What we have not seen is the loving reunions of same-sex couples.  We as a nation have politicized matters of the heart.  Regulating love and familial composition. With the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”(DADT) this is now changing.  The controversy remains though and there are many questions about what our military and public can handle.

While in times ago there was no formal discharge policy for homosexuals serving there are known discharges as early as the revolutionary war.(UCDAVIS.com)  In 1981 the Department of Defense put in to effect the policy of discharges for personnel who were found to homosexuals.  This was enacted under the Regan administration.  President Regan stated that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service…” this policy resulted in the discharge of over 17,000 men and woman proudly and honorably serving their county.(WashingtonPost.com) Why President Regan chose to use those words and make such a bold statement I will never personally understand but it was not met with much opposition from the public.

 During the Presidential campaign in 1992 Bill Clinton vowed to end the ban.  After being elected his way of fulfilling this promise was enacting “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”  Under its terms “military personnel would not be asked about their sexual orientation and would not be discharged for simply being gay. Engaging in sexual conduct with a member of the same sex, however, would still constitute grounds for discharge.”(WashingtonPost.com) This was to try to fulfill the campaign promise and satisfy all of the public and military outcries against completely reversing this policy.  While this was a temporary fix it still just put a band-aid on a bigger issue.  Members still had to live a large portion of their lives in deceit and use covert operations to disguise their true authentic self.  The deceit goes against the core values the military professes to desire in their members, but the covert operations may be easier due to military training.  Instead of Gilly suits or camo paint maybe Gay women could put on an extra coat of eyeshadow and the men be more aggressive on the football field?

I do not believe that President Clinton was ever completely satisfied with the compromise he made.  I do think that he did play a key role into the eventual reality of military personnel serving openly.  He called for a retraction of his policy in 2003.(WashingtonPost.com)  This may have been in part to the events of September 11, 2001.  In 2002 six Army Linguists fluent in Arabic were discharged under this policy. (SFGate.com)  In addition to this in 2003 three high ranking military members disclosed their sexuality to challenge DADT.(SLDN.org)

Public views on sexuality also had change since DADT.  With a more visible community of LBGT in the media and in everyday life, many people stopped seeing this in a perverse nature but as different life than they are living but no longer so taboo.

In a 2004 Gallup Poll(gallup.com) the public made their opinion loud and clear.  Opposed to the same poll conducted in 1993 where only 40% of the public were for open service an overwhelming 63% favored it with 5% having no opinion and a weak 32% against. (gallup.com)

     It was still many years later after a congressional upholding of the policy in 2006 that Presidential   Candidate Barack Obama vowed to end DADT.  He upheld that campaign promise and in 2010 the issue was once again brought before congress.  They called for no action until a study by the Pentagon was conducted to gauge how this would affect military readiness.(Washingtonpost.com)  This study concluded what active on the ground military members already knew. Human sexuality does not affect the capabilities of a person to serve in the military.  Homosexual military members were not running around attempting to make out with heterosexual members, they were not painting rifles pink or playing Cher in the gun trucks while on missions.  They were serving their country honorably and dying to protect their comrades and the country that had so long regulated them to second or even third class citizenship.  December 18, 2010 the senate voted an overwhelming 65-31 to end DADT.  Finally on September 20, 2011 the subterfuge officially ended but the story just begins.(washingtonpost.com)

 According to “The Inclusive Command: Voluntary Intergration of Sexual Minorites Into the U.S Military” many opponents of gays in the military agree that gay and lesbian soldiers have served honorably in the military.(p150) General Colin Powell is cited as saying describing gay service members as “proud, brave, loyal, good Americans who have served well in the past and are continuing to serve well.” The same quote in “International Security” shows his views though were not in favor of lifting DADT.  General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, on the other had appears to have a supportive view by stating that “homosexuals have served in the past and have done a great job serving their country.” (p151) If this is the opinion of the highest ranking military members why did it take so long to repeal DADT.  The answer may surprise some but make perfect sense to others.  Heterosexual service members are the ones they are worried about.  They worried about hate crimes, unfair treatment and hazing.  Essentially by keeping DADT in effect it “protected” homosexual service members from being harmed by the ones they were protecting their country with.  Having served in the military for 12 years I have first person perspective on this. YES, unfortunately there was a time in my service that I saw the reasoning behind DADT.  Those of us who were close enough to homosexual members to realize they were or trusted enough to be told they were not the people the command element feared.  They were the type of people who were closed minded and unaware about many things. The same men or women who were bullies, bigots, racists and homophobes.  How do you protect your troops from each other?

     This argument was valid to a point and I can see where they were coming from but that didn’t change the fact that there were women dealing with sexual harassment, ethnic groups being hazed and a slew of other social problems that occurred everyday.  This then brings the question of why were homosexual members not as capable of handling this through personal fortitude or the official avenues of complaints that minority races and women did?  The validity of DADT was being whittled down slowly.  Another argument that is highlighted in “The Inclusive Command” is unit cohesion.  Unit Cohesion is loosely defined as: the act or state of cohering, uniting or sticking together. (Dictionary.com)  The same fears were dealt with when integration of women and black people in to the military service. It is believed that the differences would not allow the military members to work together on daily functions.  While not a perfect situation it has been successful.  Judge Eugene Nickerson was quoted in “The Inclusive Command” as saying “the only conceivable way that the presence of known homosexuals could undermine the cohesion of the unit is ‘by the negative reactions of service members who disapprove of homosexuality.” It is also suggested in this writing that to seek members that are tolerant of homosexuality. (P157) This writing also details how to  handle this transition.  It is written that the military should divide into two categories the “inclusive and exclusive” commands.(p158)  This would divide the military in a way that it would never recover from.  I have seen successful accomplishments completed between soldiers under the former policies.

     One fact that supports full open service by gay soldiers that is little known by the American population is highlighted in “A Modest Proposal” By Aaron Belkin and Melissa Sheridan Embser-Herbert where they state that “…none of the twenty-three foreign militaries that allows gays and lesbians to acknowledge their sexual orientation has reported a deterioration in unit cohesion”(p180)  These countries have had little or none disruption in the cohesiveness of their militaries.  As the unit cohesiveness argument faded the privacy of heterosexual members. “International Security” quotes a military member as saying, “I should not be forced to shower with a woman.  I shouldn’t be forced to shower with an open gay…I would not want to fight for a country in which privacy issues are so trampled on.” this argument to me is invalidated by the simple fact that at least with the ban lifted the heterosexual members who are concerned with their privacy would now know who they are showering with.  With the ban in place the “privacy” is still compromised its just that nobody knows.

     I am a heterosexual  former service member who actually lived in a barracks room with a young woman who was not “obviously” gay but as time passed it became impossible for her to hide it.  I already had figured it out and did not want to offend her by telling her I knew.  I did not know if she was living her whole life closeted or just her military life.  Just as she did not know how I would react to her telling me either.  Finally she handled the “elephant in the room” in a natural and organic way.  I came home to our room one day to find her causally relaxing with her girlfriend watching a movie.  Introductions were made, the whole “this is my girlfriend” part was not necessary.  We chatted for a few minutes and I proceeded to do my normal routine of showering, we did have private bathrooms, and proceeded to change into my normal clothes in the same manner i would have normally.  I had no fear of either one of them making me uncomfortable by staring.  Just because they were gay did not mean they would be interested in me.

     It doesn’t occur to people the struggles homosexuals have trying to figure out their sexuality and navigate the dating life is not the same sexual struggles that a heterosexual person navigating the same road.  This does not apply to every person I’m sure but it seems to me that there will always be a difference in being naked in front of a homosexual person than in front of a member of the opposite sex.  The reason that this seems to make sense to me is that men and women don’t spend their lives changing clothes and sharing facilities together.  Typically a man and woman are only together naked in a sexual manner so it’s sexualized.  A young gay child or teen has to figure out how to navigate this world without creating uncomfortable or dangerous situations for themselves.  So no I would not feel comfortable naked in the presence of a man I was not intimate with but would have no problem being around a gay women.  It’s a different situation all together.  As far as men and nudity go I’m not familiar with many men who enjoy being naked around other men on a regular basis anyway.

The argument of the privacy concerns does have a more valid stance that the unit cohesiveness.  I was involved in the after effects of a male on male sexual assault while in the military, but this assault happened under the DADT.  Would it still of even happened if the young drunken man involved was able to spend his time openly with other young men who shared his lifestyle?  Or is this something that would have happened anyway?  That is a hard question to answer.  Also in “International Security” it’s highlighted that much of the argument is that members may not dislike or disapprove of a homosexual person, but they did not want to have to share rooms and facilities with them(p183).  While I do not personally agree with this I could see how many, especially the men would.  I can’t force my views on other people  but then that opens up the question of rooming people of different races or religions together.  Sex seems to be such an over stressed aspect of American culture.

This privacy issue was the strongest argument and had the most concerns for the people in charge of the military.  Women are sexually assaulted often in the military, its one of the ugly sides and comes with the sheer numbers of men versus women and no way to truly screen for possible sexual violence.  Same sex assaults happen as well, so the DADT may prevent men from exposure to know homosexuals but women who are not exposed to men in the same manner are still being assaulted.  The days of multiple service members sharing one room are long gone.  Most members share a room with one other member and as their rank increased usually they find themselves in a single room. Also if people are not living together in a cohesive way if reported will result in a room swap.  I’m sure if given a choice a young gay man would  share a room with someone he could be comfortable around as well.  So the idea of straight men being preyed upon is not the most valid of arguments.

Statistical data sighted in “International Security” support the fact that many gay service members are living a somewhat open life already.  It states that in a recent study where 368 members were polled the Navy and Marine Corps found that 20.1% already knew a person that was homosexual in  the military while 22.3% stated they were unsure if they did.  It further states that this meant 301,500 members knew while 334,500 did not know.(p188)  It goes on to further state that many interviewed service members had disclosed their sexuality during DADT to supervisors who were in contact with them daily.  It’s hard to navigate the military without the help of people who are in charge of you.  By having a large part of your life secret that hurts their ability to fully understand their soldiers needs.

Fears of a mass disclosure does not even make sense to me.  Gays that are already serving in the military really won’t have much disclosing to do because people already know.  In addition those who live private lives won’t feel the need to disclose they can simply continue with their lives minus the fear of losing their job.  Part of being successful in the military is fitting in, not many people disclose life choices that are not considered culturally acceptable. This goes in to religion and other aspects of personal life.  I spent twelve years in and did not run around telling the world I was a democrat.  It just wasn’t in my best interest unless I was around other like minded individuals.  Just as there will probably be only situation appropriate disclosure on their part.

     The book, “Our Time: Breaking the Silence of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” by Josh Seefried is a in depth look at the lives of military members straight and gay.  Seefried himself served under this policy and fortunately was able to serve after it ended.  While in the Airforce Academy he was blackmailed by a instructor and he realized he would live a very tough life under this policy.(outserv.com) The introduction of the book sums up what I experienced first hand and knew to be true for many.  Seefried describes the relationships developed in the military “…as active duty service members themselves know; the silence of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was already beginning to break.  The stories here are testament to the remarkable friendships that form between soldiers, relationships of respect and affection that transcend prejudice and prove just how outdated and bankrupt the DADT policy was.” Those of us in during DADT saw that first hand.

The common thread to this book is that it is heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time.  Warrant Officer Tania Dunbar was one of the service members who told her story while serving in Iraq. Her words touched me deeply.  She shared her story in the following: “I love the Army and I love my girlfriend, and I should not have to choose between them…I have volunteered to sacrifice my life for this country, but yet I can’t even hug my girlfriend goodby before I deploy.(p70)  These words are simple but speak volumes to show how harmful the DADT policy was.  President Clinton did not intend to hurt people by enacting this but his hands were tied to give any more protection than this.  Daniel Hill also told his story.  As a black gay man serving for a chaplain he had a few more things stacked against him.  After the chaplain began a “witch hunt” trying to out him he went to his commanding officer who was sympathetic but unable to do anything to punish the chaplain. His words summed it up ” I felt betrayed by my own company and comrades.” (pg53)

While there are still many hurdles to go when it comes to open service.  What people outside of the situation need to realize is that DADT did nothing to help anyone.  It created stress, fear and only partially lived life.  The military did not implode upon the end of this policy.  It’s now four months since the repeal and I was unable to find many instances of harassment and was even able to see more that were positive.  Men listing their boyfriends as insurance beneficiaries, a woman bringing her girlfriend to the ball.  Nothing will ever be perfect for anyone in the military and transition is always hard.  This is just a start to bringing equality to people who deserve it.  As the military demonstrates an open mind and breaks from tradition and the nation see this, it may change people’s opinions. Seeing a military unit heart-broken and mourning a gay soldiers loss. The visual of a rainbow flag tucked into boot strings.  A loving gay couple with their children being reunited after a deployment.  These strong moments may in fact do more for the struggles for equality of the community than anything that came before it.


Seefried, Jeff. Our Time: Breaking the Silence of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  Penguin Press.  2011. Print.

Belkin, Aaron and Sheridan Embser-Herbert, Melissa. A Modest Proposal: Privacy as a Flawed Rationale, for the Exclusion of Gays and Lesbians from the U.S. Military.  International Security   27.2 (2002) : 178-197. Print.

Ayers, Ian and Gerada Brown, Jennifer.  “The Inclusive Command: Voluntary Intergration of Sexual  Minorities into the U.S. Military.” (2004) Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 1235.

Garamone, Jim.  “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal Certified by President Obama. Defense.gov  American Forces Press Services. July,22, 2011. Web November 5,2011.

N.P  Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S Military: Historical Background.  Psychology Dept, UC Davis.  N.D. Web. November 6, 2011

Heredia, Christopher. “Army Discharges 6 Gay Foriegn Languages Sturdents” sfgate.com. San Fransico Chronical. November, 15 2002. Web. November 20, 2011.

“Timeline: A History of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’.” washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post. November 30, 2010. November 19, 2011

Mason Keifer, Heather. Gays in the Military: Public Says Go Ahead and Tell. Gallup.com. December 21, 2004. December 1, 2011

DADT: Before and After N.P sldn.org. Service Members Legal Defense. N.D December 3,2011

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