Ding, Dong, DADT Is Dead

by Shaun Knittel
Friday Jul 29, 2011

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is dead ... in 60 days that is. No longer an "if." And the question of "when" has been answered. Victory, at this point, is ours. The repeal of the Clinton policy under which LGBT service people serving out country in the Armed Forces were forced into hiding is unquestionably a win for our side. But the real winners in all of this are the brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces -- all of them, gay and straight. In fact, this couldn't have happened without the support of the entire military.

There is no question about it. By January 2011, Americans were done with the debate over DADT. Aside from your run-of-the-mill crackpot right-winger, most people began to see DADT for what it was: a discriminatory policy that hurt the armed services not helped it. Poll after poll told the president and the Pentagon alike that the time for repeal was now.

The problem? "Now" is not a word that the courts, nor Congress, understand. The system is just not set up that way. No matter how much we all would've liked to have seen DADT written off immediately, history will show, Obama did it right.

Yes, the Department of Justice continued to protect it. Yes, the Pentagon still processed discharges even after Obama told them to repeal the outdated law. But in the end, it was his savvy decision to meet with, and work out a plan with, Pentagon officials that ultimately would put this destructive policy to an end for the last time.

When the Pentagon surveyed the troops, many of us scratched our heads and asked, "What are they up to?" After all, it is uncommon to ask the enlisted soldier how he feels about, well ... anything. The service runs as a dictatorship, not a democracy. He who has the most rank holds the law of the land.

A simple "roger that" or "aye, aye" is all that is required of the newly commissioned officer or enlisted man. But this was different. DADT struck a chord, not only with service men and women, but also with America. Social change was blowing in and the service chiefs could feel it.

So they set out to ask the troops (deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as at home) and their families, "Is the DoD ready to be Gay friendly?" The troops and their spouses answered back with a resounding "yes." That's all she wrote, as they say.

As a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, I can tell you with some degree of certainty that had those survey results come back with the troops saying DADT repeal would have a negative impact, the president could've moaned and complained all he wanted to but the service chiefs wouldn't have moved an inch. But that didn't happen. The troops, gay and straight alike, said in very clear terms, "It's time for DADT to go."

And so it has. As we watch the clock wind down on the remaining days of a law that will be looked upon poorly by U.S. history, we should know that this is a victory that will have positive ramifications for the modern Gay rights movement that we don't yet see.

The best example that comes to mind is the Employment Non Discrimination Act, or ENDA. The U.S. military is a huge employer in our nation and it has just gone gay. This will be looked at closely by lawmakers who are championing a federal ENDA.

While it may be true that the service is not yet transgender inclusive, there is no doubt in my mind that those days are coming. The LGB service member might soon be the LGBT service member, once the dialogue and debate surrounding gender transformation and military service is satisfied. Still, trans non-inclusive and all, it is a win for us to allow LGB men and women to serve openly and that is not something that should be discredited.

And then there is that pesky federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It always creeps into our lives -- and our victories -- time and time again. This is a complicated one for the Pentagon because now they are faced with defending the decision to not award spouse benefits to same-sex spouses of military members because of DOMA.

While the federal government argues about keeping their nose out of the business of each state, the Pentagon does not have that luxury. The way the top brass sees it; they have to uphold the law on military installations because it is a federal one. The repeal of DADT has opened up the dialogue for debate, and just like transgender military service, I believe we will also see the Pentagon ultimately awarding benefits to spouses of a gay or lesbian service member. The dominos are finally beginning to fall.

On September 20, when DADT is laid to rest, the worst thing we can do as a community is bicker over what we don't have. Instead, we should celebrate the victory for what it is. If there is a LGB service member or veteran in your life, thank them for their service and congratulate them on being a part of history and celebrating in freedom; likewise for a heterosexual service member, as they were the ones in a strong majority that told the Pentagon to send DADT to the brig.

This victory in some people's eyes may not be complete, and yes, we should fight (and we will) for full equality in the ranks, but let's not let that stop us from enjoying the win we did get: DADT is dead.

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.


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