Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Why Gays Should Serve Openly

julie marsh
Julie Marsh
Photo by Amy Griese
When I first read that military and civilian leadership were advocating the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, I was thrilled. "About damn time," I thought.

The next day, a former ROTC classmate of mine was interviewed on NPR. When I heard that he'd been discharged from the Air Force in 2006 under the policy, I was shocked.


I wasn't shocked that he was gay -- even in ROTC I knew that plenty of homosexuals served in spite of the ban -- but that he had left the military involuntarily and under such circumstances. He hadn't "told" but had been outed via a search of his private emails -- a search that, as he said, began "innocently enough" but turned into a witch hunt.

I've never supported the ban; not while I was in ROTC, not while I was on active duty, and not now. But given what happened to my friend, it's personal now. I'm speaking out.

In fact, I spoke out on Facebook after Senators McCain and Chambliss made some unbelievably irrational comments on the so-called slippery slope of allowing gays to serve openly. Chambliss's conjecture in particular was undeniably bigoted: "The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would very likely create an unacceptable risk to those high standards."

What really floored me was that another fellow ROTC classmate and active duty officer took me to task for being "intolerant" of McCain's and Chambliss's points of view. Naturally, he supports the policy.

Needless to say, we're not Facebook friends anymore. I'm too intolerant of bigotry for his tastes.

Meanwhile, military and civilian leaders have begun to determine the process by which Don't Ask, Don't Tell will be repealed. In parallel, they've established "new rules that will make it more difficult for the military to expel openly gay service members." Specifically, these measures "would raise the level of rank required to initiate action or to take formal action against a service member" and "raise the standard required for evidence to be presented in such cases."

The latter change probably would have saved my friend from being discharged. His story angers me more every time I hear it:

"I was relieved of my duties leading nearly two hundred airmen, my security clearance was suspended, part of my pay was terminated, and I was forced to endure a grueling sixteen month legal ordeal before I was ultimately discharged from the Air Force."

All this took place while he was deployed to Iraq and had just been named one of the top officers in his career field. It's maddening.

The former change, while it sounds good on paper, doesn't reassure me. I believe it's the old guard who are more likely to raise objections -- like the retired Marine general and former NATO commander who testified before the Senate that gay integration in the Dutch army led to a massacre in the Bosnian war -- and cited this as a reason to support Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

That's not to say all of those at the top of the ranks support Don't Ask, Don't Tell. My own father retired from the Air Force nearly twenty years ago after serving for thirty years. He likes people who do a job well and do it with integrity; who they choose to go home to at night is irrelevant.

Integrity really is the crux of the matter, as Admiral Mullen said in his testimony before Congress. Don't Ask, Don't Tell compels service members to lie, and that's simply wrong.

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