On September 20th, 60 days after the repeal order was signed for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), it goes into effect. Popular media have covered Military preparations for the changes. Though many see this as a necessary step in the right direction (some think it was way overdue), no one thinks this will put an end to problems. The military has had little success with consistent enforcement of DADT. Nor has the military dealt all that well with blackmail and intimidation that the secrecy of DADT fomented. DADT may end discharges using sexual orientation as the stated reason but it will likely be the beginning of a number of other issues: Can hate-crimes be prosecuted within the service branches? Will spousal benefits become a part of the employee benefits package? and many other related cultural issues.
Sometimes we forget the serving in the military is a job-the employer is the federal government-and it is an American workplace or more accurately a collection of related but different (branches) workplaces. The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal represents a significant philosophical departure from past practice and such will have workplace culture-changing repercussions. Creating a sound Military work culture requires attention to a number of different goals. If you are anti-war or anti-military you will take issue with this entire article. If you accept that a functioning military is necessary, I can imagine three different fundamental principles or philosophies, necessary for a sustainable military. First they must try to prepare humans who are otherwise peaceful creatures to kill others and destroy property. As American children grow up in a civilian world where these acts are against the law, it is a challenge to say the least whether or not you think it is wrong altogether. Second, this workplace must also try to respond humanely when service members are wounded physically and emotionally. Finally, I would like to see a workplace free of abuse and intimidation among coworkers (pie in the sky, I know). I’m not sure how average service personnel think of the last goal but American employees have a right to work free of abuse, harassment and intimidation based upon American civilian law. If we are keeping score, the military is doing well with waging war but not so well with humane treatment of their wounded and really not well at all with the free-of-abuse-and-intimidation goals. While we don’t have current federal legislation making discrimination a crime based upon sexual orientation, many states have taken this step, including my home state of Maine.
Recent suicide statistics have given military management pause especially in the months in which suicides have outnumbered warfare deaths. Incidentally, it is difficult to find exact numbers for suicides and hostility-related deaths by month. Time magazine has covered this story extensively. Increased suicides are both a comment on how horrible warfare is and the unfortunate way in which the military has handled personnel mental health needs. It’s not like the clinical expertise and strategies required to treat and prevent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) aren’t available. Ironically, most of the research that supported the formalization PTSD as a psychiatric diagnosis comes from research by the military on combat fatigue.
But the issue isn’t all black and white. Military officers are not all narrow-minded conservatives. There are military officers who are both strategic and progressive in their thinking and work approach. I was struck by this when reading one of many quotes in a fascinating Gentlemen’s Quarterly article: “Tell: An Intimate History of Gay Men in the Military.” (Read more at: GQ, Sept 2011). The article notes stories from dozens of gay service men who served during war times from WW II to today. These stories are mixed. Yes, there are terrible stories of physical abuse, blackmail and intimidation (some are nauseating for sure) but there are hopeful stories in which those in charge refused to make being gay an issue even when disclosed. Some of this depended on the branch. It seems that the most progressive branch, according to first-hand accounts is the Navy. Generally, the Marine Corps was the worst from a hazing and harassment working-conditions standpoint. But one gay Marine says that the Marine Corps was the best place to hide as long as you were tough and “straight-looking.” Some gay service men were very clever in how they maintained a neutral sexuality stance. Some pretended to be straight.
Here is one of the stories I found optimistic:
A gay male Marine confided in a female friend/peer that he was gay. When the two had a falling-out, the female attempted to get him in trouble by going to their superior officer with the disclosure. The chief officer replied, “He’s a good Marine. I’m not really interested in any of this nonsense ….Mind your own business.” That was the end of it. The gay Marine attributes his good fortune to his good job performance. I think it also had to do with the ethical thinking on the part of the officer.
There is so much more to read-I highly recommend reading the entire article. It is long and full of various different strategies for remaining “sane” while maintaining secrets. It also describes the various different ways in which gay service members and their coworkers handled the excruciating contradiction of apparent neutrality (just don’t talk about it) with the psychological effects & risks of dangerous secret-keeping.
Researching this issue, I found a number of other resources for those who haven’t followed this issue up to now but who might be interested once the repeal takes effect on September 20th. I’m sure the issue will generate considerable media coverage next week.
Resources from a variety of angles, appear below:
Good old Wikipedia can always be counted on for a historical summary that includes important dates:
The legislative process
The Human Rights Campaign website includes information about who worked on repeal wording and how it came about legislatively:
Military communicating its position on the repeal
The Military’s official website includes a July 2011 video in which the Marine Commandant articulates how diversity and professionalism are consistent with lawfulness and the United States constitution. Pretty clear statement though I realize that some service men and women to not behave consistently with the stated value or rules. Here is the video link:
More specific legal matters affecting service members
The Service Member Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide legal guidance and support to gay service members. To this point, support has centered around ensuring that legal rights are protected and providing a place for gay service members to turn when their orientation threatened their service. This link is to a page that provides an excellent legal history of DADT and the site
Transgendered service members
Often, discussion of GLBT issues are heavy on coverage of gays and lesbians and light on coverage of transgendered individuals. According to the Service Member Legal Defense Network, transgendered individuals are barred from serving for reasons unrelated to DADT. According the their website, the reasons are physical and mental while other sites describe the lack of care (drugs and counseling) within military service as the reason. I am puzzled by a transgendered person who would want to serve in a military branch and subject themselves to this environment but they are protected from discrimination in several states who include gender identity in their anti-discrimination statutes. Here is an excellent legal discussion of the issue by the SLDN:
List of equality issues remaining after repeal of DADT
Here is a list of military equality issues that still remain for the GLBT community according to this private nonprofit website: equalitygiving.org.
I hope you find this material informative.