One Year After DADT Repeal: An SVV Retrospective

This Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

One year ago, the nation saw the end of almost eighteen years of policy that essentially forced thousands of Servicemembers and prospective Servicemembers to choose between some pretty difficult options: (1) Continue to serve but do so in silence with the knowledge that one would be turning one’s back to the core value of integrity; (2) Come out to the command and risk dismissal from the ranks, disciplinary action, harassment from others or; (3) Not enlist at all.

THE BEGINNING OF AN ERA

The DADT policy started as a compromise of sorts following President Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign to allow all American citizens to serve their country regardless of sexual orientation. In 1993, policy debates regarding a lift on the ban of homosexual servicemembers ensued. During that time, arguments from both sides of the issue presented cases ranging from “notoriously promiscuous” homosexuals running rampant through group showers to “little to no adverse consequences for recruitment and retention.”

In 1993, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 1994 which included language requiring the military to abide by regulations similar to the 1982 policy laying out an absolute ban on homosexuals in the military. On December 21, 1993, the Clinton Administration issued Defense Directive 1304.26 directing recruiters not to ask military applicants about their sexual orientation.

Additionally, 10 U.S.C. § 654 stood as legal policy calling homosexuality incompatible with military service and that anyone who engaged in homosexual acts or stated they were homosexual or bisexual would be discharged. The stage was set for the next nearly 18 years.

DISCHARGES UNDER DADT

From 1994 to 2011, the U.S. military upheld DADT averaging about 803 discharges a year. Over the course of the policy’s time, the military would discharge over 13,000 men and women from its ranks.

 

As discharges continued, the fight to repeal the policy gained steam. The most prominent proponent of military equality became the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). Founded in 1993, SLDN would become the leading entity in organizing efforts to advocate an end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the U.S. Armed Forces.  The organization served military members by providing legal services and advocacy in the courts for those caught in the complexities of the military legal system because of DADT.

In the meantime, an estimated 65,000 lesbian, gay, and bisexual Servicemembers continued to serve in silence.

THE LEGAL FIGHT FOR MILITARY EQUALITY

SLDN along with other entities like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) engaged in fighting the policy on behalf of Servicemembers who were facing discharge or were discharged under DADT. Among the most notable cases are:

  • Log Cabin Republicans vs. United States of America (2006):  The Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) filed a lawsuit that directly challenged the constitutionality of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Specifically, the lawsuit seeks a ruling that the policy violates constitutional protections of due process and freedom of speech.
  • Witt vs. U.S. Department of the Air Force (2006):  The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a lawsuit in United States District Court for the Western District of Washington challenging the discharge of a much-decorated major and flight nurse in the U.S. Air Force Reserves on grounds that she has engaged in homosexual conduct. The suit seeks an injunction forbidding her discharge and a declaration that for the military to discharge Witt would violate her rights to engage in private activities without government interference.
  • Almy, Loverde & Knight vs. U.S. Department of Defense (2010):  SLDN and Morrison & Foerster LLP filed a complaint against the United States government asking for the reinstatement of three service members discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the discriminatory law barring gay, lesbian and bisexual service members from serving honestly and with integrity. The filing in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California argued that law and the regulations, policies, and guidance that implement it, were unconstitutional.  One of SVV’s own was a plantiff, Anthony Loverde was reinstated in the U.S. Air  Force in 2012.

SVV & THE PATH TO DADT REPEAL

At the local level, Sacramento Valley Veterans (SVV) reactivated on Memorial Day in 2010 at a time when the fight for DADT repeal was gathering steam again. From the start, SVV directly engaged the community by releasing information on what was going on in the process of repeal. SVV attended Pride festivals throughout the Sacramento Valley and gathered signatures for petititions urging the government to repeal the policy. From May to December 2010, SVV tracked and monitored the progress of the efforts to move repeal forward through Congress:

  • May 27, 2010:  Congress passes amendments containing language pertaining to DADT; specifically, to delay repeal pending results from a working group study
  • September 22, 2010:  U.S. Senate blocked the vote to begin debates on the NDAA containing an amendment calling for DADT repeal
  • October 12, 2010:  District court judge issued immediate suspension of DADT
  • October 20, 2010:  District court judges rejected a stay on an injunction barring the DADT suspension; gay applicant were allowed to elist. The 9th Circuit issues a temporary stay on the injunction mentioned.
  • November 1, 2010:  The temporary stays was extended
  • December 1, 2010:  The Pentagon working group conducting the study release results
  • December 18, 2010:  The U.S. Senate passed a stand-alone bill to enact DADT repeal
  • December 22, 2010:  President Barack Obama signed DADT repeal into law; a waiting period for certification begins
  • July 22, 2011:  President Obama, Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) Admiral Mike Mullen formally issued certification of DADT repeal; a 60-day waiting period begins
  • September 20, 2011:  DADT repeal goes into effect

On the day of DADT repeal, SVV hosted an event celebrating the end of an era. California Assemblymembers Roger Dickinson (D – 9th) and Dr. Richard Pan (D – 5th) came out and spoke while the crowd enjoyed cake and the remarkable photography of Anthony Loverde.  Veterans, Servicemembers, and Community members came out to ring in a new era of equality for our nation’s military.

AFTER REPEAL: TRANSGENDER SERVICEMEMBERS & MARRIAGE EQUALITY

Since the time of repeal, two key issues remain to be addressed by the federal government: Transgender servicemembers and marriage equality.

DADT did not change the medical regulatory ban in place for aspiring or current service members who identify as transgender. As such, transgender individuals can experience issues at the time of enlistment, appointment or commissioning into the military, or while already serving. Essentially, Transgender servicemembers serve under a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy still.

SLDN has a section in the post-DADT repeal guide specifically addressing the matter of Transgender Service. See it here…

Regarding same-sex marriage, the federal government presently abides by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage as only between a man and woman. Because of DOMA, Servicemembers wishing to marry someone of the same-sex can technically get married; however, when it comes to benefits and entitlements, they may find themselves outside the law. These include housing, healthcare, surviving spouse benefits, the issuance of military identification cards and morale, welfare, and recreational programs.

There is a case currently in the courts challenging DOMA in which over 159 years of military service are being represented: McLaughlin v. Panetta (2011)

MILESTONES IN A POST-DADT MILITARY

Following repeal and leading up to the one-year anniversary, many markers of progress have occurred showing little evidence of the anticipated decline of morality, cohesion, and readiness.

In December 2011, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta won the right for the “first kiss” when her ship returned to port in Virginia after 80 days at sea. The kiss was captured and shared on YouTube, garnering over 1.5 million viewers, as she shared a kiss with her partner, Citlalic Snell.

In February 2012, a photo (shown) Marine Sergeant Brandon Morgan and his partner Dalan Wells’ welcome home kiss in a helicopter hanger in Kaneohe Bay, HI went viral. Sgt. Morgan had returned from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan.

Forward to June 2012, Air Force Technical Sergeat Erwynn Umali and his civvie partner were united, with a Navy Chaplan presiding, in a civil union ceremony at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.

In August 2012, Army officer Tammy Smith became the military’s first only gay general in a ceremony where her wife, Tracey Hepner, had the honor of pinning on the general’s stars during the pinning ceremony.

These events stand as testimony to the assertion by repeal proponents that DADT repeal did not in fact result in the decline of our military.

EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE OF REPEAL

To mark the anniversary of repeal, the Palm Center released a comprehensive study on the effects of DADT repeal on the U.S. military titled, “One Year Out: An Assessment of DADT Repeal’s Impact on Military Readiness.” According to the study’s executive summary:

Prior to the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) on September 20, 2011, many observers predicted that allowing lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) troops to serve openly would harm the military. This study is the first scholarly effort to assess the accuracy of such predictions about the impact of DADT repeal on military readiness. Our conclusions are based on a consideration of all of the evidence that was available to us at the time our research was conducted, the half-year period starting six months after repeal and concluding at the one-year mark.

We sought to maximize the likelihood of identifying evidence of damage caused by repeal by pursuing ten separate research strategies, each of which was designed to uncover data indicating that repeal has undermined the military. Our research strategies included outreach to 553 generals and admirals who predicted that repeal would undermine the military, to all major activists and expert opponents of DADT repeal and to 18 watchdog organizations, including opponents and advocates of repeal, who are known for their ability to monitor Pentagon operations. In addition, we conducted in-depth interviews with 18 scholars and practitioners and 62 active-duty heterosexual, lesbian, gay and bisexual troops from every service branch, as well as on-site field observations of four military units. We analyzed relevant media articles published during the research period, administered two surveys and conducted secondary source analysis of surveys independently administered by outside organizations. Our vigorous effort to collect data from opponents of DADT repeal, including anti-repeal generals and admirals, activists, academic experts, service members and watchdog organizations, should sustain confidence in the validity and impartiality of our findings.

Our study team includes distinguished scholars from the US Military Academy, US Air Force Academy, US Naval Academy and US Marine Corps War College, as well as scholars with internationally recognized expertise on the issue of gays in the military. Several members advised the Pentagon’s 2010 DADT working group, and one member led the team that drafted the Defense Department’s plan for implementing DADT repeal.

The findings of the 51-page study outline an outcome that repeal supporters expected would occur. Namely, that not much would change and that open service would not affect our military’s ability to defend the nation.

Here’s a brief rundown of the findings:

  • No overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions was noted;
  • Levels of military readiness have not changed from 2011 to 2012
  • Unit cohesion did not decline after repeal;
  • Recruitment was unaffected and remained robust;
  • Retention was unaffected with no mass exodus; two verifiable resignations of military chaplains were reported;
  • Repeal has not been responsible for any new wave of violence or physical abuse among Servicemembers;
  • Force morale did not decrease;
  • No wave of mass disclosures of sexual orientation occurred and;
  • Repeal has in fact enhanced the military’s ability to pursue its mission

Read the study here

CONCLUSION

Over the course of the year, SVV has seen the nation’s military take on repeal and flourish. As it turns out, the contribution to national defense by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Servicemembers has not diminished the military’s efforts to secure the country.

With repeal turning one-year old, SVV looks forward to seeing what other milestones we will surpass as more proof that open service works comes to fruition.

The work is not done though. To date, our Transgender Servicemembers still face a path of uncertainty before, during, and after military service. The progress is slow-going and we cannot back down. Likewise with same-sex marriage within the ranks, military members who have married still cannot extend benefits to their spouses. To this, it appears there is some progress being made: “The Defense Department says it is studying the possibility of extending marital benefits to same-sex couples, but has announced no time frame.”

We’ve heard this before. It only makes sense to gear up and be ready to engage in the effort for military equality as time passes. SVV plans to spread the word on Transgender service in November.

It must also be noted that many of these issues affect our LGBT Veterans who now number over one million across the United States. That number is growing and, with it, significant issues as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and suicide. While many may not see these as LGBT-specific issues, they are signifiant byproducts of our military service and they do not discriminate.

Sacramento Valley Veterans (SVV) is proud to have engaged in the fight for DADT repeal and to see how the year has pass with little incident. We have our Veterans, Servicemembers, Supporters, and Allies to thank for bringing us this significant milestone.

Now, it’s time to celebrate.

AN INVITATION

Sacramento Valley Veterans (SVV) will host a DADT repeal celebration on Saturday, September 22nd at The Bolt, 2560 Boxwood Street, Sacramento, CA from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The celebration will be a BBQ/potluck. Participants are encouraged to bring a dish/side/dessert to share. SVV will provide burgers, hot dogs, and fixings. A beer and soda bust will also be held; one price for all the beer/soda you want. Music, information, and games will also be provided.

The community is invited to come on out as we celebrate one year of a DADT-free military!