Most LGBTs who‚Äôve been trying to end the ban on lesbians and gays serving openly in the US military know Bridget Wilson. She remembers this day 17 years ago – Nov. 30, 1993 ‚Äď when President Bill Clinton signed the ‚Äúcompromise‚ÄĚ with Congress instead of lifting the ban, as he‚Äôd promised. That Don‚Äôt Ask, Don‚Äôt Tell ‚Äúcompromise‚ÄĚ came after studies ‚Äď including the congressionally-commissioned Rand Study – that also said ending the discrimination against gays would have no ill effects of military effectiveness, unity cohesion or morale. So while Wilson may appreciate the respectful language now being used by the Defense Department ‚Äď she‚Äôs effusive about the Pentagon‚Äôs just released survey. In fact, she‚Äôs concerned that history will repeat itself and the report will be ignored or distorted or used to justify yet another ‚Äúcompromise‚ÄĚ that essentially continues discrimination against gay citizens who want to serve their country.
Open and Honorable Service – Nothing More, Nothing Less
By Bridget Wilson
No one should be overly elated by the results of the Pentagon‚Äôs CRWG (Comprehensive Review Working Group) report that clarifies once again that there is no rational basis in the anti-gay military policy known as ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt Ask, Don‚Äôt Tell‚ÄĚ. ¬†This study is only part of the solution. Since 1956, every study published by the Department of Defense has reached similar conclusions. In spite of ¬†opposition rhetoric , all the studies have found that LGB persons are not a security risk, as competent as their non-LGB counterparts and that it is a vocal minority of individuals who oppose open service because they don‚Äôt like gay people, mostly for religious reasons or lack of knowledge.
We are exactly where we were in 1992 and 1993. During that time, then Senator Sam Nunn led the charge to keep gay people from serving openly, contrary to a study commissioned by the Pentagon from the Rand Corporation, a long time defense contractor. The results of the Rand study were substantially the same as the CRWG reports.¬† In fact, the CRWG report includes information from an updated Rand report.
There were cases pending in the 9th Circuit federal appeals court that were effectively challenging the pre-DADT regulations.¬† The policy was moribund and its proponents knew that the then status based policy would not withstand the scrutiny of the courts.
A Democratic President, a pre-election advocate of open, honorable service was looking for cover. ¬†He expressed concern about moving other priorities and not being stymied by this controversy.¬† A gay ally of the President, Congress member Barney Frank, became a self-appointed compromiser and the standard bearer for what ultimately became DADT, a regulation not significantly different from the preceding prohibitions, but cynically designed to survive in the courts, not to protect gay people.
Does this sound familiar? If we do not ensure that the focus of any change is equality of treatment we face risk that DADT will be replaced with yet another ‚Äúcompromise‚ÄĚ policy. For example, we could get a regulation that ‚Äúonly‚ÄĚ separates individuals for ‚Äúdetrimental homosexual conduct‚ÄĚ. ¬†Who could oppose such a rule? That sounds good, unless you know what it means in practice, which is more of the same. Every separation hearing would include some officer or senior non-commissioned officer testifying about the ‚Äúdetrimental‚ÄĚ effect of the gay service member‚Äôs¬† open presence.
Remember, DADT was a compromise that was lauded as a way to allow gay people to serve. Most Americans believed that DADT meant ‚Äúif you just don‚Äôt talk about it at work‚ÄĚ you will be fine. John McCain, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, still believes that is the case. We know that is not how DADT works.¬† LGB service members are pursued and separated for simply living their lives. There is no safe place to be gay under DADT.
If any ‚Äúcompromise‚ÄĚ regulation goes into effect, it will have us separating and treating LGB people in a bigoted manner for the foreseeable future. The worst possible result would be seeing LGB persons still being discharged for something called ‚Äúhomosexual‚ÄĚ. ¬†There is no such thing as ‚Äúhomosexual‚ÄĚ¬† service. There is honorable service.¬† The opposition wants to continue to treat being LGB as less than honorable and as dangerous to good order and discipline. That we cannot accept.¬† Open and Honorable Service for LGB persons is the only viable option. ¬†Our service members deserve no less.
Bridget Wilson is a shareholder in Rosenstein, Wilson & Dean, P.L.C. who has fought anti-gay military regulations for more than three decades.¬† She is a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve. She has been a consulting attorney with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network from its inception. She is the Co-Legal Director of the Palm Center. These are her personal opinions.