Just days ago, the State of the Union address reassured Americans that the President would do what he could to “finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.” Now, the nation’s top two defense officials have thankfully set in motion a campaign to repeal the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, 16 years after its institution. While long overdue, the move to repeal this law—an insult to many Americans and an embarrassment to all—is both a welcome and a necessary step in the pursuit of civil equality.
Although it is certainly true that barriers against gay Americans no longer exist in many aspects of contemporary society, an attempt to change the military’s stance on differing sexual orientation is a particularly significant step. While the military—which integrated blacks in World War II long before federal law ever did—seems recently to have forgotten the progressive elements of its history, the geographic diversity represented in the armed forces will make the eventual repeal of DADT an especially effective move. There are few organizations that simulate a more accurate picture of this country’s socioeconomic and regional gradations better than the military. If homosexuality is no longer nominally prohibited among such a diverse group of individuals, the same tolerance of gay Americans can better spread to those segments of the U.S. population unrepresented by the outspoken elites in both major political parties.
Moreover, removing DADT will not be an ephemeral change; the authoritative structure of the military—in which those who serve share a sense of duty with a common cause and clearly delineated hierarchy—will ensure the longevity of this essential step toward a more equal America. Among the best ways to inspire tolerance against bigotry is through an immediate personal relationship, and we feel that homophobia in the military will begin to dissipate as soon as soldiers realize that some of their companions—the ones they have sworn to protect—are homosexual. When they see that their comrades are the same in every way except for their newly announced sexual orientation, hopefully they will become more accepting of homosexuality.
Naturally, the repeal of DADT raises some important questions as to its implementation. For instance, the current discriminatory policy cannot merely be abolished. It must be abolished in conjunction with the establishment of a cultural and education program that will ensure that any current military prejudice is removed from more than just the annals of federal law. It is one thing to make a nominal change and another to make a real one. To prevent the persistence of vestigial homophobia, soldiers at all levels and of all genders must be encouraged to participate in conversations about the meaning of sexual orientation in the private and public aspects of human life.
Naturally, such measures should occur while are soldiers are at home in basic training—a new policy with so much potential for controversy should not be instated while troops are in combat. That said, we do not wish to pass judgment on how and where soldiers should reveal their sexual orientation, if they choose to at all; we merely maintain that the military’s emphasis on such a broad integration should occur in an environment that is less emotionally taxing than combat.
An important counter-argument many have made against the repeal of DADT is that it will create unbridled unrest in the military. And while some of these arguments are not as influenced by homophobia as the certain ideological camps often make them out to be, they are still beside the point. After all, the repeal of DADT will not force every homosexual soldier to reveal his or her sexual orientation to fellow comrades; individuals can choose to “come out” on their own time, iand on their own terms. It is as misguided to worry about every homosexual in the military coming out simultaneously as it is irrelevant.
Another common objection to DADT’s repeal is the nebulous claim that there are more pressing issues to be addressed in contemporary American society other than the official integration of homosexuals into the armed forces. In other words, now is not the time to deal with such an issue, which lacks the urgency of the economic crisis, healthcare, the war in Afghanistan, and the continued threat of terrorism. In reality, however, there will always be something that arguably outweighs the repeal of DADT in terms of importance, and the presence of these other issues in no way diminishes the pressing need to abolish this anachronistic form of discrimination, which has no place in the world of today, much less the United States. Just as the Civil Rights movement, for instance, was not deterred by the “heavier issue” of the Vietnam War and the ensuing civil unrest, so too the repeal of DADT must not be derailed by the existence of other important problems.
But, most importantly, erasing DADT from federal law will do much to allow homosexual soldiers—and homosexuals in general—to be viewed in the heroic and patriotic light they deserve as dutiful American citizens.
Former First Lieutenant Choi Calls for Repeal of DADT
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