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Topics In the News
 
The End of Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 09/17/11
Last updated on: 09/20/11
 
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Lt. Colonel Victor Fehrenbach in an MSNBC interview.

On September 20, 2011, the U.S. military policy that prohibited the service of openly gay men and women officially ended. In effect since 1993, Don't Ask, Don't Tell was responsible for curtailing the military careers of more than 14,000 American servicemembers and causing psychological damage to many more. The policy forced gay men and lesbians in the military to live in constant fear of exposure as they served under the threat of losing their jobs should their sexual orientation become known.

The cost to American taxpayers of discharging openly gay servicemembers under DADT is estimated at some half a billion dollars. But the cost to military effectiveness and governmental integrity was probably even more staggering.

As proponents of ending DADT pointed out, the ban promoted a hostile working environment, wasted crucial resources on unnecessary investigations, and forced many qualified service members to leave the military, depriving the military of many needed talents.

Moreover, by officially enforcing discrimination, the policy contradicted the democratic values the military is supposed to protect.

In addition, as Admiral Michael Mullen, former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, observed, the policy forced members of the military to violate the honor code by lying: "I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens," he said in 2010, adding, "For me, personally, it comes down to integrity--theirs as individuals, ours as an institution."

The struggle to end the odious policy has been a long one. Crucial to its success have been organizations such as the Palm Center and Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund; military activists such as Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer, Lieutenant Dan Choi, Captain Jim Pietrangelo, Captain Tanya Domi, Captain Mike Almy, Sergeant Justin Elzie, Major Margaret Witt, Lt. Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, and Servicemembers United Executive Director Alexander Nicholson, among many others; as well as such politicians as Representative Patrick Murphy and Senators Joseph Lieberman and Carl Levin.

Log Cabin Republicans deserves special credit for pressing on with its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the policy. The ruling by Judge Virginia Phillips in Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S.A. placed significant pressure on the military to end the policy at a pivotal moment.

The strange history of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is told in a documentary by veteran filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Rocky Barbato, which debuts on HBO on Tuesday.

In the clip below, MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts interviews Lt. Colonel Fehrenbach and Fenton Bailey about the documentary and the end of DADT:

 
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