A BUZZFLASH NEWS ALERT
by Meg White
The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel heard testimony from a panel, consisting mostly of retired military personnel, on the future of the military policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was a compromise which necessitated the removal of a question about sexual orientation on military induction questionnaires, precluded military personnel from revealing their sexual orientation, and prevented officers from asking soldiers about their sexual orientation. It was approved by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
The policy has been controversial on both sides of the aisle since its inception. A recent poll shows 75 percent of Americans want it repealed.
All of the witnesses at the hearing said that they want the policy repealed, but to different effects. Those who testified against allowing gays to serve openly in the military advocated the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” so that recruiters could once again ask potential military personnel if they are homosexual. Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said that repealing the policy would mean the U.S. military would not have to train “people who are not eligible to serve” (i.e., homosexuals).
Three others, all retired military officers, advocated the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” so that gays could be allowed to serve without prejudice.
Several Representatives objected to Donnelly’s inflammatory language, which referred to sexual assault and AIDS as reasons to keep gays out of the military.
In response to Donnelly’s opening statement, which referenced “passive-aggressive actions common in the homosexual community,” Rep. Vic Snyder (D-AR) said “I’ve never heard such discriminatory, biased — just bonkers.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Vance Coleman, who is straight but as a black man testified to his experience with desegregation in the military, said the military was equipped to deal with misconduct and that such issues should not be part of the question of whether or not to allow openly gay service members in the military.
Rev. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), a former soldier, noted that other countries accept openly gay members into their military units. He expressed displeasure at some witnesses suggesting that the U.S. military he served in Iraq “is not as professional as 24 other countries.”
The desire to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military was not necessarily a partisan one. Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) called the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy “unpatriotic,” “counterproductive,” and “cruel.” He was frustrated by some witnesses’ mention of misconduct as a reason to keep openly gay people out of the military.
“It really distorts the issue,” said Shays. He said the homosexual former service members present at the hearing served their country honorably, and did not deserve discrimination.
“It’s really an outrage that you have to be here,” he said to Ret. Capt. Joan Darrah. Turning to Donnelly, he asked a question about Darrah’s suitability to serve:
“Would you please tell me, Ms. Donnelly, why I should give one twit about this woman’s sexual orientation?”
In defending her position, Donnelly interrupted, queried, and cut off several Representatives. This, along with her inflammatory language, did not endear her to the lawmakers.
“I’m not really sure why these good people are your target,” Rep. Carolyn Shea-Porter (D-NH) said to Donnelly, pointing out that 10 percent of new recruits have to receive “moral waivers” because of a history of run-ins with the law. “Fifteen years from now, we’re going to look at this and be embarrassed that we talked about this, and I’m embarrassed now.”
While the hearing was a tense one, there were a few moments of levity.
“When did you decide to be a heterosexual?” Shea-Porter asked Donnelly, to laughter in the chambers.
Donnelly laughed along with Rep. John Kline (R-MN) when he objected to her mentioning the incident regarding Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) in Minneapolis last summer: “We get a little bit defensive when people talk about the Minneapolis airport.”
Several lawmakers noted troop shortages might be ameliorated by increasing the number of people eligible to serve.
“We need more good people whether they’re straight or gay,” said Murphy. He noted that the policy has necessitated the release of 12,000 troops for reasons of sexual orientation.
Others used the current wars as a reason to stick with the status quo.
Ret. Sgt. Maj. Brian Jones testified that “such a huge policy change” could have major repercussions.
“Change is good, but you have to pick the right change at the right time,” he said. “We need to be finding ways in supporting our troops to win these wars… I think that’s where we should be concentrating.”
In her closing statement, Subcommittee Chair Susan Davis (D-CA) said she respected Jones’ questioning the timing of policy change, but asked rhetorically when would be a better time. She also said she hoped to hold additional hearings on the issue, hopefully with members of the Department of Defense weighing in on the logistics of the policy change.
Ranking member Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) agreed, saying that ultimately the decision to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be based on a much broader inquiry.
A BUZZFLASH NEWS ALERT