After almost 18 years, the Pentagon plans Tuesday to formally repeal the ban on gays in uniform, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” permitting troops for the first time to publicly reveal that they’re gay without fear of official retribution. Enlistees who tell military recruiters, and troops discharged under the ban who are eager to reenlist, will be eligible to join up if they are qualified. And the Defense Department says it will have zero tolerance for anti-gay behavior, as it does for religious, racial and gender discrimination.
For Hackbarth, 44, the repeal presents long-awaited opportunities. He can finally tell one of his male co-workers the real reason he wants him to stop making gay jokes.
“It’ll be an eye-opener for him when I can turn to him and say, look, this is the situation, and I don’t appreciate any of it,” Hackbarth said.
And he can stop playing what gay troops call “the pronoun game” — referring to a fictitious “she” or “her” in his life.
Hackbarth’s 22-year military career almost ended in 1996 when an angry former boyfriend threatened to out him to commanders.
Scared, Hackbarth alerted an officer in hopes of avoiding a discharge.
“All I said was that my roommate was threatening me, but I think he understood the situation without me having to be explicit,” Hackbarth said. “The commander said: ‘You’re part of a team. Don’t worry about it.’ ”
But the military has discharged more than 13,000 service members since late 1993 for violating the ban. Backers considered it necessary to avoid potentially fatal battlefield distractions, but opponents panned it as a waste of resources that ended the careers of troops providing critical battlefield skills.
President Obama, who opposes the ban, began at the start of his term to work with military leaders to end it. In December, after a tumultuous two-year legislative campaign, he signed a measure that would repeal the policy once Pentagon brass certified that the military was ready. Over the summer, Obama and military leaders agreed to end the ban in late September.
The change comes as thousands of troops continue to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, and gay troops repeatedly expressed concern about partners left behind with little support from the military.
Stephen Peters, who was kicked out of the Marines for violating the policy, is one of those partners being left behind. He lives outside a California military base with a Marine officer who is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.
Once his partner goes, Peters, 31, is essentially on his own: He can’t visit the base without a visitor’s badge or enjoy discounts at military grocery stores because the federal Defense of Marriage Act bars the military’s official recognition of same-sex partnerships. Most troubling for Peters, he’s officially barred from the military’s network of spousal support groups.