U.S. military prepares for end of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

September 19, 2011

On Tuesday the military ban on gays in uniform, called “don’t ask don’t tell” will come to an end after Congress voted to repeal the ban last December. As Ed O’Keefe reported:

Air Force Lt. Col. Sean Hackbarth expects Tuesday to be mostly a normal day. He plans to report for work at the Federal Aviation Administration, where he’s a military liaison, and commute home to Northern Virginia when the day is done.

Except that if someone asks or he decides to tell, Hackbarth can finally talk freely about his significant other. They’ve been together for nine years — and his name is Mike.

After almost 18 years, the Pentagon on Tuesday plans 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, or 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, Tuesday’s repeal presents some long-awaited opportunities. First, he can finally tell one of his male coworkers the real reason why 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.

He can also stop playing what gay troops call “the pronoun game,” or 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.

When the Department of Defense officially repeals the ban on Tuesday some servicemen and women may choose to draw attention to themselves, but many may not. As Ed O’Keefe explained:

Dozens of conversations with gay rights advocates and current and former troops suggest that they’re not expecting a wave of “coming out” announcements or gestures by active-duty or reserve troops. Some troops and activists said, however, that at least a few service members are likely to use “Repeal Day” as a way to draw attention to themselves.

Some troops started celebrating the change in policy over the weekend. According to one soldier who e-mailed from Kuwait after ending a tour of duty in Iraq, “We fully expect to see an official repeal come in time for our landing in the United States.”

The soldier, who asked that he not be identified publicly before the ban’s official end, said he celebrated the impending change with his new boyfriend, who is also a soldier, by drinking non-alcoholic champagne bought from a Starbucks at Kuwait’s Camp Virginia.

“There’s actually quite a few conversations about it here and there,” the soldier said.

As far as coming out publicly, “I’m not planning on anything flashy,” he said. “I don’t plan on letting a lot of people know, as I still want to keep that part of my life personal.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s official repeal, the gay rights group Servicemembers United is hosting a “Countdown to Repeal” party Monday night at the Washington club Town. The group is hosting similar parties in Boston, Seattle, San Diego, Minneapolis and Monterey, Calif.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group that has represented service members discharged for violating the ban, is hosting similar festivities on Tuesday in Washington, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, West Hollywood and Charleston, S.C. The group’s members are also hosting at least 100 other smaller parties in states across the country. For a list of those parties, click here.

While some soldiers will join celebrations for the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” they will have to abide by the military’s strict rules on political activity. As Ed O’Keefe wrote:

With the Defense Department preparing to end its 18-year ban on gays in uniform next Tuesday, gay rights groups are reminding the rank and file about the Pentagon’s policy on political activity as several U.S. military facilities are expected to host parties marking the ban’s end.

“We expect that most of the DADT repeal celebrations will be just that — celebrations of the repeal of a bad law. No special rules apply to attendance at or participation in such events,” according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a legal group representing troops affected by the ban.

According to military policy, troops should be allowed to attend the events, wear their uniforms and “speak as individuals about the importance of repeal to them personally and to the services generally,” SLDN said in a memo to troops published Monday. “They may say that they are happy and proud that they now do not have to hide their sexual orientation,” the memo said, but “they should not, of course, criticize their commanders (or past commanders) or elected officials or urge the election or defeat of candidates for office.”

Troops may also attend nonpartisan political events — such as parties hosted by gay rights groups — but may not wear their uniforms or do anything to suggest official sponsorship or endorsement, SLDN said.

Troops not in uniform are permitted to attend partisan political events as spectators but may not actively participate. Fundraising for a gay rights group at a military facility is prohibited.

More from The Washington Post

Activists offer guidance on celebrating ‘Repeal Day’

It’s official: ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is history

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