Don't ask, don't tell

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Congress has taken two big steps toward ending the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. The House passed a measure repealing the law. The Senate will debate the measure next month.

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David Hall
Development Director, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network
Thursday, May 27, 2010; 1:00 PM

David Hall, development director at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was online Friday, May 28, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss yesterday's vote by Congress to support compromise legislation that repeals the military's ban on gay service members. Hall himself was discharged from the Air Force under Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

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David Hall: Hi, I am David Hall from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and a Former SSgt who served in the USAF. I am happy to be here to day to take your questions about the Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the current amendments added to the Defense Authorization Bill. I was at the House hearing last night when the important vote on the Repeal Amendment took place and was honored to be named by Congressman Patrick Murphy during the debate.

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Washington, D.C.: Is the middle of two major wars, with troops going on repeated deployments and little support from the American public as a whole (there is no rationing, there is no draft, there is real reporting of the "the war"), the right time to make such a dramatic change in the military? If the reasoning is it has to be done now because of military shortages and this is a manpower source (forgetting right or wrong), then why not open the military for easier access by those older, those not quite in physical shape, those with "minor" criminal violations but who want to change, those with lesser education but are willing to serve, etc.

It's one thing to make significant social changes in the military, especially such a change advocated by so many who do not serve and who will not, and those who have no sense of the closeness/uniqueness of military life. It's easy to say "change the military and the people already in it will adapt" when you're not the one being affected.

David Hall: A good questions. Since 9/11 over 55 Arabic Linguists have been discharged under DADT. Only reasoned they were discharged was because of their sexual orientation. The Army has repeatedly said they had a shortage of these critical skills. The Army has already raised the age you can join the army to 42 and has allowed people with felony convictions to enlist as well. If you need troops why kick out ones you have already spent the time and money to train.

An estimated 66,000 LGB troops are already serving in the military. Some of them openly and have had no issues.

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Old Town, Alexandria, Va.: It seems the continued use of the phrase "repealing don't ask don't tell" shows either a desire to oversimplify or an ignorance of what don't ask don't tell is. Technically, repealing don't ask don't tell takes us back to a complete ban on gays in the military. Is there a reason why this phrase continues to be the buzz phrase (especially in the media) instead of the more accurate "repealing the ban on homosexuals in the military?" For those of us who know better, it is, in fact, two different things.

Along those same lines, as a former military member who supports the repeal of the ban, I hate it when people call it the Pentagon's don't ask don't tell policy. Its Congress/the president who set military policy, not the Pentagon -- the Pentagon is just responsible for making sure that policy is carried out. Granted, there is influence from high level Pentagon brass, but if you're going to get upset at someone, at least split the anger evenly.

David Hall: A good question. The current law has become known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Technically the current language is set to repeal this part of the law. Once President Obama signs the Defense Authorization Bill, the Pentagon will finish the study of how they will implement the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in December 1. It will be with their recommendations that the Pentagon will make the changes that will allow LGB service members to serve openly.

When I was disenrolled from AFROTC due to DADT I made sure everyone I talked to realized this was a law passed by Congress and that the military was just implementing the law. I believe the military is a great institution and look forward to the date that LGB service members will stop getting discharged.

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New Bern, N.C.: What does the vote by these three Democratic party representatives from N.C. tell you about the support for your position?

Shuler and McIntyre against the amendment.

Kissell for the amendment

All three of these districts are toss-ups with Kissell being in the most trouble with his base

David Hall: Kissell was a surprise, we didn't think he was going to vote for the amendment and it was a great vote since he is a member of the HASC.

I think overall the message to take away from this is that this is not a controversial vote. The vote in the house was 234 to 194, much more than the 217 we needed.

The last CNN poll showed 8 out of 10 Americans support repeal of DADT. Recent Gallup Poll showed about 60% of Republicans support and 70% Independents support repeal.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Mr. Hall -- Thanks for taking questions today. Can you please explain what exactly this proposed legislation does in terms of repealing DADT? And what is the "continued study" aspect supposed to accomplish? What can possibly be left to study at this point?

David Hall: The proposed legislation will repeal DADT but has a few steps that have to be taken. If the Defense Authorization Bill passes with the amendments attached, President Obama will sign Oct/Nov. But that doesn't end DADT. The working group will still have until December 1 to finish the study. Once that is finished then President Obama, Secretary Gates, and Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mullens will have to certify to Congress that they can implement repeal without any effect on moral, readiness, or unit cohesion. Once they certify there is a 60 day waiting period before repeal takes place. Once the 60 day period is up then the Pentagon can implement the policies and guidance needed to allow LGB service members to serve openly.

Remember the working group is looking at "how" to implement repeal of DADT. So the implementation plan will layout what regulations will need changed, what training will be required, or any issues they will need to deal with.

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Washington, D.C.: If this bill passes, will you be able to get back into the Air Force and receive all your appropriate benefits? Will others who have been dismissed?

David Hall: Once the bill is signed and the certification happens then my hope it to go back in. The working group is looking at the process on how they will handle people who were discharged under DADT. There are a lot of variables they will have to look.

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Fairfax, Va.: To what do you attribute the apparent change in attitude about DADT on behalf of the Congress and the country as a whole? It seems that up until recently there were harsher opinions expressed about this but now many more feel it should be done (repeal of ban). Comments?

David Hall: Our society has changed as a whole in the last 17 years. Society is more accepting of the LGBT community and the younger generation, that makes up the majority of the military, has no problem serving with gay or lesbian Americans. More people have friends, family, or neighbors who are openly gay.

In 1993 I don't think society was ready to allow gays to serve openly. But now I think people are shocked that we still kick out qualified patriotic Americans for no reason except for their sexual orientation.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you expect to see problems with new policy being enacted in the military? How will the already enlisted straight men/women regard the change?

David Hall: I don't expect too see problems with new policies being enacted. Most of the currently policies in place already deal with the contact of military members, this will not change with openly gay or lesbian service members. They will conduct themselves it the same manner. The working group is doing a great job at looking at the all the issues and coming up with the details on how to implement the repeal.

Most of the enlisted straight men/women have no problem serving with gay or lesbian service members. When asked by the working group at town hall meetings how many people know someone who is LGB almost all the hands go up.

Remember just because gays and lesbians will be allowed to serve openly not everyone will want to go around announcing it. Most will just be happy to know they won't lose their job when someone finds out.

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Washington, D.C.: The concern underlying LGB servicemembership is the same as has been expressed about co-ed service membership (i.e., that sexual tension and relationships between members degrade the ability to accomplish the military's mission). What are your views about this concern? Is it ever valid to prohibit someone of a particular sex or sexual orientation from the military or a particular unit?

David Hall: That is always a valid concern. But remember our military is made up of professional men/women who are held to high standards of conduct. The same standard of conduct will not change for LGB service members. Approximately 66,000 LGB service members are currently serving and we don't see wide spread conduct issues with this.

I don't think it is valid to prohibit someone of a particular sex or sexual orientation from the military or a particular unit. The Navy is already training the first female submariners that will serve.

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Washington, D.C.: Should transgendered enlisted persons be able to choose whether to be enlisted as "male" or "female" or should those decisions be made based upon the physical characteristics of the recruit?

David Hall: Repeal of DADT doesn't address transgendered issues. The current law only deals with lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members.

Transgender are currently prohibited from serving by Department of Defense Regulations not a law passed by Congress.

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Fairfax, Va.: Do you agree with the various services' anti-fraternization policies and, if so, will including open homosexual service members make violations of such policies more common?

David Hall: Yes I do agree with the anti-fraternization policies and yes LGB service members will held to the same standard as everyone else serving.

I do not think that including openly LGB service members will make the violations more common. Remember 66,000 LGB service members are currently serving and we don't see this issue coming up.

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Such fraidy cats: Why is it that the second most macho military in the world (Israel arguably the first) is so quaking in their boots about the possibility they might be serving alongside gay men and women? Both Israel and Australia (and European) militaries allow gay service members with no problem.

They can do all those violent macho acts but they fear gay people. Gimme a break. How do they square that?

What a bunch of whiny babies.

Insecure about their sexuality much?

David Hall: The working group has talked to some of our allies about how they implemented open services and issues they might have faced.

We know our allies have had no problems with allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

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David Hall: Thank you for all the great questions. Today the House should have the full vote on the Defense Authorization Bill with the Senate following in a few weeks. The Pentagon will continue to study the best way to implement the repeal of DADT with certification hopefully happening the 1st Quarter of 2011.

In a few years from now we will wonder why we didn't do this sooner. We will have a stronger military that allows all qualified patriotic Americans to serve.

Thank You,

David Hall

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