A chorus of doomsayers greeted President Barack Obama’s support for the repeal of the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 2010. Senator John McCain, who led the fight to prevent lesbian, gay, and bisexual members of the armed forces from serving openly, said in a speech on the Senate floor that the change was likely to “harm the battle effectiveness vital to the survival of our young men and women in the military.”
This week marks the one-year anniversary of DADT’s full repeal, and I think it’s important to revisit these kinds of hyperbolic statements. The fact is that Senator McCain and other opponents of repeal were flat wrong.
A comprehensive report released this month by UCLA’s Palm Center found that the repeal of DADT had no overall negative impact on the armed forces.
The study — which involved generals and admirals who had opposed repeal, experts who had supported repeal, active-duty personnel, watchdog organizations, and scholars — found that military readiness, recruitment, retention, and overall morale were all steady a year after the new policy began. The report even found that the change may have increased troop cohesion by building respect and understanding within the ranks.
Today, lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members are openly participating in proud military traditions. A lesbian intelligence officer celebrated her promotion to colonel by inviting her partner of more than 10 years to pin on her new rank in a traditional ceremony. Another couple shared a widely photographed first kiss when one of the two women returned from a Navy deployment.
Colonel Gary Packard, who led the team that planned the implementation of DADT repeal, put it best when he relayed an observation that throughout the armed forces it seemed that “some people’s Facebook status changed, but that was about it.”
Far from the catastrophe predicted by the opponents of equality, the only shock of DADT repeal seems to be that there was no shock at all. Of course, the American people are beginning to notice a trend here. Time and time again, on issues ranging from marriage equality to federal hate-crimes laws to employment nondiscrimination protections, the panicky opponents of equality have predicted disaster — and are suddenly silent when that disaster fails to materialize.
Today, a broad and growing majority of Americans support LGBT equality. As the general public has come to better understand the lives LGBT people, they can see clearly what our so-called “agenda” is really about.
The agenda of LGBT families, after all, is to raise their kids in safe schools, to contribute to a fair tax system, and to enjoy the same protections in health care that opposite-sex couples enjoy. The agenda of LGBT employees is to work hard in an environment where they won’t be fired simply for living as they are. And the agenda of LGBT members of the armed forces is to serve openly and tirelessly the country that they love.
Our work isn’t done yet. A year after full DADT repeal, the government still fails to provide equal benefits to lesbian, gay, and bisexual military families, in part due to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. And transgender women and men are still barred from serving openly. It’s time for Congress and the Defense Department to take steps to right these wrongs.
After all, American service members stand prepared to give their lives for their country. The naysayers who thought that open service would weaken this sense of duty were wrong, and our country is made better by the fact that our military is a more inclusive institution. On the surface, the repeal of DADT seems to have maintained the status quo, but for lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members, and for our national commitment to fairness and equality, the change has made all the difference in the world.