WASHINGTON — In selecting a person for recognition as LGBTQ Ally of the Year, the qualities of a person’s character are the determining factor when discussing an honor related to the greater LGBTQ community.
These factors are important given the substantial amount of negativity and outright hostility thrust upon LGBT persons in general by the influential and vocal opposition that comprise far-right conservatives and religious so-called “family values” organisations.
And this year, while several individuals were outspoken in their support for LGBTQ rights, there was one quiet and unassuming figure, who stood out for his forceful, determined and unwavering support of gay and lesbian persons being able to proudly wear the uniform of the United States Armed Forces — Admiral Mike Mullen, our choice for “Ally of the Year.”
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)
Mullen — the now-retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — with the tacit approval of not only his immediate supervisor, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, but with the additional backing of his Commander-In-Chief, President Barack Obama, tirelessly campaigned to repeal the nearly two decades old policy known as “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell.”
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, enacted under President Bill Clinton in 1993 after Congress passed a law that same year banning gays from serving in the military, was a compromise that would prohibit openly gay individuals from serving in the U.S. military, but it also prohibited the military from asking service members their sexual orientation.
More than 14,000 service members were dismissed from the U.S. military over the 17 years that the policy was in effect — a policy that Mullen said forced gays and lesbians to “lie about who they are.”
“[S]peaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.
“For me personally, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”
Mullen faced strident criticism from a ranging opposition comprised of powerful political figures and GOP lawmakers who insisted repealing the policy would damage the combat effectiveness and morale of service men and women serving, particularly those in combat units in the war zones.
Mullen’s greatest opposition though came from within the ranks as the other service chiefs voiced their opposition or expressed doubts as to whether or not repeal would be of benefit to the forces, concerned that the “good order, discipline, and morale” of units would be negatively impacted.
General James F. Amos, the commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps, said that allowing gays to serve openly in the military could result in more casualties because openly gay troops on the battlefield could pose “a distraction.”
And as repeal efforts got underway, Mullen was quick to answer critics, and in one case publicly rebuked a decorated U.S. Army commander, who wrote in a letter to Stars and Stripes that he did not believe that most military personnel support repeal of the policy.
In a press briefing, Mullen suggested that the letter’s author, Lieutenant General Benjamin Mixon, should consider resigning and then added senior officers are obligated to follow policies enunciated by the President, and those who feel they can’t have the option to “vote with your feet” and retire from military service.
As the close of 2010 brought hearings on the legislation to repeal the policy, Mullen repeatedly rejected opposition efforts that troops should be surveyed on whether to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” calling the idea “dangerous,” and an “incredibly bad precedent” to allow troops to vote on military policy.
On Sept. 20, 2011, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was formally repealed and for the first time in its history, the U.S. military welcomed openly gay and lesbian service members into its ranks.
Two weeks later, on Oct. 3, 2011, Mullen retired, marking the end of a distinguished 43-year career in the U.S. Navy.
And at a ceremony held in his honor, President Barack Obama acknowledged the services rendered to the nation and its citizens by the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
[…] “And today, thanks to Mike’s principled leadership, our military draws its strength from more members of our American family. Soon, women will report for duty on our submarines. And patriotic service members who are gay and lesbian no longer have to lie about who they are to serve the country that they love. History will record that the tipping point toward this progress came when the 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff went before Congress, and told the nation that it was the right thing to do.”
The Admiral’s unwavering support for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” earned him the gratitude of gay and lesbian service members, as well as future gay and lesbian civilians who wished to enter the armed services but had been prevented from doing so by the policy.