Silence kills

By TONY GIAMPETRUZZI  |  May 25, 2006

With the country in the throes of two wars already — neither with an end-game strategy, and neither with any hope of peace — and a third war looming on the horizon, our military is not only forced to discharge trained, qualified professionals willing to go far from home, fight, and die for this country (or other countries). The armed forces’ retention rate is also lower than it would otherwise be because gay and lesbian soldiers are choosing not to reenlist for fear of getting caught.

The problem this time is that DADT — to which lawmakers have added “Don’t Harass, Don’t Pursue,” and to which critics also add “Don’t Get Caught, Don’t Get Found Out, Don’t Get Told On” — is inflexible, in fact tying the hands of military leaders whom past political leaders have allowed to make their own military decisions, choices that in many cases paved the way for greater equality in civil society.

Things have changed. The pre-1992 policy was that it was the official policy of commanders to hunt down and remove people. “We don’t really see that today,” says Osburn. “So there has been a huge cultural shift in terms of investigation.”

That said, Osburn concedes that neither now nor then were all commanders, even most, wont to destroy the careers of serving gays.

“We have a client who said that when his ship boards in San Francisco for shore leave, the captain calls everyone together and says, ‘I want you all to have fun, but for those of you under DADT, be careful.’ It was a captain who was clearly acknowledging his gay sailors, he was not saying that he was running a ship that was open, but he was clearly concerned,” says Osburn.

“The people we talk to, even at the top levels of the Pentagon, believe that the repeal of DADT is inevitable now, and many of them, one on one, will say that they support a repeal. We have to create an environment where they feel comfortable where they can say what they truly believe which is to get rid of the policy.”

The military has a strong weapon in its arsenal, to achieve integration despite bias, ignorance, and even hate: discipline. The military “owns” all its people, day and night, on base and off, and can control their actions, even if not their thoughts. It can control their speech, by outlawing hate speech and discriminatory language. Military discipline can force respect for rank, regardless of any attributes of the person wearing its insignia. (Hence even those men who may hate the idea of women serving in the military are compelled to salute a woman of a higher rank.)

Another gay military linguist, who asked to remain anonymous for fear he’d lose his job (duh!), told the Phoenix that whether or not you are gay, and whether or not there is a law on the books, it’s the military’s codes of discipline that would trump any untoward behavior.

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Shrouded bliss
Those pushing for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell chose New England as their proving ground because it’s arguably the most liberal region of the nation. Yes, we have centrist Republican leaders, every single state has vast protections for gays and lesbians (Connecticut and Vermont will let same-sex couples register into a civil union), and, in Massachusetts gays can tie the knot.

But, if either member of the betrothed is serving in the military, they might want to think twice before making such a public record of their union: while Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut have laws against bias on the job, they most certainly do not apply to the US military or the National Guard. And that bumps right up against DADT.

“I don’t think we can give any individual a hard and fast rule when it comes to grounds for discharge. I think the best we can do is tell people there are lots of things to consider — finances, partner’s finances, long-term financial planning, kids,” says Gary Buseck, an attorney at Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders adding that, although there are other trips and traps (usually for non-citizens, those wishing to adopt) for people who wish to marry in Massachusetts, the military question is a big one.

“There are a lot of things you can do that don’t require ‘telling.’ But, each individual needs to make a series of choices: how long they have been in the military, is it your career, do you depend on the pension. Maybe you decide as much as you’d like to get married, you put it off because you don’t want to risk that pension.”

Not quite fair, now, is it?

Dixon Osburn doesn’t think so, and the growing number of states that allow for such unions is yet another reason for the urgency of a DADT repeal.

“When you have a public record that indicates your relationship, that could cause a problem. You [also] can’t get spousal benefits, which is one of the reasons why we want to get married [in the first place]. It is tricky and we do have an increasing number of cases that come to us with people who want to get married and want to know what the consequences are,” says Osburn, of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “Some of these couples have children and they want to figure out how their children can get proper health care ... they all involve risk ... it’s really a matter of what sort of risks they want to take.”

For most, though, it’s the pension, stupid — and those in the know would often suggest to just not pop the question.

“Anybody who does anything that leads to a public record risks being discharged. The question is whether the military would actually get a copy of that information,” says Osburn. “With the public record there, there is certainly a strong risk that the military could obtain that information.”


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