Silence kills

By TONY GIAMPETRUZZI  |  May 25, 2006

“It isn’t a question of fair. It is in direct contradiction with the concept of judging a man or woman based on his qualifications, merit, and performance. Based on that I think the time for repeal has come. The premise for the law is sound — maintenance of discipline among the ranks,” he says. “In 1992, DADT was relevant. Now, I think that both society and the majority of personnel in the military have moved on. Racial integration of the military proceeded at a pace far ahead of civilian society and it worked because it was approached in a methodical fashion keeping a constant eye on its effects. Unfortunately the military is behind the curve on decriminalization of homosexual activity, but I think taking the same methodical approach will succeed.”

Now, the military brass, badly in need of people and brains, are up against an enemy they cannot — and should never be allowed to — defeat: their civilian masters, who have enshrined in law (10 USC Sec. 654 for you legal wonks out there) a prohibition on “persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts.” This is no Pentagon rule, able to be changed with relative ease and a few signatures, but an Act of Congress that literally requires an Act of Congress to change.

A “blue-ribbon commission” earlier this year released a report estimating that DADT had cost the military $365 million between 1994 and 2003, or nearly double what a previous government study had estimated. The 2006 study included the cost of recruiting and training people, less the “value” those recruits “returned” to the military before being discharged, plus $14.5 million in travel costs to send home the nearly 10,000 people kicked out during those years.

So, most — most voters anyway — agree it’s time for change.

“I predict that DADT will be dealt with in the next three to five years. I think that there is that much momentum around this issue and I think that the time is right. Some of this depends on politics — we can’t full predict what will happen in November, but all the stars are aligning to make this a reality,” says Osburn.

Gundberg agrees. In 1996 he notified his commander that he wanted to have a relationship with somebody.

“I was a great linguist, but they put me on desk duty for 35 days. I immediately lost my security clearance, because I was gay and because I could be blackmailed and then I would turn over national secrets. Again, [that was] very hypocritical because if it hadn’t been against the law to be openly gay, there would have been nothing to blackmail me for,” he says, adding that under the law (and which is now common practice) he received a medical discharge, an honorable discharge, and was eligible for veterans’ benefits. He also says he would counsel anyone who is gay against joining the military, but with a caveat — if the law were repealed, he would likely join again.

“Don’t go. You’ll be miserable, you’ll never have a personal life. If you don’t want to raise any eyebrows, you’ll be required to go on a couple dates, play the straight lifestyle for a bit, and if you’re not comfortable with that and don’t want to be a complete hypocrite, don’t do it.

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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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