Listening to those who were previously opposed to repealing the U.S. military’s now-dead “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, one would think that the end of the world was imminent. Talk abounded of troops being “distracted” and losing limbs in Afghanistan, of morale and combat readiness plummeting, and of careerists leaving the armed forces in droves should that policy change make it through Congress or be imposed on the military by the courts.
In the end, both of those outcomes obtained. The federal court case on which I was proud to have served as the sole named veteran plaintiff on behalf of the Log Cabin Republicans got the DADT law declared unconstitutional, and a subsequent injunction barred enforcement of that law for a short period of time during the height of the debate over the law’s repeal. Here in Washington, we issue advocates worked closely with congressional leaders to build support for and usher though repeal legislation that was finally signed by the president in December of 2010. Although the administration originally had a very different timeline in mind, they eventually came around and in a rare political “hail Mary pass in overtime” the DADT repeal bill was passed.
After seven more months of implementation preparation and training by the Defense Department and an additional sixty-day “congressional review period” negotiated into the legislation by the late Senator Byrd (D-W.Va.), the DADT law finally became history. Virtually nothing changed for the Defense Department overall, nor did anything change for the overwhelming majority of troops who are heterosexual. But something major changed for a small percentage of those serving in uniform – those who are gay and lesbian. They were finally able to go to work one year ago today without a cloud of fear hanging over their heads that they could be abruptly fired from their jobs if the wrong person happened to find out their secret. And finally, the hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian veterans who had served under the cloud of DADT and its predecessor policies could feel some small amount of vindication.
Despite the predictions of doom and gloom by opponents, both internal and external assessments of the law’s repeal on defense operations have shown that there has been virtually no negative impact as a result of this policy change. On a scale of 1-10, opponents predicted a catastrophic 11, and the reality turned out to be a yawn-inducing 0. Was this differential the result of severe errors in judgment on the part of honest opponents who were just genuinely concerned with the welfare of the armed forces and its members? Anyone who buys that should take a look at some gorgeous beachfront property I’ve got for sale in Arizona.
Speaking of Arizona, chief among the doom-predicting, gloom-projecting, apocalypse-forecasting opponents of the DADT law’s repeal was Arizona Senator John McCain. Senator McCain used not only his strategic position as ranking member on the Senator Armed Services Committee, but also his venerable reputation as an experienced combat veteran and respected war hero to launch an all-out assault on repeal efforts. But the fight over the issue wasn’t just about politics and policy; the vitriol spewed from the mouths of opponents, including Senator John McCain, about gay and lesbian service members was at times truly reprehensible.
The assumptions implicit in their arguments against repeal, the alleged behaviors they projected onto gay troops, and the distortions and lies propagated about homosexual Americans fueled their fires and fanned their flames. And even the claims and assumptions made about straight troops – namely their supposed inability to control themselves and behave professionally when presented with uncloseted gay co-workers – was infinitely insulting to them too.
There was plenty of evidence to suggest that these dire predictions would turn out to be wrong even before the gay ban was formally ended on this day last September, but since then we have had a full year to observe results. And while we may have seen an alleged “zombie apocalypse” during that time elsewhere, there has been no similar apocalypse within the armed forces. Therefore, those who led the charge and carried the banners for anti-repeal advocates should now step up, do the right thing, and apologize to gay troops and veterans for demonizing them and using them as proxies in their wider political and culture wars. And Senator McCain in particular should apologize to members of the gay military, veteran, and defense community for his wildly inaccurate and mean-spirited portrayals of them in his pre-repeal rhetoric as he led the ill-fated charge against ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
PHOTO: Senator John McCain