“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy examined

Representatives from the Queer Resource Center and the Student Veteran Association shared their experiences and views in a moderated forum last Wednesday.

Representatives from the Queer Resource Center and the Student Veteran Association shared their experiences and views in a moderated forum last Wednesday.

The forum was held in response to President Obama’s call to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue, Don’t Harass” policy that was enacted in 1993 under the Clinton administration.

Originally called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy was amended to include the longer stipulations in response to harassment and persecution of service persons.

The Safe Spaces policy was in place for the public meeting, and 26 audience members were present. The panelists were identified only by their first names in order to protect their privacy.

Glenn and Tabatha represented the QRC, while Jason and Kevin represented the SVA.

Student Aaron Powell, the forum’s moderator, is a member of Portland State’s debate team and was once a member of the Navy.

Several questions were asked by Powell, including what the policy is, how it affects unit cohesion and what consequences would arise if the policy were repealed.

Members of the audience also asked questions and gave input as the forum progressed.

   Jason is an officer of the armed forces who has spent a decade in the military. Jason said that if the policy were to be repealed, the military would implement it and punish people for harassing homosexual soldiers.

 As for whether the policy is a good one, Jason said, “Opinion is a luxury. Military service is a tool of social change, not a place where social change happens readily.”

Kevin Hershey, SVA’s president and a five-year veteran of the Navy, said, “It’s a bad thing. People shouldn’t have to lie about who they are.”

Glenn said that being a closeted homosexual caused him anxiety and created other challenges as a result of self-doubt.

Tabatha said that she supports the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy because soldiers would be judged by their performance, rather than by what they do in their free time. However, Tabatha said she also supports removing the part of the law that considers homosexual acts criminal.

Glenn also said that it is bothersome that the policy defines homosexual activities as a criminal offense. He pointed out that there is a harassment policy that covers everything except sexual orientation.

Commenting on whether Congress needs to act on the promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Hershey said, “It’s open to interpretation [if Congress does not act]. Bad idea.”

As for unit cohesion, Glenn cited several studies which show that unit cohesion was improved when other armed forces removed discrimination against sexual minorities.

Tabatha said, “I think [mandatory enlistment] would be horrible. It’ll lead to more problems.”

An audience member said, “When officers act with impunity it trickles down and that degrades the integrity of the military.”

In response to the statement, Jason said, “[There are] checks and balances. There is integrity in the military.”

Jason also pointed out that the military has a network of support for people to address harassment. If the policy is repealed then service members experiencing harassment will have recourse.

Another audience member asked how the policy change would impact recruitment.

Jason responded that the economy has helped enlistment and that at this time the military is not having a difficult time recruiting soldiers.

 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” reports

     The Government Accountability Office released a report in February 2005 that read, “322 (3 percent) of separated service members had some skills in an important foreign language such as Arabic, Farsi, or Korean.” The study period was from 1994 to 2003. The number of discharges in the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy increased every year leading up to 2001. However, the numbers dropped off in 2002 and the following years after the 9/11 attack and the subsequent invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The GAO also determined that the Department of Defense spent an estimated $95 million to replace the 9,500 service members that were separated from 1994 to 2003. The GAO found that the “financial costs and loss of critical skills due to the DOD’s homosexual conduct policy cannot be completely estimated” because the DOD “does not collect relevant cost data.”