In the past few months the controversial “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy has once again made its way into headlines. The underlying premise behind DADT appears, on the surface, understandable. The policy forbids those who openly identify as LGBT from serving in the military forces because “it would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.” Upon closer consideration, however, this premise falls flat.
Unit cohesion and building trust are essential aspects of effective military units, but there is little evidence that homosexuals who serve in the military erode the military capability of their troops. As Sen. Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a recent opinion piece, “There is no evidence that the presence of gay and lesbian colleagues would damage our military’s ability to fight. Our closest allies in NATO and other alliances, including Canada, Britain, France and Israel, allow gays and lesbians to serve openly with no impact on readiness.”
The firing of gay men and women may actually hinder the military’s effectiveness more than anything. There are countless stories of courageous men and women, like West Point graduate Lisa Young, who served in the U.S. Air Force for 16 years, became a Chinook Pilot was selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel – until her homosexual orientation was discovered and she was discharged. According to Aaron Belkin, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Palm Center at UCSB, the Pentagon “has fired over 11,000 capable troops, including nearly 1,000 considered mission-critical and over 300 foreign linguists, just because they’re gay. This despite overwhelming evidence that letting known gays serve does not impair cohesion, recruitment or effectiveness.”
When it comes to preventing individuals who present a risk to unit cohesion, the military appears to have a double standard, since for years the Pentagon has allowed convicted felons to serve in the military. According to the Associated Press, the military “routinely grants waivers to take in recruits who have criminal records, medical problems or low aptitude scores that would otherwise disqualify them from service. Most are moral waivers, which include some felonies, misdemeanors, and traffic and drug offenses.”
Such was the case with Army Reservist Bob Gidding, a convicted felon who pleaded guilty to a charge of felony arson after he admitted to setting another man’s car on fire. Gidding was sentenced to five months in prison and three years probation, and was also prohibited from owning or possessing a handgun. Gidding was deployed to Iraq before serving his prison sentence -Â even though the military knew of his recent sentence.
So a convicted arsonist barred from owning a handgun won’t create “an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion,” but an honored West Point graduate with a 16-year career in the Air Force will because she’s gay?
The U.S. Military has every right to make cohesion among troops a top priority. But that the military lowers its standards for felons who have clearly demonstrated behavior that erodes social cohesionÂ suggests this policy is founded not on substantiated claims but on deep-seated and irrational fears. That is why this policy -Â along with the deep discomfort that spurred its creation -Â needs to be re-examined.