Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Headed For Extinction?

Amie Newman

The Pentagon released the results of a review of the military if Don't Ask, Don't Tell were to be repealed. The conclusion? It's time to say good-bye to discrimination based on sexual orientation in the military. Our soldiers can handle it - and so can military leadership.

It seems that opponents of a repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy keeping gay and lesbian military members in the closet while serving, won’t have much ammunition for their argument any longer.

The Pentagon released the results of its survey, and its full report (PDF), of military members and their families today and the troops (and spouses) seem firmly in the “it’s all good” camp.

The report concludes that while repealing the policy may cause some disruption initially there would be no long-lasting damage to the military. Sixty-two percent of service members said repeal of the policy would not change their career plans in the least; they would remain in the military serving side by side with their gay and lesbian counterparts. Just like most Americans, likely, those surveyed said that job satisfaction, retirement benefits, pay and bonuses were more important than whether or not they are working with openly gay and lesbian people. 

From the report:

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Overall, 70–76% of Service members said repeal would have a positive, a mixed, or no effect on aspects of task cohesion. Similarly, 67–78% of Service members said repeal would have a positive, mixed, or no effect on aspects of social cohesion.

When asked about how openly gay or lesbian service members in ones’ immediate unit might affect trust within the unit, care and concern for each other, performance, and ability to work together, the majority of service members answered that there would be no effect, a mixed effect or a positive effect on cohesion.

The Marines were consistenly the most negative in their responses about the effect of the repeal. Within the Marines, the combat arms units held even more pessimistic perspectives about the potential negative effects of the repeal. Nearly 67 percent said that there would be a negative effect on unit cohesion if gay and lesbian service members were allowed to serve openly.

In what should no longer be shocking to me, but somehow still is, the working group/panel that implemented the survey and produced the report, noted particularly homophobic responses from some military chaplains, to a possible repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Some chaplains told the working group members that they would “condemn in the strongest possible terms homosexuality as a sin and an abomination, and…that they would refuse to in any way support, comfort, or assist someone they knew to be homosexual” should DADT no longer be the law of the land. That said, other chaplains noted that though believed homosexuality to be a sin they also admitted it was their duty to care for all servicemembers regardless. It’s hard to imagine how supportive a chaplain who is strongly anti-gay may be given these responses, though.

Still, the report found that there would be little impact on recruitment and retention from repeal of DADT; as well as a low risk of losing enlisted soldiers, with a low-moderate risk of losing officers from repeal of the policy.

The panel recommended that with repeal of DADT, there must be strong leadership, proactive education and a clear message in order to successfully address the change in policy. A support plan for implementation was released in order to guide the military leadership through a new environment. A policy ensuring equal opportunity for all, prohibiting unlawful discrimination, must be followed said the panel. However, the report recommends not placing sexual orientation alongside race, color, religion, sex and other factors as part of the Military Equal Opportunity Policy or for special diversity programs. The group, instead, says that the DoD,

“…should make clear that sexual orientation may not, in and of itself, be a factor in accession, promotion, or other personnel decision-making. Gay and lesbian Service members, like all Service members, would be evaluated only on individual merit, fitness, and capability.  Likewise, the Department of Defense should make clear that harassment or abuse based on sexual orientation is unacceptable and that all Service members are to treat one another with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation. Complaints regarding discrimination, harassment, or abuse based on sexual orientation would be dealt with through existing mechanisms available for complaints not involving race, color, sex, religion, or national origin—namely, the chain of command, the Inspector General, and other means as may be determined by the Services.”

It’s unclear whether this is something gay and lesbian advocacy groups would support. The report also addresses panel recommendations for health and other benefits extended to military members’ same-sex partners.

What the panel ultimately found? That military members, like any others facing progression and change, need guidance and support for a policy change as immense as this one:

“If the law changes, we can do this; just give us the tools to communicate a clear message.”

The working group conclusively offered its assessment of a DADT repeal:

We conclude that, while a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will likely, in the short term, bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting, and can be adequately addressed by the recommendations we offer below. Longer term, with a continued and sustained commitment to our core values of leadership, professionalism, and respect for all, we are convinced that the U.S. military can adjust and accommodate this change, just as it has others in history.

News Law and Policy

Judge Blocks Mississippi ‘Religious Freedom’ Law, Calling it Discriminatory

Nicole Knight Shine

"But HB 1523 does not honor that tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens. It must be enjoined," U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves wrote.

A U.S. District Judge temporarily blocked a sweeping and controversial Mississippi “religious freedom” law late Thursday, calling the legislation “arbitrary discrimination against lesbian, gay, transgender, and unmarried persons.”

“The State has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others,” U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves wrote in a 60-page decision issued hours before HB 1523 was set to go into effect.

Reeves ruled that the bill violated the First and 14th Amendments by allowing individuals, religious organizations, and some government employees with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to deny services to, as Reeves wrote, “lesbian, gay, transgender, and unmarried persons,” potentially gutting certain privileges and legal protections—such as those stemming from the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

The bill was authored by Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Hinds), who had called the high court’s legalization of marriage equality “in direct conflict with God’s design for marriage as set forth in the Bible,” as the Washington Post reported.

“Religious freedom was one of the building blocks of this great nation, and after the nation was torn apart, the guarantee of equal protection under law was used to stitch it back together,” Reeves wrote in his decision.”But HB 1523 does not honor that tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens. It must be enjoined.”

The legislation, known as the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, was signed into law by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant in April, after clearing the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

The measure enshrined three religiously held tenets: that gender is determined at birth, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that sex is “properly reserved” for heterosexual marriage. It determined that housing, employment, and adoption decisions could be made based on those religious beliefs.

A swift national and state-level outcry followed the passage of HB 1523, with 80 CEOs, among others, calling for its repeal as “bad for our employees and bad for business,” according to the court documents. The law had been challenged in Barber v. Bryant and Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant.

The state has not said whether it will appeal Reeves’ ruling. If the state does not appeal, the temporary order becomes permanent after another hearing.

“I am grateful that the court has blocked this divisive law,” said Rev. Susan Hrostowski, an Episcopal priest and a plaintiff in the Campaign for Southern Equality case. “As a member of the LGBT community and as minister of the Gospel, I am thankful that justice prevailed.”

The injunction Thursday follows a ruling earlier this week by Reeves, a 2010 Obama appointee, which blocked a provision in HB 1523 allowing circuit clerks to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as the Washington Post reported. Twenty months prior, Reeves had struck down the state’s statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.


Defense Department Lifts Ban on Openly Transgender Service Members

Christine Grimaldi

“Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly, and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced during a Thursday press briefing at the Pentagon.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Thursday lifted the ban prohibiting openly transgender individuals from serving in the military.

“Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly, and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced during a press briefing at the Pentagon. 

Although policy changes will occur over the next 12 months, Carter said, he stressed that “implementation will begin today.”

Carter last year called the ban “outdated” and pledged to start the process of allowing transgender people to serve openly in the U.S. military. As Rewire previously reported, “openly” is the key—research estimates that many transgender individuals already serve in the military, even though there are rules against it.

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The initial review process included creating a working group to study the implications associated with the seismic policy shift. Advocates considered the review period necessary to evaluate medical and other issues that didn’t arise with the 2011 repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which allowed gay and lesbian individuals to serve openly in the military.

A Carter-commissioned report released in May estimated that about 2,450 out of 1.3 million active-duty service members are transgender, according to the New York Times. Every year, about 65 service members pursue gender transition, the Times reported.

In the next 90 days, the DOD must complete and issue “medical guidance to doctors for providing transition-related care, if required, to currently serving transgender service members,” Carter said.

“Our military treatment facilities will begin providing transgender service members with all medically necessary care based on that medical guidance,” he added.

More generally, active-duty transgender service members will soon have access to comparable military-provided medical care as their cisgender counterparts—without having to conceal their gender identity.

“Right now, most of our transgender service members must go outside the military medical system in order to obtain medical care that is judged by doctors to be necessary, and they have to pay for it out of their own pockets,” Carter said early in the briefing. “This is inconsistent with our promise to all our troops that we will take care of them and pay for necessary medical treatment.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs opened its first clinic last November specializing in the treatment of transgender veterans. As Rewire reported at the time, the clinic provides transgender veterans with primary care, hormone therapy, and mental health services.

National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling praised the DOD for putting an end to the “outdated and unscientific ban” in a statement provided to Rewire Thursday.

“Allowing anyone who is willing and able to serve to do so without lying about who they are is a sound policy that reflects American values,” Keisling said. “Like other institutions, including allied militaries, the Defense Department has found straightforward answers for all the questions that have come up. This is the right decision for the military and brings much needed certainty for thousands of currently serving soldiers who have put their lives on the line for their country, as well as for their units.”

Keisling expressed a remaining concern: an expected 18-month delay for individuals to join the military following their transition, which Carter outlined in his briefing today.

“This delay is substantially longer than individuals for comparable medical issues,” Keisling said. “We hope that this is a lingering piece of transgender exceptionalism that we expect will change as the military sees that it is simply an unnecessary barrier to getting the best talent.”