By Elizabeth Wong, Associate Director
The military isn’t for everyone, but for those who hear the call to duty to risk their lives for their country, there is a sense of pride in what they do, as there should be. And yet there is a minority of troops who, despite having the same courage and gumption to enlist as their peers, must everyday deny a part of who they are.
In the early 1980s, the Department of Defense stated explicitly that homosexuality was incompatible with military service and gays were not allowed to serve in the armed forces. By the 1990s, gay and lesbian rights’ advocates had made it a priority to reverse this policy. Military officials remained fearful that allowing gays to openly serve would harm unit cohesion but a political compromise was reached in 1993. The policy, known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allows gays to serve in the military, but their sexual orientation must not be revealed.
Over the past several years, support to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been growing. In addition to softened opposition in general to gays and lesbians in all aspects of our culture, tens of thousands of service members have been unnecessarily discharged from the service, costing the military crucial personnel and taxpayers a lot of dollars.
Recently, the House of Representatives took a significant step towards creating equality in the military by voting 234-194 for repeal of DADT. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16-12 in favor of the change as well.
However, for Virginians there was one notable vote against the repeal –that of Virginia Senator Jim Webb. Sen. Webb has said he supports the eventual repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but justified his opposition by stating that a vote should not have taken place before the Pentagon completes a study, due out in December, that examines the impact of the repeal of DADT on recruitment and military preparedness.
Webb is being overly cautious, leading him to miss the point. President Truman did not need a study to show that racial segregation in the armed services was wrong. And, a strong majority of House members and most of the Senate Armed Services Committee are not waiting for a study of this injustice to vote against it.
Senator Webb needs to step into the ring and throw a real punch at this outdated, unworkable insult to our gay and lesbian soldiers. If he does it now, he acts on principle. If his vote depends on a study of the practical effects of DADT and how to prepare for repeal, he is looking in the wrong place for inspiration.
A vote in the full Senate on repeal of DADT is likely to occur in the next month. Everyone of us should be honoring June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month by contacting Senator Webb-- and Senator Warner as well-- to urge him to do the right thing when it comes time to cast his vote.
Virginia Needs a Second Look Law Now.