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From Draft NOtices, January—March 2009

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Revisited

— Paula Hoffman Villanueva


Don’t ask, don’t tell. Don’t tell, don’t ask. Ask and tell. Tell and ask.

Anyway you put it, the policy is a web of dysfunctional and contradictory regulations, applied subjectively to suit the needs of the military. And the historic truth is, in wartime, it’s really not about being gay or lesbian. It’s about warm bodies. It’s about feeding the military machine with human fuel.

When recruit numbers were less critical, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) was used to harass and persecute gay military members. From 1994, when the policy was implemented, to 2001, the number of discharges based on homosexuality steadily increased (614 in 1994; 1,273 in 2001). Beginning in 2002, the numbers started dropping dramatically in all branches of the military. In 2006, there were 612 discharges. Why half as many as in 2001? The reason is simple: warm bodies for Iraq and Afghanistan.

DADT is a hysterical and hypocritical policy. For the estimated 62,000 gays and lesbians who are in the military and want to serve, they must never come out and must never even casually touch a member of the same sex. “Discovery” can lead to an other-than-honorable discharge or a dishonorable discharge.

The other side of the coin is the problem experienced by those gays and lesbians who have the need to come out and get out of the military because they can no longer tolerate the degrading secrecy. Upon “telling”, they must prove that they have never, during their time in the military, engaged in “homosexual acts” (which include casual hugging) because they are illegal under military law. Yet, at the same time, they must convince their commanding officers that they are indeed gay. What happens next is often a struggle with subjective unit commands who do not follow procedure. Technically, stating that one is gay should trigger the general discharge proceedings. In reality, it often creates the possibility of harassment and punitive backlashes but not, in many cases, the discharge. Not now, anyway. Warm bodies needed.
When my daughter’s good friend Alma joined the military four years ago, it was the sad culmination of her circumstances. She had a difficult adolescence with occasional foster care, a lack of good counseling at her overcrowded urban high school, and a desperate desire to go to college but no way to support herself while paying college tuition. She was the recruiter’s dream catch. Promises of college and computer training lured her. Now, after four years in the Army, Alma has become very depressed and confused by the DADT restrictions. We heard that she was becoming suicidal.

With only two years left in a six-year commitment, Alma recently came to a very difficult decision. She felt that she needed to state that she was lesbian and accept a general discharge. According to DADT regulations, this should have been enough; but then the craziness began. She was ignored by her immediate unit command. She was told to see a chaplain for her depression. The chaplain told her to suck it up. She was told that she was not causing any problems in the unit, and would therefore not be discharged. There was one subjective misinterpretation after another of DADT. Reports find that procedure varies greatly from command to command. So on one hand, gays who want to serve are fearful of being “discovered” and punished, and on the other hand, those who need to get out are being told that sexual orientation doesn’t matter — doublespeak at its best.

Alma has been in Iraq during this lonely and desperate struggle. It is no wonder that the suicide rate is skyrocketing. Uninformed or desperate commands are ignoring basic mental health issues. Thankfully, there are organizations working hard to reach military men and women in need. Project YANO ( referred us to the GI Rights Hotline ( Alma is receiving guidance from them as well as from other contacts that she has made. There is a wealth of material and support at Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network ( and at the Military Law Task Force website ( 

Historically, gays and lesbians have always served honorably. But they have served secretly (in the closet) and with great mental anguish. Why is it that the United States military, the largest single government agency employer in the U.S., is mandated to openly discriminate and harass its workforce based on sexual orientation? While it is true that societal attitudes about sexual orientation have changed in the past 15 years (75% of Americans polled last summer supported gays in the military), thousands of military members continue suffering under the weight of intolerance and DADT.

There is now reason to hope that DADT could be repealed. House Bill 1246, entitled “Military Readiness Enhancement Act” (even this name shouts of “warm bodies needed”), is currently in Congress. President-elect Obama, while strongly in favor of this a year ago, is now taking a more cautious posture. Hoping to avoid the negative backlash that Bill Clinton received when DADT was enacted, Obama now states that he will create a dialogue with the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs to look at DADT. Congress will need a positive signal from the Pentagon for this bill to pass. There are currently 145 sponsors and 218 are needed. If, as in the past, intolerance and ignorance prevail in the voices of military leaders, repeal will be unlikely. If, as in the past, the Pentagon begins to alter the bill as it stands, it will undoubtedly balloon into a new mass of bureaucratic regulations and restrictions.

Most of our country’s allies in the world accept gays and lesbians openly in military service. It is time for the United States to put DADT out of existence. It is time to add DADT to the shamefully long list of obsolete policies of intolerance in the history of this country.

Kathy Gilberd provided input for this article. — PHV

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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