A look back on the 3-year anniversary of DADT’s repeal

This month marks three years since Congress and President Obama repealed the disastrous “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, which forbade gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

It was a policy with high costs and no tangible benefits: The Armed Forces needlessly lost 13,650 good soldiers during the 16 years DADT held sway, and the cost of kicking them out added up to more than $400 million—for investigations, court costs, and replacing lost talent.

And what’s become of the military since the ban was lifted? Despite the doomsday warnings from opponents of LGBT rights, who said allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would harm military morale, readiness and unit cohesion, nothing much.

The Pentagon reports that there have been no major problems since the repeal took effect.

To commemorate the repeal anniversary, I have an in-depth profile at The American Prospect of Dan Choi, who became probably the most recognizable icon of the repeal movement, after coming out live on The Rachel Maddow Show in 2009. The profile looks at what happens to an icon once the movement is over. You can check it out here.

Dan Choi, second from left, one of the many times he handcuffed himself to the White House fence in order to protest the DADT policy.

Dan Choi, second from left, one of the many times he handcuffed himself to the White House fence in order to protest the DADT policy.

In spite of the anniversary, it’s not quite accurate to say that the push for equality in the Armed Forces is over.

While the repeal of the discriminatory law was a big step forward, it did not ensure that gay and lesbian service members are protected from discrimination. Under current military policy, it’s no longer a requirement to kick out gays and lesbians, but there are no positive nondiscrimination protections in place to protect LGBT soldiers, nor is there a grievance system in place to address harassment or intimidation against LGBT people.

As a recent report from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., points out, gay and lesbian service members are not covered under the military’s equal opportunity provisions:

[S]ervice members are not a protected class under the military’s Equal Opportunity policy, which protects service members from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, and religion, and creates a clear pathway for recourse outside of the chain of command. Instead, LGBT service members have been instructed report harassment and abuse to their chain of command or to file a complaint with the inspector general. This, however, does not trigger the same data collection process that an Equal Opportunity complaint would incite, so they Department of Defense currently does not collect any data on sexual orientation discrimination.

As with “don’t ask, don’t tell,” it will take a concerted effort by supporters of LGBT rights to ensure that the military not only allows gays and lesbians to serve openly, but that it recognizes their value to the service by protecting them from discrimination.

The Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) currently being considered by Congress, which would protect LGBT people from being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity under federal law (while many states have such protections in place, 29 states do not protect gays, and 33 do not protect trans people), does not apply to the military. Short of legislative action to extend the scope of the law, this means the Pentagon would have to change its rules.

The other area where advocates for LGBT rights need to apply pressure is on protections for transgender service members. Under current regulations, those who identify as trans are not allowed to serve. But unlike “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Congress doesn’t need to get involved in order to open the doors for transgendered people to serve openly—there’s no law on the books barring trans people from service, rather it’s military regulations.

All of this should serve as a reminder that equality isn’t a once-and-for-all achievement. You have to keep pushing forward, even once you think the job is done.


Gabriel Arana is a senior editor at The American Prospect in Washington, D.C. His pieces have appeared in The Nation, Slate, The Advocate, the Daily Beast, and other publications. He is a graduate of Yale University and a native of Nogales, Arizona.

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  • Dave

    John McCain repeated that bit of nonsense. The last one, which is the most deranged claim about DADT that I saw, is from Lively.

  • Stev84

    It’s what mentally challenged Marine Corps Commandant James Amos claimed before repeal.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    “Soldiers distracted on the battlefield have lost limbs.” Oh no, you don’t say. ROTFL

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    They have been held yo account. They can’t retract their words, because their cash cow may dry up.

  • Dave

    The repeal of DADT has been a complete and utter disaster for the United States. Consider some of the consequences:

    - One third of the active duty force has quit or refused to re-enlist.

    - The chaplain corps had to be terminated since chaplains could no longer preach the Gospel.

    - Soldiers distracted on the battlefield have lost limbs.

    - The US military has become combat ineffective.

    - The armed forces are now dominated by a homosexual cabal, which advances other homosexuals through the ranks while driving out heterosexuals. The ultimate plan is a coup d’etat, placing nuclear weapons in the unfettered control of homosexual cabalists.

    Those are some of the consequences, as predicted by FRC, Elaine Donnelly, John McCain, Bryan Fischer, and Scott Lively. Will anyone compile all these predictions and hold these people to account?

  • Stev84

    There are severe problems with Status of Forces Agreements. The military refuses command sponsorship to married couples for overseas tours and blames the host country laws on that.

    But some of it is merely an excuse and passing the buck. They also do that for countries that have relationship recognition and I’ve also read some people say that Korea for example easily gave them a non-tourist visa.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I wish someone would collect all the old statements, from members of congress too.

  • jamesnimmo

    I think we should remember some of the people who made it all possible.

    http://prospect.org/article/passion-dan-choi

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I concur.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    Seems to me that there are a lot of people who were forced into something other than an honorable discharge who are owed having their military records amended to reflect the DoD’s error, and be granted restitution – including any loss of benefits.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Not only were some 13,650 servicemen and -women kicked out for no good reason, DADT had a number of other negative effects on ‘morale and effectiveness’:

    - Uncounted gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans did not or felt they could not serve their country even though they may have wanted to do so.

    - The morale and effectiveness of tens of thousands more gays and lesbians serving in the military suffered because they had to keep a secret from everyone. Those few who risked having relationships were in constant danger of having their careers ended.

    - DADT resulted in numerous cases of individuals blackmailed over their sexual orientation.

    - Accusation of being a lesbian was often used as a means of sexual harassment and coercion against women within the military.

    - Many, many times an out gay or lesbian servicemember was told their sexual orientation didn’t matter to their superior officers…until the day came when retirement pensions were almost due, at which point they were drummed out. In other words, DADT was used to exploit service.

  • Paul

    So changing the Equal Opportunity policy is simply an executive branch decision, correct? I’m surprised Obama hasn’t done this yet.

  • bkmn

    Can someone please remind the media that all the drama queen statements about the effects of repealing DADT would have on the military did not come true?

    I was thinking of (tight pucker) Elayne Donnelly, Ms. Tony Perkins and all the other associated loons that the media go to when talking about gay rights….

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