Thursday, August 02, 2007

Don't ask don't tell: Donnelly, Rawls letters in The Washington Times; my three draft physicals

Today, Thursday August 2, 2007, on page A22 of The Washington Times print version, Elaine Donnelly, President, Center for Military Readiness, Livonia, MI, has a letter to the editor titled “Gays, the military, and the Law” answering a letter Saturday July 28, 2007, in which Steve Ralls from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (“on repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”. Ms. Donnelly maintains that there is no such thing as a “don’t ask don’t tell” law, although she seems to connect it to a Military Personnel Eligibility Act of 1993.

In act, the actual statue is Public Law 103-160, passed Nov. 30, 1993. The Stanford University Law School, on its site dedicated to the policy, has a copy here. This had been called the Defense Authorization Act in 1993.

Nomenclature (unlike the case in organic chemistry) may not matter so much as a characterization of what the law says. She says that it is a reenactment of the 1981 “old ban” with the exception that commanders not ask sexual orientation at enlistment unless ordered to do so by the Secretary of Defense. In some sense, taken at face value, the text of the law on the Stanford Law School site literally seems to support such an interpretation. Later in the letter she hints that the Pentagon ought indeed to resume “asking.”

She also refers to the Pentagon’s own internal regulations (actually published in February 1994) in which the Pentagon apparently tried to make a sincere effort to let gay servicemembers have a “private life” – something we know often did not work, given all the witch-hunts over the years (I have attended plenty of SLDN “end the witch hunt” dinners, often around Halloween).

In fact, even during the Vietnam war the Army essentially had a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy most of the time (although specific Army regulations, buried deep in bureaucratic text, called for discharges even of those with “homosexual associations”). After my expulsion from a civilian college in 1961 and psychiatric “treatment” in 1962 (I was one of Laura Schlessinger’s “biological errors” (link)) I tried three times to get drafted to “redeem” my reputation. In September 1964 I took a draft physical in Richmond VA (psychiatrists had just said “your’re not qualified”) and the medical questionnaire did ask about “homosexual tendencies” and I answered “truthfully.” I was classified 4-F. In April 1966 I took another physical in Kansas City, MO (while in graduate school at KU) and there was no question about homosexuality at all, but there was one about psychiatric treatment. I was classified 1-Y. In August 1967 I took another physical in Richmond and passed (was 2-S and then 1-A). I may be the only admitted homosexual who went from 4-F to 1-A and actually served a term in the Army without incident, although I did not go to Vietnam. I was with relatively well educated troops in a special unit, who tended to see homosexuality as a welcome anti-war rebellion.

Because of powers given to Congress to regulate the military and even (apparently) to conscript, it is an uphill fight at best to get such a policy overturned on constitutional grounds. But it is encouraging to note that the public, as noted in an earlier entry, is coming around to lifting the ban. What happens if Congress does return to the draft or some kind of proximate national service?

As others familiar with my story knows, one of the biggest concerns about the ban is the insinuation that gays are not fit to share the responsibility of defending freedom. Parallel concerns exist with gay marriage and gay adoption. Government is officially, in statutory law, defining us as second class citizens, and then saying it will look the other way most of the time – until something happens and we have to draw straws. We all know the reasoning behind the ban – not just unit cohesion, but forced intimacy – but those concerns exist elsewhere, like in fire departments, law enforcement, intelligence, and sometimes teaching. In fact, gays were often banned from these too (especially from having security clearances – a factor that affected my career direction in the 1970s). In 1978, California almost banned gay teachers (and this almost happened in Washington in 1986). The military ban sets a horrible precedent for other areas.

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