Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama should work carefully to repeal "Don't Ask Don't Tell"

How should the new present Obama deal with “don’t ask don’t tell”?

I would say, carefully. He should be pragmatic. It should not be the first issue on day one of his presidency, as it practically was with Bill Clinton.

However, Obama should follow a consistent course toward repeal. First, he should quietly support Marty Meehan’s military readiness bill (HR 1246, The Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2007, here. The trouble is, it will have to be re-introduced and revised in the 111th Congress.

Second, he should quietly request an update to the 1993 report issued by the National Defense Research Institute of the Rand Corporation published "Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: Options and Assessment" (available on Amazon, although expensive). One major concern would be to update the proposed “Code of Military Professional Conduct” to allow for the Internet, the effects of which were hardly understood in 1993 when this study was written.

A goal of the policy would be removal of the current law from United States Code, because, for one thing, having such a law on the books can have a malignant effect on gays in other areas. While lifting the ban, the military will need an internal administrative (non-statutory) policy with regard to conduct that might occur in circumstances more intimate than those encountered by most civilians, although these circumstances can exist in the civilian world (as with firemen, law enforcement, intelligence, or even teachers). It’s significant that intimate living circumstances can occur with some civilian forms of national service, like the Peace Corps, which Obama wants to expand.

Third, he should look at the experience with foreign militaries, especially in NATO, when they have lifted the ban. The UK Guardian has a story on Feb. 21, 2005 about the British Navy: “Navy's new message: your country needs you, especially if you are gay: Admirals shed centuries of repression with pink press adverts”, link here to a story by Patrick Barkham. Aaron Belkin, of the Palm Center (formerly the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, and now running a "Don't Ask Don't Tell" project) at the University of California at Santa Barbara has published a lot of material about foreign militaries, especially Israel, as in this Ynet News story by Itamar Eichner, “Follow Israel's example on gays in the military, US study says; California University study concludes America needs to learn from 'tolerant Israeli model' regarding homosexual soldiers, officers; 'you can be a very brave, creative officer and be gay at the same time,' former IDF officer quoted as saying”, link here

During the coming weeks, hopefully we’ll see more thought-provoking pieces in mainstream literary and policy means discussing how, in the United States, the ban would be lifted.

This would be the appropriate time for Hollywood to jump in. There have been several television of cable films on the ban (“Serving in Silence”, “Soldier’s Girl”, "Any Mother's Son," and recently the independent documentary “Ask Not” by Jonny Simons). There is another project “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” from a group called Dream Out Loud films (blog: ). But I think it is time that “real money” from some of the more liberal-minded players in the film and television production and distribution world ought to be forthcoming, with A-list stars and directors. I don’t need to “name names” but we all know whom in the media Barack Obama listens to.

It bears mention again, that in these perilous times (a new Al Qaeda threat appeared in the news this morning as I wrote this) we need to keep every language translator we can.

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