Joe Dellosa


U.S. should support all its troops, including gays

Notes & Context

I wrote this op-ed "quantitatively" arguing against Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the Orlando Sentinel on behalf of HDN, my LGBT advocacy group.

It's time to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prohibits openly gay people from serving in the military.

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Democrat from Pennsylvania and an Iraq War veteran, has been pushing the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would eliminate "don't ask, don't tell." It is sound, timely legislation that strengthens America.

The numbers are staggering. Since 1993, more than 12,000 servicemen and -women have been discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Of those, about 60 were Arabic linguists, positions that are so critical and difficult to fill that, according to a 2008 Christian Science Monitor article, the Army considered offering retention bonuses of up to $150,000 to native Arabic-speaking soldiers.

"Don't ask, don't tell" takes a severe financial toll as well. In 2006, a University of California Blue Ribbon Commission concluded that the cost of implementing the policy from 1994 to 2003 was more than $363 million.

Most of these discharges aren't the result of inappropriate or unprofessional conduct. The mere discovery and lack of denial of one's homosexuality is enough to warrant a firing. Stephen Benjamin, a former Arabic translator in the Navy, wrote in a 2007 New York Times column that he was fired under the policy after his instant-message transcripts with a friend were found. The transcripts contained nothing remarkable, Benjamin wrote, except that they happened to indicate that he's gay.

If polls are any indication, the American public generally supports repealing "don't ask, don't tell." A December 2008 CNN/Opinion Research poll of Americans found that 81 percent believe openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the military. There is strong bipartisan support, too; a May 2009 Gallup poll put support for openly gay people serving at 58 percent among Republicans, 67 percent among independents and 82 percent among Democrats.

Those who oppose repealing the policy are often quick to cite tepid support for the policy's repeal among those serving in the military. And it's true. An October 2006 Zogby poll of current and recent military service personnel found that only 26 percent agreed with allowing openly gay people to serve; 37 percent disagreed, and 32 percent were neutral.

But in the same poll, 73 percent said they feel "very" or "somewhat" comfortable in the presence of gay people. Among those who know someone in their unit is gay, 66 percent said the presence of gay people had no impact on personal morale, and 64 percent said it had no impact on the unit's morale.

This suggests that, even if opinions about "don't ask, don't tell" are mixed among service personnel, there's already an established comfort level about gay people serving in the military, and that comfort level increases for those serving alongside them.

I'm not in the military, and I doubt I have the guts to join voluntarily. But I have nothing but gratitude for those who put on a uniform to stand up for justice and improve the lives of people around the world.

And that's why this matters. When we say we support the troops, for that to be more than a slogan on a magnetic yellow ribbon, we have a responsibility to honor everyone gay and straight who does what the rest of us won't. Every day that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy remains in force is a day we fail at that responsibility.

Only nine Florida representatives have co-sponsored Murphy's bill, with Reps. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Alan Grayson of Orlando doing so last month. Other Central Florida representatives, including Ginny Brown-Waite, John Mica, Adam Putnam, Bill Posey and Suzanne Kosmas, haven't but they should.

This is, after all, an apolitical issue, one of national security and respect for all who serve. Murphy deserves our support and, more urgently, the support of his House colleagues.

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