During an interview with Fox News, Defense Secretary Robert Gates implied that he would slow walk the military’s review of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). “I think this has to be done very carefully and very deliberately,” he said. “The military culture is a very strong one… These people do not have choices about who they associate with“:
GATES: The review I am launching is to help inform the legislative process of some facts about the attitudes of our men and women in uniform, what they think about a change in the law, what their families think…The truth is we don’t have any facts. There are a lot of articles, a lot of assertions made. But we need to understand all of the different things that have to be with in terms of housing and benefits and regulations and fraternization rules and conduct and training.
While studying possible changes to “benefits and regulations and fraternization” would help commanders implement a new non-discrimination policy once DADT is repealed, it’s not clear why the right of a minority to serve openly should be put to a vote before the majority — particularly when doing so recalls some rather uncomfortable historical parallels. After all, when President Harry Truman desegregated the military, a 1949 survey of white Army personnel revealed that “32% completely opposed racial integration in any form, and 61% opposed integration if it meant that Whites and Blacks would share sleeping quarters and mess halls.” Attitudes about both blacks and gays have certainly changed since 1948, but that doesn’t mean that keeping blacks and whites segregated or forcing gay and lesbian service members to lie about their sexuality is any more wrong.
Increased tolerance does, however, disproves Gates’ implication that a quick policy reversal would lead gay members to come out in a way that would lead large numbers of straight solders to “just up and walk off the job.” An article in today’s Washington Post observes that straight soldiers are already serving comfortably alongside gay and lesbian recruits. “A younger and more liberal corps of commanders and soldiers has given rise to bubbles of tolerance in today’s military.” “In recent years, service members and researchers say, a growing number of gay troops have disclosed their sexual orientation to supervisors and comrades.”
“Underground gay communities” already exist “at bases across the United States and even in war zones.” And even if the current policy is repealed in the coming months, “gay soldiers are unlikely to come out of the closet in large numbers,” service members say. “An openly gay soldier would have a lot to overcome,” said Matthew Gallagher, a former Army captain and popular blogger who left the Army last year. “It is a culture fueled entirely by machismo, and it definitely has a bit of locker-room homophobia.”
Despite all of these challenges, experiences in the 25 countries that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly also suggest that a new policy must be “decided upon and implemented as quickly as possible” to avoid anxiety and uncertainty in the field. Surveying military members may certainly prove useful, but using the survey to delay repealing DADT is just bad policy.