On Jan. 27, President Obama gave his State of the Union Address and reminded the nation of what his administration was fighting for. Among his many promises to strengthen the economy and tighten security measures against terrorism, was an effort to work with Congress and the military over the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that currently bars openly gay men and women from serving in the military.—-
So far he has the support of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen as well as a call to reevaluate the 17-year ban from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose previous opposition to gays in the military contributed to DADT’s initial institution.
On the other side of the debate however, there are many key influential figures opposed to overturning the ban, such as Arizona Sen. John McCain. It's not surprising then that this split on what is to be done trickles all the way down to our hometown representatives. As of now, U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus and Sen. Sherrod Brown are likely in favor of a vote to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Reps. Jean Schmidt and John Boehner, however, are likely to vote against a repeal, with Sen. George Voinovich undecided.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was passed in 1993 under former President Clinton’s administration. Its intent was to ease and lessen the chance of investigations into the sexual orientation of those serving in the military, which often lead to harassment and sometimes even death of those under suspicion. Deaths like the one of Allen R. Schindler Jr., who was murdered around the time DADT was introduced and was cited by President Clinton in its passing. Schindler served as a radioman in the U.S. Navy and was stomped to death by a fellow shipmate and accomplice for being gay. They left him lying on the floor of a park bathroom with a number of brutal injuries, among which were several broken ribs and a crushed skull. The law was a compromise deal when full acceptance of openly gay men and women in the nation’s military was rejected.
But such brutal attacks like that suffered by Schindler didn't stop with its passing. The law was called into review when on July 5, 1999, Infantry Soldier Barry Winchell was beaten over the head with a baseball bat by a fellow soldier as he slept. He died the following day. Winchell had been under increasing harassment from his fellow soldiers for having a rumored relationship with a transgender woman. It was questioned whether or not DADT had a contributing influence on Winchell’s murder.
More recently, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has contributed to the discharge of soldiers like Lt. Dan Choi, who was notified in 2009 that he would be discharged after publicly announcing that he was gay. Since then, Choi has been openly fighting DADT along with such groups as Courage Campaign, a human rights advocacy group based out of California, and challenging Obama to reverse this discriminatory law that has forced over 12,500 service members out of the military, according to Service member’s Legal Defense Network, an advocacy organization for LGBT military personnel.
Similar stories can be found in local examples such as Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach from Dayton, who was also recommended for discharge in 2009 when he was outed by an acquaintance. Despite serving in the military for 18 years, Fehrenbach was suddenly one of the thousands of LGBT service members forced out for no other reason than who they are and whose dedication and love for their country suddenly amounted to nothing.
In these uncertain times, problems that seem to affect only a small group of people often take a backseat to those that affect all. Jobs and health care are put to the forefront of the nation’s mind, while civil rights matters tend to fade to the background. There is no argument from me that some issues are more pressing than others; you fix the leak in the boat before you start rowing for shore.
For those whom these forgotten issues affect so deeply, it can seem like a lifetime between one progressive step to another. That's why when an event such as this comes along it's hard to get excited, but even harder not to remain desperately hopeful. The time for change in all things is now.
We need “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to be repealed, not just for the better of some but for all.