A group of former US servicemen are touring America to share their experiences of life in the military, where being openly gay is against the law.
The campaign, called Legacy of Service, aims to demonstrate to Americans the hardships and unfairness of a policy, ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ that keeps soldiers, sailors, air force and coast guard personnel in the closet.
This week the tour reaches Seattle. US Marine Antonio Agnone told the Seattle Times why he left the Corps:
“I got out because of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and want to work on getting it repealed so that young service members can focus on the jobs they’re doing and come home safely.”
No-one knows how many gay, lesbian or bisexual servicemen and women are currently serving in the US military.
A retired admiral, who came out after leaving the services, told the newspaper that around 3,000 a year leave because of DADT.
The numbers that are there for everyone to see are those people discharged because of their sexuality.
726 soldiers were dismissed in 2005 for being gay under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, according to official Pentagon figures.
Since 1993, 11,082 members of the Marines, Navy, Army, Coast Guard and Air Force have been discharged.
Among them were highly-trained linguists.
A February 2005 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the Pentagon has fired 322 language specialists who “had . . . skills in a foreign language that Department of Defence had considered to be especially important.”
A poll of Americans released earlier this year revealed that nearly half do not support the current US military policy of barring openly gay people from serving.
The Harris Interactive survey, conducted in February, found that 55% of the 2,337 people questioned felt openly gay, bisexual or lesbian personnel should be allowed to serve.
Only 18% of respondents said that gay people should not be allowed to be in the Armed Forces at all.
In January an Army general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the US military has called for a change in attitude towards gay and lesbian soldiers.
John Shalikashvili was chairman from 1993 – 1997, and it was during his tenure that the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was introduced.
At the time he argued that had argued that openly gay and lesbian personnel would hurt troop morale and undermine the cohesion of combat units.
President Bill Clinton had promised to open the military to openly gay and lesbian people during his successful 1992 campaign for President, but caved into pressure from the Army – the compromise was the current policy.
Conversations with gay service members, “showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers,” the general said.
The conversations that gay ex-servicemen are having across America may help convince their fellow citizens that it is time to allow everyone to serve.
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