The most senior US military veteran in the House of Representatives has called for an end to the ban on openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the country’s Armed Forces.
Democrat Congressman Joe Sestak, who served 31 years in the Navy, retiring with the rank of three-star Admiral, is one of seventeen veterans in Congress who want to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
Nearly 150 of his Congressional colleagues have lent their support to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act which would repeal that law and allow lesbian, gay and bisexual personnel to serve openly.
“It is easy for me to see why ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ should be repealed,” said Congressman Sestak.
“Once you have served in war and faced danger with a gay service member, how can you come home and say gay people should not enjoy equal rights?”
Under US federal law passed in 1993 more than 12,000 men and women have been dismissed.
An estimated 65,000 lesbian and gay service members serve on active duty and in the reserves of the United States military, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defence Network, a non-profit legal services, watchdog and policy organisation dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel.
“Veterans like Admiral Sestak, who have dedicated their lives to serving this country, are leading the movement in Congress to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of SLDN.
“These lawmakers agree with senior military officers that when it comes to defusing IEDs, tending to injured troops, deciphering enemy codes and flying reconnaissance missions, sexual orientation is irrelevant.”
In March US Presidential candidate Barack Obama told leading gay publication The Advocate he supports a repeal of the gay ban and is hopeful it can be achieved.
His rival for the Democratic nomination for President, Senator Hillary Clinton, has discussed options to remove “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” which was introduced during her husband Bill Clinton’s Presidency.
“I think there’s increasing recognition within the Armed Forces that this is a counterproductive strategy,” Senator Obama told The Advocate.
“We’re spending large sums of money to kick highly qualified gays or lesbians out of our military, some of whom possess specialties like Arab-language capabilities that we desperately need. That doesn’t make us more safe.”
Polls show that 79% of Americans support allowing gays to serve openly.
Retired high-ranking military leaders, such as former Joint Chiefs Chairman John Shalikashvili and Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, have called for an end to the law, which is estimated to have cost American taxpayers more than $364m (£182m) since its inception.
“Our national priority should be on the qualification of potential service members, not on discriminating against them because of who they are,” Colonel Daniel Tepfer, USAF (Retired), a 23-year veteran said in a recent statement.
“I know many stellar lesbian and gay troops who also served proudly, but who could not serve openly about their lives and their loved ones.
“Our national priority should be on the qualification of potential service members, not on discriminating against them because of who they are.”
Gay, lesbian and bisexual people have served openly in the British Armed Forces since 2000.
Nearly all other Western nations allow openly gay, bisexual and lesbian people to serve openly in their Armed Forces.
In the UK the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force not only allow LGBT people to serve but actively support them.
The Navy and Air Force are members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme, a good practice forum where employers work with Stonewall and each other, to promote lesbian, gay and bisexual equality in the workplace.