In Military, New Debate Over Policy Toward Gays
Posted on May 1, 2009
Filed Under Uncategorized
WEST POINT, N.Y. — Here at the military academy that is nearly as old as the nation itself, two cadets recently engaged in a modern debate: whether they agreed with President Obama’s pledge to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly.
“From what I’ve heard from my classmates, people are kind of against it,” said Daniel Szatkowski, a senior from Edmond, Okla. But Adrienne Rolle, a senior from Brooklyn, said she had no problem with lifting the ban, although she said that some of her male classmates did.
“People are more comfortable with ignorance,” Cadet Rolle said of the reality that gay men and lesbians already serve in the military.
West Point is not a perfect microcosm of the armed forces, but recent conversations with the cadets who will become the Army’s next generation of leaders reflect uncertainty about what Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has characterized as a “complex and difficult problem.”
While Mr. Obama has promised to get rid of the 16-year-old policy that allows gay men and lesbians to serve only if they keep their sexual orientation secret, Mr. Gates has said that both he and the president want to push the issue “down the road a bit.”
Advocacy groups have stepped into the vacuum. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which represents some of the 13,000 gay men and lesbians discharged from the military since the policy took effect, is intensifying lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill — changing the policy requires legislation — and calling on the president to make good on his word.
“If he doesn’t speak up, he’s going to end up O.K.’ing the firing of service members for being gay,” said Aubrey Sarvis, the group’s executive director.
In recent years, prominent retired generals and admirals have also urged repeal, among them Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the policy was adopted after a blowup over the issue in the early days of the Clinton administration.
On the other side, some 1,000 retired officers supported by the conservative Center for Military Readiness sent an “open letter” to Mr. Obama saying they were “greatly concerned” about the impact of repeal on recruitment, morale and unit cohesion.
“How would women in the military feel if they were required to accommodate men in their private quarters?” said Elaine Donnelly, the center’s president.
Col. Thomas A. Kolditz, the chairman of West Point’s department of behavioral sciences and leadership who discusses “don’t ask, don’t tell” in his classes, said that cadets were roughly split for and against openly gay service but that most did not feel strongly about their views.
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