Current Affairs

America’s most senior military officer relaxed about gays serving

Tony Grew May 7, 2008
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The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that Congress, and not the military, is responsible for the ban on openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans from military service.

Speaking to graduating cadets at West Point military academy on Sunday, Admiral Mike Mullen said that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy enacted by Congress in 1993 is a law that the Armed Forces follow.

“Should the law change, the military will carry that out too,” he said.

Under US federal law more than 12,000 LGB 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 (SLDN), a non-profit legal services, watchdog and policy organisation dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel.

“Admiral Mullen is to be applauded for his willingness to take part in an open national conversation about this issue, and for his open-minded approach to working with Congress as they consider the future of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of SLDN.

“Admiral Mullen’s remarks reflect an attitude shift among the military establishment which has historically discouraged public debate on allowing open lesbian and gay Americans to serve.”

During his Senate confirmation hearing last year, Mullen told lawmakers:

“I really think it is for the American people to come forward, really through this body, to both debate that policy and make changes, if that’s appropriate.

“I’d love to have Congress make its own decisions with respect to considering repeal.”

His comments stand in stark contrast to the last Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marine General Peter Pace.

He said in a March 2007 interview with the Chicago Tribune:

“I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts.

“I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.”

His remarks caused outrage from politicians, former service personnel and gay rights activists.

Pace later acknowledged that he should not have given his personal opinion in the interview, but stopped short of issuing any apology.

General Pace’s departure last year from his role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was reported to be linked to his comments.

Yesterday reported that the most senior US military veteran in the House of Representatives has called for an end to the ban.

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?”

The issue of gay people serving in the Armed Forces still divides politicians in the US.

For the rest of the countries in the NATO alliance, the claims and counter-claims about unit cohesion and the “influence” of gays on fighting men seem like echoes from another time.

The Dutch lifted their ban on gays in 1974, Australia followed in 1992 and Canada soon after.

In 2008, most of the member nations of NATO have removed their bans.

As US politicians and generals argue about the fairness or the sense of a policy that has been responsible for the discharge of more than 10,000 personnel and has cost American taxpayers more than $363 million (£182.6m), here in the UK the Armed Forces are open and welcoming of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

The Royal Navy and Royal 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.

“The UK is by far and away the most respected military in the world when it comes to the mindset of the Pentagon,” Professor Aaron Belkin, an academic who is an expert on DADT, told earlier this year.

“I know in personal conversations with very respected military leaders that they see British experiences as precedent setting and that the incredible progress over here, has already changed a lot of their minds.

“So once that moment arrives the British experiences will need to be studied in greater depth, to get a road map.

“In the military there has been a sea-change of attitudes, I wouldn’t say that there’s pressure from the military to change, what I would say is that the number of people in the military who strongly oppose change is now tiny.

“The number of people who either are indifferent to change or prefer change is large, and the willingness of people who prefer change to speak out publicly, that’s been the most visible difference.

“So now it’s not people saying in the hallways, yeah gays should serve, but it’s people willing to stick their neck out.”

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.

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