25 October 2012

She Knows Why It Wasn't Enough To Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Obama's repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" hasn't been as complete a victory as some LGBT activists and their allies might believe.

For one thing, I have read and heard stories of increased harassment since gay people were allowed to serve openly.  Some incidients have included slurs and threats.  But almost as pernicious, and more insidious, are the taunts and baiting directed at uniformed men and women believed to be gay.  It places the victim in a double-bind:  If he or she takes the bait, abuse and worse follow.  But if he or she doesn't take the bait, the baiting escalates or the baiter grows angry and hostile.  It's probably even worse if the person who's being baited is, in fact, not gay or lesbian.  

Having been subjected to such baiting, I understand how that can break someone's mind and spirit.  I nearly quit school several times because of it.

But  are two other reasons why getting rid of DADT isn't the be-all and end-all in achieving legal protection, if not respect or equality, for non-heterosexual, non-cisgendered people in the Armed Forces.

One reason is that another piece of legislation passed during the Clinton Administration:  the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.  As long as it is in effect, same-sex partners or spouses of uniformed serivce members still can't receive the benefits to which the wives of servicemen or the husbands of servicewomen are entitled.  So, even if, say, a sailor married her girlfriend in New York, the sailor's wife is on her own when it comes to health insurance, and she will not receive any benefits if the sailor is killed while on duty.

The other reason why ending DADT isn't enough has to do with the last letter in the LGBT equation.  (Have you ever noticed that "T" always comes last in it?)  Transgenders do not benefit in any way from the demise of DADT.  We still cannot join the Armed Forces if we have begun or completed our transitions, and are still forced to resign if we are diagnosed and begin our treatments while still signed on.

Allyson Robinson knows that as well as anybody does.  She graduated from West Point in 1994 and commanded a Patriot missile unit in Europe and the Middle East before she resigned her commission.  She has been chosen to lead group that will be formed by the merger of OutServe (which an Air Force officer began anonymously when DADT was still in effect)  and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Upon her selection, Ms. Robinson said, "We cannot stop until we reach the day when all qualified Americans who wish to wear the uniform of our armed services have the opportunity to do so with honor and integrity--and without fear of discrimination or harassment--whether they are gay, bisexual or transgender."