Go Ahead: Ask, Tell: DADT is Dead! New Doc Chronicles Its Strange History
“When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one.” That powerful quote is etched on the tombstone of Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, one of the many military casualties of the United States antiquated treatment of gays.
Things are about to get better. As of today, the dubious “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is officially dead. And fittingly, HBO is now running an intriguing documentary, “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato offer both sides of the issue with a clear tilt in the direction of those who think DADT wasn’t such a hot idea. And they back up the bias with facts:
– Since the DADT policy was signed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, 13,369 active service members were discharged because of it, including 54 linguists fluent in Arabic who were discharged before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Clinton had promised to end the ban on gays and lesbians in the military when he campaigned for president. Yet, once he hit the Oval Office, he encountered a brick wall from conservative politicians and military brass, many of whom considered him a hippie draft dodger not worthy of the position of Commander-in-Chief.
Political jockeying resulted in DADT, which failed to appease either side of the debate and has been used to ruin the military careers of thousands of honorably serving military members for the last 17 years.
We meet heroes like Lt. Dan Choi who was axed a day after he outed himself on “The Rachel Maddow Show” and Rep. Daniel Murphy, an Iraq War vet who lost his congressional seat largely due to his support of the repeal–and was instrumental in pushing the bill through the 2010 lame duck session.
Proponents of a ban on gays in the military get their say,too, but come off looking ignorant and angry. We watch Sen. John McCain wave letters from ancient retired generals as he restates his staunch opposition to gays serving openly. Then he storms out of a recent DADT hearing. And we hear from opponents who all spout the mantra “unit cohesion, ” the crux of which seems to be communal showers in the military. What will happen if gay men and straight men shower together? Since an estimated 60,000 military members are gay or lesbian, there’s a good bet straights and gays have been showering together since the Revolutionary War. Besides, as one officer informs us, even showers on submarines are private.
I don’t want to be glib about this. But as a heterosexual who never served in the military–or ever even considered it– I can’t understand discriminating against anyone who wants to serve. We should be grateful to all those who volunteer for dangerous duty to protect and serve our country.
“Strange History” offers the evolution of the attitudes toward gays in the military, and, by extension, society. Back in 1993 only 44% of Americans supported gays in the military. Today that number is close to 80% (And several states have legalized gay marriage). The big dramatic turning point for the military–and the anti-DADT advocates- came when Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, testified before Congress that he, personally, would have no problem with gays openly serving.
Don’t expect all prejudice toward gays in the military to be eradicated overnight. After all, President Obama didn’t erase bigotry with one stroke of his pen any more than Lyndon Johnson did when he signed the Civil Rights Act back in 1964. But it’s a good start. And not all that strange.
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