Thursday, February 11, 2010

Alaskans Sound Off On Ending The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Gay Policy In The Military; Some Local Conservative Pundits Favor Repeal

With the announcement that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy towards gays in the U.S. military is under re-consideration, the pollsters will be working overtime harvesting public opinion. One pollster has already responded: A Quinnipiac poll of 2,617 registered voters taken February 2-8 shows respondents favor repealing DADT by a 57-36 percent margin. An unscientific poll taken by the Military Times shows that only 51 percent of respondents oppose repeal of DADT, down from 63 percent in 2003. Read this discussion thread on the Military Times Forum for more insight on servicemembers' opinions.

KTUU Channel 2 decided to ask Alaskans how they felt about DADT. On January 27th, they asked "Do you support repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'"? Of the 231 respondents, 55 percent answered No, 45 percent Yes. All KTUU polls are unscientific; the margin of error could be as high as 15 percent.

In contrast, the Anchorage Daily News editorially took the opposing view. In their February 6th editorial, they advocate cutting down "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to "Don't Ask". Their reason: If gays do come out, or if someone outs them, they face discharge from the service, no matter how well or how long they've served. They can follow the "don't ask, don't tell" policy to a T but if someone even inadvertently discovers they are gay, they can be discharged. About 10,900 members of the armed forces have been discharged under the law, including some talented Arabic linguists during a time of military operations in the Middle East. This editorial attracted 142 public comments.

But surprisingly, two prominent local conservative pundits also called for repeal of DADT. The first was Paul Jenkins, the editor of the Anchorage Daily Planet. In his February 6th ADN guest column entitled "Gay soldiers fight to keep us free; let them be free", Jenkins writes, "In a nation predicated on freedom it seems hypocritical so many are willing to deny gays, lesbians and bisexuals -- or anybody different -- rights most take for granted. I ask you, if gays cannot have the same rights, what would you do with them? Round them up? Put them in interior decorating camps? Make them wear pink stars? What?" He thinks it's hypocritical to make them lie about who they are while they risk their lives for us.

The other was Alaska Voices columnist Dr. Brian Sweeney. In his February 7th column entitled "Don't Ask, Don't Care", Dr. Sweeney pointed out that when he served in the Air Force, he paid no attention to the sexual preferences of military personnel who served with him. There were doctors, nurses, medical technicians, pilots, commanders and many others and their sexual preferences never entered into the workplace, because military people tend to be much more focused on the job than other issues.

But what really jacked Dr. Sweeney's jaws was the case of John Hensala, a psychiatrist who went to medical school under the Health Professionals Scholarship Program to the tune of $71,000 of taxpayer funds. But upon completion of the program in 1994, before he was supposed to begin his active duty commitment, he suddenly decided he was a "homosexual", and revealed it to the Air Force. Naturally, they discharged him - but apparently made no effort to recoup the $71,000. So it looks like Dr. Sweeney wants to kill DADT to cut off this escape route in the future.

The real problem with DADT isn't it's existence. Complete repeal could open up a bucket of worms and some legal challenges; perhaps someone would file suit to get the military to pay married-rate BOQ/BAQ to the same-sex partners of gay members. The real problem, as identified by the Anchorage Daily News, is that DADT offered no protection against involuntary outing of a gay servicemember by a third party. A particularly egregious example is the case of Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, who was forced to out himself as gay to defend against false charges of rape. Even though the rape charges have been proven false, the Air Force still wants to separate Fehrenbach just short of 20 years.

DADT doesn't need to be scrapped. It just needs to be adjusted, not only to protect a gay servicemember against being involuntarily outed, but also to protect a gay servicemember who discloses sexual orientation as part of an official investigation.


  1. A small correction.

    The USAF and Dr. Hensela engaged in a major legal battle about the payback of the money.

    Interesting point about the "can of worms" that could be opened up legally if DADT is abolished. It is America after all

  2. Greetings, In another venue (A US Air Force site) Many have written to weigh in on repeal of "Don't Ask/Tell" (DADT). The below correspondence is my reply to a retired Air Force lesbian's plea to abolish DADT and allow gays to openly serve in the armed forces:

    "I too served twenty-one years in our Air Force. I too have worked with gays during the Don't Ask/Tell era. I have an openly gay stepdaughter and she has an openly gay aunt. However, I feel DADT repeal will be a morale and discipline disaster and will negatively polarize our Air Force culture. Whether in agreement or opposition with DADT repeal, we are all free to contact our elected officials and be heard. Finally, Gay/Straight/Whoever:
    Thanks For Serving!"