The DADT Emperor Has No Clothes

10/19/2010 06:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In all of the conversation surrounding the oppressive and offensive "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" policy, there is an observation or conversation that continuously surprises me by its absence. At risk of oversimplifying but for the purpose of brevity, the case that is made to support both the policy itself and delaying its being overturned is totally based on a notion of "unit cohesiveness". The argument goes that if gay and lesbian members of the services are not closeted, it will upset the stability of their units since some (straight) colleagues have such emotional reactions to homosexuality.

The question is: why is the onus for this problem placed on the shoulders of gays and lesbians and not on those of people who are emotionally reactive, bigoted, abusive, and/or committed to a kind of religious tyranny that demands that everyone participate in their belief system? Why are those responsible for the military protecting and inherently defending these reactions when it is the reactions themselves that ought so obviously to be eliminated? Gay and lesbian service members live with constant stress, are blocked from relating openly to their partners or even genuinely living their lives. Ultimately they can lose their careers and have their lives ruined. Yet, the "explanation" for the resistance of the current military establishment as well as the administration to either allow Judge Virginia Phillips' ruling to stand or, indeed, to issue an Executive order to end its enforcement is that we must do whatever it takes to avoid any "disruption".

It is striking to me that this is not universally recognized as upside down, at the very least.

Clearly, Judge Phillips does, in fact, see the obvious when she is presented with it. "The arguments by the government are vague...and belied by the evidence produced at trial."

When I served in the military, it was very clear that the job of a service member included making sure that no emotion, reaction, or belief was allowed to interfere with doing one's job. Without question, doing one's job meant, above all else, guaranteeing cohesiveness within one's unit. Anything that caused disruption would have been basis for disciplinary action immediately. When the military needed to be racially integrated, President Truman simply issued an order as Commander and Chief and declared that anyone who had a problem with that could have their resignations on his desk.

If there are to be problems with "cohesiveness", it will not come from gay and lesbian soldiers. How do we know this? From the fact that they have been serving with rabidly homophobic colleagues for centuries and making sure it would not become an issue that could interfere with their service or that of their colleagues in spite of there being no legitimate justification for their bigotry. When Sam Nunn staged the photo-op's in the cramped quarters of a submarine to stimulate homophobic panic and guarantee the passage of DADT seventeen years ago, what was left unexplored was how many of the sailors already occupying those bunks were, in fact, gay and sufficiently mature and able to control their emotions and impulses to assure that no problems arose. Gays and lesbians in the military have not only been given responsibility for themselves but for the emotions and beliefs of their misguided and uninformed colleagues.

The Pentagon study of the issues related to getting rid of DADT, slated to continue until December, is implicitly based entirely on the notion that military personnel with "issues" concerning homosexuality cannot be relied upon to handle them and therefore elaborate machinations will have to be considered, such as separate housing and shower facilities.

It does not seem like a particularly outrageous notion that we propose actually allowing, and indeed expecting, every member of the military to handle whatever feelings or beliefs they have that could interfere with "unit cohesiveness" even if they are serving with openly gay or lesbian colleagues. As a matter of fact, it would be appropriate to propose a new policy of "Don't Ask: Don't Tell".

"If no one asks you if you have homophobic or negative feelings or reactions to any of your military colleagues, don't tell them if you are biased against them and/or believe that there is something wrong with them. It does not ever need to be revealed."

This DADT policy would actually be consistent with American values and the American Constitution.