Today is the fourteenth anniversary of the enactment of the "don't ask, don't tell" law which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. When President Clinton tried to force the military to include openly gay service members, opponents insisted that military culture was too intolerant of homosexuality to allow Clinton to have his way. "Don't ask, don't tell" was the resulting compromise.
Military opinion has shifted considerably since 1993, and the vast majority of enlisted personnel now say that they are personally comfortable interacting with gays. Despite the sea-change in attitudes among the rank and file, however, military leaders have been slower to shift. During the past fourteen years, only eleven retired General Officers have spoken out against "don't ask, don't tell."
All that changed today, when a group of 28 retired Generals and Admirals released a statement calling for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
The group is diverse, and includes leaders from the Army, Air Force and Navy. One of them, General Clara Adams-Enders, was, according to her biography, "the first nurse in army history to become the commanding general of a major military base." Previously, she had been the first African-American Nurse Corps officer to graduate from the Army War College. Other path-breaking Generals and Admirals on the list include leaders who commanded pilots, doctors, military police, engineers, infantry and artillery.
The Generals and Admirals who signed today's statement represent just a tip of the iceberg, as there are many more military leaders who say off the record that it doesn't make sense to fire Arabic linguists just for saying that they are gay. That it doesn't make sense that we have fired almost 12,000 gay and lesbian service members under "don't ask, don't tell." And that it doesn't make sense to welcome violent, felony ex-offender convicts into uniform at the same time that we're firing perfectly competent gays.
It is impossible to know when "don't ask, don't tell" finally will be lifted. The fact that 28 Generals and Admirals are willing to lend their voices to the call for repeal, however, could be of some comfort to those Americans waiting patiently for that day to arrive.
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