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Column: 'Dont Ask, Dont Tell' Reality Check

This story was written by Ryan Seals, Emory Wheel


R.G. was a gay Colombian. Afraid for his life, he fled the anti-gay death squads that regularly killed and tortured homosexuals and applied for asylum in the UK. In its 2006 rejection of his asylum claim, the Court of Appeal held that R.G. didnt face probable persecution because he could avoid being outted by taking one or two precautions after returning home. The British court, in effect, was telling R.G. not to flaunt it.

This case is about more than oh-so-British notions of the prim and proper. Peculiarities of asylum law aside, discretion has a long and unfortunate history as societys reaction to homosexuality.

The argument used by the Court of Appeal can be torn down by simple analogy. It would be no more acceptable to tell a gay man to conceal his sexuality than it would be to tell a Jewish man to stop practicing his faith or a political activist to stop her work. Modern notions of human rights center on the notion of an individuals right to self-determination and the ability to live as seen fit, not on the red herring of nature versus nurture.

With this in mind, lets turn to the loudest call of Discretion! that we hear today: the offensive, harmful and hypocritical policy known as dont ask, dont tell.

Two weeks ago, more than 100 retired generals and admirals and a former Secretary of the Army signed a letter calling for the end of DADT. This follows on the statement last year of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs John Shalikashvili that DADT negatively impacts military readiness, and that repeal would in fact help our armed forces.

Loath as I am to make an argument that relies on the sheer weight of support for it, I cant help wondering what the 22 percent of Americans still opposed to allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would say to retired Lieutenant Quinn Becker, Admiral Charles Larson or any of the other 102 senior military commanders who signed the recent statement. Thanks for your service, but I know better than you?

I would hazard, in fact, that this 22 percent of Americans are those who dont really care about military readiness or the loss of more than 12,000 service members discharged under DADT at a cost of more than $1 billion (55 were Arabic specialists) to American tax payers in associated costs.

Instead, this 22 percent is the segment of America thats trying to do what it argued against for so many years: use the military as a tool of social engineering. Except that the tool has turned from a progressive one into a last-ditch effort to turn back the growing acceptance of gays and lesbians. The Reverend Falwells of the world arent stupid: If Johnny fights alongside a homosexual outside of Baghdad, he might think twice about depriving him of the right to marry in Baltimore.

I agree with them. The military shouldnt be used in a social experiment. Useful as cases like R.G.s are to illuminate the reasoning behind DADT and its antecedents, in the end theyre only icing on the cake. Those retired commanders didnt argue that were harming gays and lesbians by forcing them to choose between their identities and their country they argued that were harming the military. Lucky for us, this means that we dont have to choose between the human rights of gays and lesbians and whats good for the country. In this case, whats good for the gay is good for the gander.

Obama has said many times that he plans to repeal DADT. This past week, however, carried news that the change might not pass until 2010 as part of a larger package of reforms. Its too soon to tell if this is just wise leadership and an awareness of his Democratic predecessors nave mistakes, or political waffling in an attempt to appear moderate. But all indications are that it wouldnt be that difficult or politically costly to hepherd through repeal in his first 100 days.

As Ive said before in these pages, we need to start getting coldly realistic about President-elect Obama. Even this political messiah wont be able to do all that he wants. The honeymoon doesnt last until Jan. 20, 2009. It needed to end on Nov. 5.

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