When Sexuality And Policy Collide

Change of heart deserves a salute
Print Date:

January 5, 2007


Fort Worth Star-Telegram


Jack Z. Smith, Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Plaudits are due retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for dropping his opposition to the Pentagon’s wrongheaded “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which bans openly gay people from serving in the military.

My only lament is that Shalikashvili didn’t do it much sooner. After all, blatant job discrimination against a select minority group usually is considered wrong in America, isn’t it?

In an opinion piece in Tuesday’s New York Times, Shalikashvili wrote that he changed his mind after meeting with gay servicemen. “These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers,” he wrote.

Shalikashvili cited a recent Zogby poll of more than 500 service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The survey showed that three-quarters of the respondents “were comfortable interacting with gay people,” he wrote.

Another point should be made here: Gay persons shouldn’t be excluded from the military just because some troops might be homophobic. Nor was it right to exclude blacks from the military in an earlier era just because many people were racist.

n the Times piece, Shalikashvili noted that “24 foreign nations, including Israel, Britain and other allies in the fight against terrorism, let gays serve openly, with none reporting morale or recruitment problems.”

The Pentagon adopted its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy based on legislation that Congress passed in 1993. Gays and lesbians may serve in the military only if they keep their sexual orientation private. Commanders are not supposed to ask if they are gay.

Shalikashvili, who retired in 1997 after four years as the nation’s top military officer, previously had contended that allowing gays to serve openly would hurt recruitment, troop morale and the cohesion of combat units.

An Associated Press story on Shalikashvili’s opinion piece also quoted a retired two-star Navy admiral, John Hutson, as saying that he thinks the nation has undergone so much cultural change during the past decade that allowing openly gay people to serve in the military actually would enhance unit cohesion.

More than 11,000 gay and lesbian service members have been discharged from the military since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was adopted, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which opposes the policy. Hundreds of those dismissed spoke foreign languages. That’s a valuable talent in America’s global war against terrorism, but much of it has been wasted by the Pentagon’s policy of job discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The Associated Press reported in 2005 on a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that showed it cost taxpayers nearly $200 million to recruit and train replacements from 1994 through 2003 for the 9,488 troops discharged from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps because of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Of those discharged, 322 spoke foreign languages, including Arabic, Farsi, Korean and Mandarin Chinese, the story said Congress should unhesitatingly end this blatant discrimination by repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” and mandating equal treatment for gays in the military.

Aside from the discrimination issue, it makes little economic sense for the military to be booting people out merely because of their sexual orientation. As a taxpayer, that enrages me.

The policy is especially ludicrous at a time when the military has been stretched extremely thin as a result of the U.S. foreign policy disaster in Iraq.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is neither fair nor practical.

Our nation prides itself on championing equal opportunity and tolerance.”Don’t ask, don’t tell” is the antithesis of those principles.

Jack Z. Smith is a Star-Telegram editorial writer. 817-390-7724 jzsmith@star-telegram.com