In 1993 the US Congress passed a law “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)” mandating the discharge of openly gay, lesbian or bisexual service members. Since this law was passed, more than 13,500 service members have been fired under this law.
Back home here in Australia, our own government directed in 1992 that the ban on gay, lesbian and bisexual personnel be removed. Now 17 years later, same-sex couples enjoy the same benefits as our heterosexual married/de facto couples. People are free to be themselves without fear of discrimination or harassment. Most importantly, no fear of being fired for simply being gay, lesbian or bisexual.
But people argue that DADT is ok; one can serve, just not be open about their sexuality. How can this be bad? Should ones’ sexuality be checked at the door?
Imagine the following:
You are sitting down at the Green Bean Coffee Shop at Camp Victory in Iraq. A US Solider approaches and starts chatting. He seems down and upset, so you ask him what was up. He replies that his partner has been killed in action a few days earlier. He continues to tell you that his partner was attached to another unit in Iraq and that you are the first person he has been able to tell. Seeing that he was in need of support for his loss, you sit with him awhile and then approach your Aussie Chaplain to provide additional support and help this soldier through his time of loss.
Now imagine you are sitting at home watching the TV and the phone rings. It’s a US Marine that you became friends with while stationed at the US Embassy in Baghdad Iraq. He tells you he’s now stationed in Germany and that his partner was in Afghanistan. He goes on to tell you that he recently received a phone call from a very close friend serving with his partner, only to find out that his partner had been killed in action. All you can do is sit and talk to him about his loss, letting him speak, pouring his heart out.
You might think how one could imagine loss and grief like this. The truth is, I wasn’t imagining either of these two stories; they are real and hit me hard. While both of these cases may seem normal (no matter how sad) in a time of war, there is one major difference. Their partners were both male. Both of these men, could not turn to their supervisors, Commanding Officers, Chaplains or other people within their commands for fear of disclosing their sexuality and being fired.
Sine my time in Iraq, I’ve presented at two conferences in the US “Sexual Orientation and Military Preparedness – An International Perspective” (Georgetown University Law Centre, Washington DC - March 2008) and “Freedom to Serve Forum” (President Truman Library, Independence MO – July 2009), where I talked about my service as an openly gay member of the Australian Defence Force.
The encouraging words “I will end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” from President Obama’s speech during the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner in October, brings hope to the thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual men and women currently serving in the US Military.
I felt honoured having served side by side our US allies, but at the same time very saddened by their current policy. All any of us wish to do is serve our respective countries. I say let them; free of discrimination, free of harassment.