Backtracking on an earlier statement regarding the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Army Secretary John McHugh warned openly gay soldiers that they could still be discharged from the Army if they acknowledged their sexual orientation.
“Until Congress repeals ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ it remains the law of the land and the Department of the Army and I will fulfill our obligation to uphold it,” McHugh said in a statement Thursday. He said that he misspoke Wednesday when he said he would not seek to discharge soldiers who tell him privately they are gay.
The public stumble comes after the Pentagon announced its intention to conduct a broad study on how to lift the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which bans gay people from serving in the Army and threatens them with expulsion if they come out. In order to include the views of gay service people, the Defense Department says it plans to hire an outside contractor to survey the troops. This is part of President Obama’s move to ban the discriminatory policy.
At Wednesday’s meeting of a defense writers group, McHugh told reporters that he had spoken to openly gay soldiers as part of the proposed survey of troops’ opinions on the policy.
Denny Meyer of American Veterans for Equal Rights said that in his opinion McHugh “meant well, but in fact inadvertently created new policy” the administration was not yet fully ready to implement. American Veterans for Equal Rights is “for the right of LGBT patriotic Americans to volunteer to serve.”
McHugh went on to say: “With regard to the three soldiers who shared their views and thoughts with me on ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ I might better have counseled them that statements about their sexual orientation could not be treated as confidential and could result in their separation under the law.”
However, McHugh said he would not pursue any discharges of the soldiers he spoke to privately.
“Because of the informal and random manner in which these engagements occurred, I am unable to identify these soldiers,” McHugh said, “and I am not in a position to formally pursue the matter.”