The era of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the military’s ban on openly gay service members, will come to an end on Tuesday. And while supporters of the ban continue to warn of impending problems, advocates for open service are planning a host of celebratory events, ranging from book releases to film openings to gay service members going public with their identities.
On Tuesday, Aaron Belkin, who as director of the Palm Center has been a leading critic of the ban, will publish an e-book through The Huffington Post titled, “How We Won: Progressive Lessons from the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” On Monday, HBO will publicly screen “The Strange Life of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a documentary that will begin airing this fall.
Soon after the Sept. 20 expiration of the ban, the group OutServe plans to release “Our Time: Breaking the Silence of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” a collection of first-person essays about gay life in the military. All the contributors will use their real names.
The editor of the collection, an active-duty Air Force officer and graduate of the Air Force Academy, is an outspoken advocate for open service who goes under the pseudonym “J.D. Smith.” Smith, a co-founder and co-director of OutServe, will be among a number of gay service members who plan to reveal their real names on Tuesday.
A survey of more than 500 currently serving gay and lesbian troops by OutServe indicates that Smith will be far from alone. The survey, to be released on Monday, found that nearly 40 percent of the respondents plan on coming out to some people in the military after the 20th: nearly 17 percent said they will reveal their sexuality to a few close friends in their units; 9 percent said to most of the people in their units; and 13 percent said to everyone.
However, about a third said they did not intend to make their sexuality known to anyone who did not already know about it.
The survey seemed to confirm something advocates for ending the ban have long asserted: that most gay or lesbian troops — more than three-quarters, according to the survey — have been “out” to at least some of their fellow service members.
The survey, conducted online, also found great optimism about post-repeal life: two-thirds said they expected little or no discrimination against gay or lesbian troops after repeal. And nearly six in 10 said they were likely to bring “a significant other” to events involving their units after repeal.
Online surveys are not generally considered scientific polls because respondents remain anonymous and are self-selected, rather than randomly selected by interviewers. Nevertheless, the sample in the OutServe survey is reasonably large, given the difficulty of locating gay service members.
Eighty-two percent of the respondents were men; about 18 percent were women. About a third were junior enlisted; another third were non-commissioned officers; and just under 30 percent were officers.
Nearly one in five said they would be married if gay marriage were allowed in their state — raising a significant point of consideration for the Pentagon, which will have to grapple with what kinds of benefits it can give to same-sex spouses of service members after the law ends.
Among the bigger unknowns of post-repeal life will be how complaints of anti-gay harassment will be handled by the military, since the Pentagon was not required by Congress to establish a special procedure for gay and lesbian service members.
The survey found that four in 10 of the respondents said they would prefer to take complaints of harassment to their immediate chain of command, compared with only 18 percent who said they would bring such complaints to their equal opportunity officer, and nearly 14 percent who would bring them to their commander or the commander’s senior non-commissioned officer.
Only three percent said they would bring complaints to their chaplain. Similarly, two-thirds said they considered their chaplain “neither helpful nor harmful” in meeting their spiritual needs, while only about one in five considered their chaplain either extremely or moderately helpful.
The full survey results will be posted this week on outserve.org.
The article “Don't Ask, Don't Tell Ends This Week With Celebrations, Revelations and Questions,” originally appeared in The New York Times.