When President Clinton installed the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993, he continued a hush-hush policy within the armed forces towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Although LGBT persons have been serving in the military for many wars, their outing, or open knowledge of their sexuality, could be reason for their termination. Many outed or open veterans and service members were given dishonorable discharges, usually designated for the most reprehensible conduct in the military, despite their bravery and valor on the battlefield and their patriotic duty to their country.
Dr. Adis Maria Vila
Chief Diversity Officer
United States Air Force Academy
What does the repeal of this policy mean for you? What does it mean for the Air Force Academy? As the Chief Diversity Officer for the Academy, my responsibilities span three areas: diversity, equity, and inclusion. So when we speak about the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, inclusion immediately comes to mind. Our goal at the Air Force Academy is to treat everyone at the academy with dignity and respect. And so we teach our cadets that from the day they come on campus, and we expect our staff and faculty to model that behavior. The term here that is used is exemplars. Superintendent Pool repeatedly tells all of senior leadership that we set the example, and the example is one of dignity and respect for all.
How will the repeal of the policy impact day to day operations at the Air Force Academy? We do not believe it will have any effect on our mission. Our mission at the Air Force Academy is to develop officers of character who are going to serve the Air Force and our nation. But it would be unrealistic to think that, given the numbers of people—both cadets and permanent parties—there won’t be incidents; we’re all humans. The Academy leadership is focused on respect and inclusion to make this repeal effective across the board.
When or if there is an incident, what are the actions or steps that will be taken by the Air Force Academy to deal with that? If an incident were to occur amongst our cadets, it would be up to the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) or Academy Military Trainer (AMT) to discipline the cadet. That would be no different if the cadet were found to be using alcohol, for example. A leader would have the opportunity to speak with the cadet, to ensure the cadet understands what it means to have an inclusive organization, an inclusive squadron. Penalties for cadets depend on the offense, but often times it’s just a matter of a leader speaking directly to the cadet. We also develop in our cadets peer leadership with the firsties, or seniors, taking on a lot of responsibility for the ongoing behavior of their squadron. So they also will be called on, as they do in other situations.
Some members of the military have pointed out privacy as an issue. How will this challenge be met? We will not have separate bathroom facilities; they will be gender based. In the case of roommates, there are often issues with roommates; it happens at every college in the country. Those issues have been at the Academy as they have been at every college since the beginning, so it will be up to the AOC and AMT to work with cadets to try to work through those issues. It will be their decision, to make a determination as to whether there will be a change. But the change will not necessarily be because the person has a different sexual orientation.
Will there be new classes or workshops post-repeal at the Academy? Established by the Air Force, there was Repeal training. This was accomplished by cadets, staff, and contractors, from April to May 2011. That training included vignettes, little scenarios, because we find particularly among our airmen and our cadets, roleplay, going through scenarios that might actually come up in their lives, is very instructive. So they had slide presentations on rules and policies, and then they broke up into these groups to talk about these little vignettes.
We are unique in the Air Force in that we are an installation and an academy, an academic institution. So the cadets also have courses where issues like the repeal can come up, not different from having religion or sexual harassment discussed.
All of our cadets go through an expansive course that is 4 years. It’s called R&R, or Respect and Responsibility. Through the four years, congruent to the development of the cadet at the time, they go from different leadership and character development course where issues like this come up. And then the faculty that directs the classes can take time to have a discussion and accentuate what we do with everyone here: it’s ok to disagree, we can agree to disagree, but when we disagree, we do so agreeably. In other words, we don’t offend people because we have different perspectives and views; we express our own and allow others to express theirs.
Additionally, through the Chapel Corp, all cadets have an opportunity to express issues. These are if cadets desire to express issues. My office has begun inclusion training. We had a pilot of permanent party, and different scenairos were acted out by actors, and adults broke up into tables and considered the scenarios. We are now analyzing the situtation to see if it was effective.
Is there any fear of threat to people coming out or being out? It’s very important to remember who are population is. We recruit some of the best and brightest from throughout this country, in every shape, size, and form. We believe that because we are primarily an academic institution and we focus on our mission 100%, that is what we do with these young people to ensure that after our four-year process they will be officers of character ready to serve the nation. Through those four years, despite the training we have from an academic, military, and character and leadership perspective, any of these young people, for whatever reason, do not meet these expectations, we have discipline available to us to eventually separate that young man or woman from the campus. We don’t have many of those separations on a regular basis because one, we recruit smart, young people, and two, we have lots of processes in place congruent with their development to ensure they treat others with dignity and respect. The message these young people here day in and day out is that we respect all people and treat all people with dignity and respect. And that has been the case since the establishment of the Academy in 1959.
Barry L. Price
United States Army
What does the repeal for you personally and what does it mean for the Army? For me personally, it means an extension of the law. It’s what we’re going to execute. As you know, while gays and lesbians have been allowed to serve underneath Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the nature of the law may have discouraged some from seeking to serve. Some number of gays and lesbians and bisexuals were subsequently separated in accordance with the law if their status was revealed. In preparation for the repeal, we’ve educated the force on changes to policy. It remains the Department of Defense’s (DOD) and the Army’s policy that sexual orientation is a personal and private matter, thus we’ll treat all members with dignity and respect, and ensure maintenance of good order and discipline. I would say the Army is wellprepared for the changes.
[sws_pullquote_right]”The Army and our sister services will continue to discuss core values and the requirements to treat all members of the team with dignity and respect.” [/sws_pullquote_right]
How will this impact day-to-day operations within the Army? The mission and our sister services remains unchanged: and that is to fight and win our nation’s wars. The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will not impact our mission’s success. Leaders will be essential in implementing this policy change fairly and consistently. Focus on professionalism, discipline, dignities, and respect will enable any change in policy to be executed with minimal disruption to the Force. The Army and our sister services are prepared to implement the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention in the Armed Forces.
Some have pointed out there could be privacy issues. How does the Army plan to meet that challenge? The creation of separate facilities based on sexual orientation is prohibited. And Commanders may not establish practices that physically segregate service members according to sexual orientation. If a soldier has concerns, however, with ability in their work arrangement for any reason, he or she should address those concerns appropriately within their chain of command. Commanders already have the discretion in personnel assignments to housing and other facilities to maintain morale, good order, and discipline based on army policies and space available. Accommodation requests for any reason are considered on a case-to-case basis, and are sexual orientation-neutral. So it should not be a problem. A lot of people believe this is a right step for people of all sexual orientations.
Do you, or the Army, see this at all as a step backward from anything? No, I believe it’s quite the opposite; it’s a step in the right direction. I believe Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said it best when he stated military personnel put their lives on the line for America, and that’s what really matters. Thanks to the professionalism and leadership of the U.S. military, we are closer to achieving the goal that is the foundation of America: equality and dignity for all. That’s Secretary Panetta’s words, and I think that runs consistent throughout the military.
People were terminated from the service due to outing themselves or being outed. Does the Army have any policy going forward on how they are going to reinstate or publicly apologize to these people? The Army is obligated to follow the law of the land as passed by Congress. From 1993 to now, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was the law. All honorably discharged soldiers have an equal opportunity to apply for reentry. The Army will reassess based on need and other factors, but sexual orientation will not be a factor.
What kind of training does the Army plan on having for its members moving forward? I will tell you once the act is repealed, the answer is none. There won’t be any new classes or workshops after the repeal. The Army and our sister services will continue to discuss core values and the requirements to treat all members of the team with dignity and respect. However there won’t be any specific Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell training.
Will there be same-sex partner benefits? No, and I think that’s more of an issue that’s going to have to take place in the courts that will probably become a part of a defense of marriage act.
How is the Army going to treat any service member who violates the policy and mistreats those who are out? I think the Army will deal with people that violate our rules in the same way they’ve done it always, through the uniform code of miltiary justice. I think that as you look at our process and our policies, they will remain consistent. Those that violate the uniform code of justice will go through the process associated with the uniform code of military justice. I don’t think you’re going to see anything specific to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; if you break the Army’s rules, the Army has a process of dealing with violators of [the code].
Colonel Charles A. Stafford
Chief of Staff
U.S. Military Academy
What does the repeal of this policy mean for you? What does it mean for West Point? It is probably important to get perspective on the timeline we’ve been under while going through this. We know that on the 22nd of December the president signed the deferral, and the actual law will go into effect on September 20th. The measured approach that the President, the DOD, and Army leadership has taken to this has allowed significant time to conduct training, to discuss implications, and to discuss it when it actually occurs. For me personally, I am very proud of how we’ve approached this. As a soldier, this is simply a matter of policy. I’ve got thirty years of service in the army. I came to West Point in 1977, so I’ve lived through a period of time where we had the previous policy, the implementation of the policy, and now the repeal. Across the three venues, the process we’ve followed has been the most comprehensive, the most inclusionary, and has addressed the widest range of possible concerns. Here at the academy, I think this is a non-event. Sexual orientation has never been a screening factor, a secession factor, or something we have tracked at the academy. It really doesn’t affect our day-to-day life at the academy.
Some members of the military have pointed out privacy as an issue. How will this challenge be met? Directed from the DOD, we are not going to create separate bathroom facilities or living quarters based on sexual orientation; we are prohibited from doing that. And so [there will be] no change to the infrastructure supporting the academy. With that being said, we will handle all conflicts that could arise on a one-on-one, case-to-case basis. We will insure to protect the individual privacy of the individual people involved.
What do you say to those who are against the policy and don’t want to serve in the military under this policy? Under the way we are implementing the policy, those who can’t abide by this policy change will be provided with the opportunity to leave the service. We will honor separations if folks say, ‘I just cannot handle it;’ we will allow them to leave.
Will there be new classes or workshops post-repeal for cadets? At West Point, our challenge has been to ensure that all faculty, civilians, and military personnel who work at West Point go through that training. We are at 100% [with the training]. That training is focused on acceptance and inclusion. That’s really what it comes down to. We aren’t going to change how someone feels as an individual, but what we can change is what is acceptable behavior. As it relates to those who arrive at West Point, we have a respect program. That is a four-year process of classes and training that the cadets go through in order to learn military standards and values. The issue of sexual orientation will be emphasized in terms of acceptance and inclusion, but it’s not a significant change to the program because we are talking about diversity and inclusion through the whole population.
There were many people terminated in the military or potentially not admitted to the academy because of their status as an out individual. What does West Point say to them? From a West Point aspect, we do not ask sexual orientation or any questions on sexual orientation nor do we track statistics on that. So if someone wants to apply to the Academy who perhaps is gay, we are never going to ask them that question. So if someone left the Academy on their volition because they were gay, I am unaware of any statistics if we have ever separated them because of that. They can apply and compete with the classes that come in, but there will not be anything on the form that asks what your sexual orientation. It just doesn’t matter to us.
There have been debates whether people may be harmed from the repeal. Is there any threat or fear of threat for those who might out themselves compared to others in the military? Our society has changed over time. Our society continues to evolve. We continue to grow and we continue to learn. All of us are marked in our life by the standards in our life in which we grew up; your frame of reference, your personal life experience, is still part of you. We aren’t making any effort to change how an individual feels based on their life’s experience. What we are about is changing behavior. We will be sensitive to anything that goes against our policies just as we are if it is a hate crime, a racial issue, a male/female issue, or an ‘I’m from Texas and you’re from Ohio’ issue. We will deal with every one of those using the law, and following through on every case and taking it to its conclusion and make sure we get justice where justice is due. I have confidence in West Point, in the Army, that we will make those demonstrations and that this will prove to all those that have concerns about the Army, the DOD, and West Point that we are true to our word and we are about acceptance and inclusion. Sexual orientation does not matter.