As this NY Times story makes clear, the military is no different than civilian society: no longer being forced into a closet is far from nondiscrimination and equality. "Gays in the military" is going to be a political issue for a long time I beleive.
For opponents of the ban against homosexuals serving openly in the military, the steps by Congress this week to repeal the policy, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” were a major victory. But now they are girding for what may be an equally difficult task: the transition to a force where straight and openly gay servicemen and women live, work and fight alongside one other.
Some homosexuals in the military say they are worried about how that process will work and whether they will be treated differently if they publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation. Some raised concerns about being harassed, assigned to separate barracks or shunned by colleagues who had been friendly before.
“In an idyllic world, getting rid of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and saying ‘Everyone here is welcome’ is great,” said a 29-year-old lesbian in the Army National Guard, who asked that her name be withheld because she could still be discharged under the rule.
“But the policy actually allowed for a lot of protections,” the soldier said. “Getting rid of it completely without modifying it is kind of worrisome. The number of incidents against gays in the military is going to increase.”
Indeed, both opponents and supporters of the ban say a host of thorny practical questions will face the Pentagon if Congress gives final approval to legislation allowing the repeal of the ban, which could happen this summer.
Will openly gay service members be placed in separate housing, as the commandant of the Marine Corps has advocated? What benefits, if any, will partners or spouses of homosexual service members be accorded? Will all military units be required to treat homosexuals the same? And what training will heterosexual officers and enlisted troops receive to prepare them to serve with openly gay soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines?
“The reality is, getting rid of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ doesn’t ensure that all lesbian and gay service members will be equal on that day,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “There will continue to be challenges to make full equality for gays and lesbians in the armed forces a reality.”
Similar questions were asked when blacks were allowed to integrate previously all-white units. But that transition was not without its difficulties too, including instances of racial violence.
A Pentagon panel has begun studying the issues around gays serving openly as part of a broad review of homosexuality in the military, which will include surveys of thousands of service members and their families. The panel, led by Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of the United States Army in Europe, and Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon’s top legal counsel, is supposed to deliver its report by Dec. 1.
Under an amendment moving through Congress, once that report is finished, the White House and senior Pentagon leadership must certify that repealing the ban will not be disruptive to the military. Once that certification is made, final repeal will occur within 60 days.
The House approved the amendment on Friday as part of the bill authorizing more than $567 billion in Pentagon programs and spending. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the amendment on Thursday, and the full Senate is expected to take up the authorization bill later this summer.
“It could be late 2011 before this is implemented,” said Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, a nonprofit organization.
Supporters of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” who still hope they can stop it from being repealed, fear the effect on the military if it is.