I wanted a chance to share an essay I recently wrote. I was required to write a Personal Experience Monologue (PEM) about an event that has impacted me during the course of my career. While the last 15 years has provided me with several life altering experiences I chose one that was very personal. I wrote about the feelings I had on the day Don't ask Don't tell was repealed.
Please excuse the grammatical and formatting errors and understand that the format for the essay was dictated. I have removed the header and abstract but left the bibliography so I wouldn't be guilty of plagiarism. Thanks for taking the time to read along and feel free to contact me with your thoughts and feelings.
"Nothing is too girly and nothing is too masculine. But I do love color, and maybe that's a little girly - especially pink." Stacy London
This article serves to discuss the events leading up to, the day of, and the time since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). I will share my personal experience as a Soldier and leader serving during this time of change. I will discuss how this has affected the force from my perspective as well as me personally.
Prior to the repeal of DADT a Soldier could not serve and be openly gay within the ranks of the United States Armed Services. While being Gay was legal in the United States the Armed Forces, had a policy that while you could be gay, you could not be open about it. Further more if it was discovered that you were gay you could be separated from service. For many Soldiers this presented challenges. They were not allowed to date, or were forced to keep elements of their lives a secret. While what happens behind closed doors is not anyone’s business but your own the fact remains that for straight Soldiers discussing their relationships and significant others is a part of their daily lives that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) Soldiers did not have.
I joined the Army in 1999. I made my way through the ranks and eventually became a Non Commissioned Officer (NCO). As a leader who is LGB, not being able to serve openly affected me as both a Soldier and a leader. Enduring the bigotry of my seniors, peers and subordinates has at times been difficult. We as leaders draw from every part of who we are when developing our leadership style. For me, serving and leading while hiding my orientation felt dishonest. I contemplated separating from service on many occasions, but loved what I do and ultimately I chose to wait and hope for change.
Description of Events
DADT repeal was signed into law on July 22, 2011. After a sixty day waiting period the policy became effective on September 20, 2011(DOD News 2011). I was serving as a Liaison Officer (LNO) in Kuwait for both of these dates. I remember sitting in the Dining Facility (DFAC) on the 22 of July as the announcement came across the television. I was hit with a sigh of relief. The knowledge that not only myself, but all Soldiers who were previously forced to serve in silence could now have a voice brought me great relief. Prior to this event a Soldier would be forced to endure bigotry and insults without being able to say anything. Anti gay slurs were common and while any Soldier can say that such remarks are unacceptable many gay Soldiers felt uncomfortable doing so for fear of standing out.
Many feared that repeal would create problems in the force but in truth the policy change came and went without much trouble. Policy change was implemented smoothly and without incident. Soldiers from across the force were accepting. Units were directed to give training as to what this policy meant and how it would be implemented. LGB Soldiers who were married would not have those marriages recognized at this time but were able to serve openly. Two years later, with the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Soldiers would be able to be married and the Armed Forces would recognize that marriage, giving full marriage equality to all Soldiers regardless of sexual orientation.
For me this was a personal and moral victory. I did not feel a need to come out openly to everyone and anyone; my private life should be kept private. What it meant is that I had the option, and sometimes that’s all anyone wants. This also meant that I could mentor my Soldiers more effectively and create an environment of tolerance and safety for all of the Soldiers in my charge. In addition this meant that all Soldiers and leaders could feel safe to have a voice about equality without fear of persecution.
This event did not represent a tactical advantage for the United States Army or its sister services. The effects of the repeal of DADT were far more transcendent. A change in attitude across the force came. Soldiers began to learn how to accept others. This tolerance and understanding of difference translates into a broader understanding. That understanding can be easily applied to the principles of Counter Intelligence Operations (COIN) which require that Soldiers recognize the differences of others and treat people with respect in order to win the hearts and minds of a local populace.
For LGB Soldiers this meant that they could openly serve. They can now have relationships and over time have even been able to get married. The changing paradigm meant that anti gay slurs would no longer be acceptable across the force. These Soldiers would no longer have to silently endure such bigotry. All Soldiers could have a sense of self worth and belonging. This would raise moral and create a more cohesive force.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was quoted in a recent article as saying “The United States Armed Forces have been a pilot for social change since World War II.” (Advocate.com 2014) The repeal of DADT opened the door for further tolerance in America as two years later the Supreme Court abolished DOMA recognizing it as unconstitutional. (Washington Post, 2013) Thirty six states now have equal marriage. This positively affects all LGBT Americans as well as LGB Soldiers.
LGB issues are not covered under the Army’s equal opportunity (EO) policy. Sexual orientation is not considered a qualifying factor for EO and falls under Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO). Although sexual harassment and assault of any Soldier by any soldier remains a violation of the Army’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) policies, this only covers harassment and assault in a sexual nature and does not refer to harassment or verbal assault about someone’s sexual orientation.
Harassment about Soldiers orientation is dealt with as any other form of hazing would be and is covered by Army Command Policy (AR 600-20). Soldiers being harassed about their orientation should utilize their chain of command or seek the Inspector General (IG) office. All Soldiers have a right and responsibility to make anti gay slurs and rhetoric a thing of the past. Just as racial and ethnic or sexist slurs have no place nor do anti gay slurs or language.
An article on cnn.com looked at how the repeal of DADT affected the force one year after the repeal. Prior to repeal many were concerned that this would weaken the force. Ultimately the opposite was true. Only two service members elected to resign, citing DADT as their reason. (cnn.com 2012)
The repeal of DADT allowed LGB soldiers to serve openly increasing moral across the force. This also ushered in an era of tolerance creating a more cohesive force. This increased moral and cohesiveness allows for a stronger fighting force and increased will to win.
For me personally the take away has been that I have been able to be myself and incorporate all aspects of my life into my leadership style. I have also been able to mentor all of my Soldiers more effectively using the total Soldier concept and with the knowledge that all Soldiers will be able to come to me with any issue without fear of retribution due to antiquated policies and procedures.
This article has served to share my personal experiences as a Soldier serving before and after the repeal of DADT. We looked at how repeal has affected me as a Soldier and leader. Furthermore I examined how policy change has shaped and affected the force.
The repeal of DADT and subsequent era of tolerance and change has positively affected all members of the Armed Forces by creating a cohesive force. LGB Soldiers can now openly serve with pride and dignity. This has led to a better understanding through open dialogue and improved soldier moral. We have given the kind of freedom to Service Members that we fight for in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
With time I hope to see a day when full acceptance of LGBT Soldiers comes. I look forward to a day when Soldiers can serve proudly without who they are getting in the way of what they do.
http://defense.gov/ news/newsarticle.aspx?id=64780 21 September 2011
http://www.advocate.com/politics/2014/12/16/will-chuck-hagel-open-door-trans-troops-his-way-out 16 December 2014
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/supreme-court/2013/06/26/f0039814-d9ab-11e2-a016-92547bf094cc_story_html 26 June 2013
AR 600-20 Army Command Policy 18 March 2008
http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/20/opinion/singer-belkin-dadt-repeal-anniversary/ 20 September 2012
DA Pamphlet 600-67, Effective Writing for Army Leaders, 2 June 1986