Since its introduction in 1993, the US policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” regarding homosexuals within the military, created strong feelings both for and against the policy. The basics of the policy were meant to satisfy all parties regarding homosexuals in the military.
The policy was meant to appease the homosexual community by prohibiting discrimination for applicants or active service members, while also barring open homosexuality within the military. Service members were not allowed to ask about sexual preference and members who divulged their sexuality were discharged from service.
Many members of the homosexual community felt this policy violated their own rights and felt the negative consequences of being forced to closet their sexuality. The numerous cases of discharged military servicemen and women who violated the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy each have heartbreaking stories of embarrassment, shame and a tarnished reputation with a military discharge forever on their record.
The homosexual community rejoiced and thought of it as a small victory over discrimination and acceptance with the policy’s repeal in September of 2011. However, the repeal has brought on new challenges that may be even more difficult to overcome.
Previously discharged service men and women during the period of the policy’s instatement have grounds for a revoked discharge. Since they were discharged due to a policy that is no longer instated, it brings on questions of what to do with these servicemen and women. There needs to be a clearly defined regulation on whether or not they can be reinstated, whether their records will be updated and whether or not they will be able to receive the same benefits that they would have been afforded if they had not been discharged.
Other challenges that may arise with the policy’s repeal have to do with the behavior of the heterosexual members within the military. Although the policy was thought of as a hindrance of rights for homosexuals, the policy also had mandates to protect against harassment and discrimination.
It will be challenging to see whether or not the new-found freedom of servicemen and women to openly express their homosexuality will affect the behavior of other members in the military. There could be a high rate of open discrimination, dissension and disrespect towards previously closeted members.
Tensions that can arise in the military are sometimes overwhelming due to the stress of being away from loved ones, being away from home and adhering to a strict military routine. The stresses are multiplied exponentially because of the high number of deployments to stations overseas and the number of military men and women losing their lives. Adding on the stresses of this policy’s repeal could spark homophobic incidents among members in the military. Living and working in close quarters can be difficult for those who feel strongly against homosexuality or are ignorant on homosexual issues.
Although the repeal is thought of as a victorious step for acceptance in the homosexual community, there will be a transition period for the repeal to have a positive effect. Many stipulations are still in the works on how to regulate and clearly define how the new stipulations will work to achieve a positive outcome.