Open Letter to the President from Lt. Dan Choi

“choose the harder right over the easier wrong”

dadt2The letter from Dan choi appears at the end of this post and was re-printed by CNN this morning in anticipation of his appearance on the channel tonight at 7pm EST. It is an open call to President Obama to do the right thing by all of our troops by supporting those members of the military who willingly serve from within government imposed closets.

As I said in my previous post about this issue, the Clinton Administration’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy placed nationally sanctioned homophobia over the safety of this nation in the name of supposedly protecting queer soldiers from scrutiny. As a recent documentary on DADT shows, (still looking for link to doc) in the first years of its having been enacted women were targeted and dismissed from their jobs as out or suspected lesbians. A disproportionate number of female soldiers have continued to be dismissed yearly. While 1600 people have lost their jobs in total, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network more women than men are discharged every year despite only making up 15% of the military ranks. In 2007 alone they made up 46% of discharges while only making up 14% of the army (the latter number counts all women not just lesbian ones, so the fact is, lesbians are less than 14% of the army and yet almost 1/2 ofmarch93the discharges. An Urban Institute report estimated that lesbians make up 5% of the entire armed forces, while gay men make up 2% based on the 2000 census.) Obviously, this is a feminist issue in the conservative sense, b/c women were specifically targeted in the beginning of this legislation and continue to make up the bulk of dismissals. It is also a feminist issue in the broader sense in which we both understand that GLBTQI always includes women and that we are committed to the equality of all marginalized communities.

When we are silent about women’s issues, we allow them to be framed as though women are absent or insignificant.  Hence DADT has often been framed by all sides as an issue gay men are facing as if lesbians and suspected lesbians get a free pass.

Melissa Herbert argues that lesbians in the military need two types of camouflage. They need to seem masculine enough to “cut it” in the military, but feminine enough not to be seen as lesbians. (Out Ranks Exhibit quote)

We also allow the military to erase the specific targeting of women under these policies.

The silence this issue has received from mainstream feminist blogs may seem like part of the commitment to solving world problems through diplomatic rather than militaristic means, but when we allow oppression to exist, even in the ranks of gay-iraqi-deathsinstitutions with whom we may not agree, we are still complicit in the oppression. When we allow it to exist in an international policing and/or peacekeeping force, we send bigotry out into the world and say that it is ok globally as well as at home. That bigotry compromises the safety of not only lesbian (women) and gay troops but also queer civilians who are targeted by conservative backlash regimes without consequence as well as potentially by our troops.

As on soldier put it, when questioned about why the U.S. troops were not specifically helping against a growing anti-gay backlash in Baghdad:

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, when we’re in a fledgling time like this, to go in and say, ‘Here’s these issues that are going to repel 80 percent of the population and this is what we want to inflict on you. (Washington Blade)

Despite the seeming logic of not exciting violence in an already volatile situation, the decision not to act on escalation is clearly informed by the soldier’s belief that confronting homophobia is “inflicting gay people on society” rather than making room for them in a society in which they already exist. Worse, this underlining heterosexism and/or homophobia allowed troops to ignore, what they themselves admit were increasing, murders of gay civilians. Had they not been homophobic or afraid of being labeled gay and losing their jobs under DADT maybe they would have acted before gay rights activists here and there pushed for protection of gay Iraqis rights. Maybe, the men in this photo would still be alive.

Thus not only is the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, itself homophobic, but the way it is enacted can actually support homophobia. As this 60 Minutes clip shows, when queer service people are harassed for being gay, they risk their jobs by exposing the harassment or asking for help.

According to the Palm Center Study, DADT also prevents service people from receiving needed physical and mental health care for fear of being exposed. This puts not only LGBQ service people at risk but also heterosexual ones, as well as innocent civilians, as mental health issues are often the cited reason for poor performance and acts of violence against Sylviafellow soldiers and/or innocent civilians. (All though, it should be noted that the last several cases of violence against Iraqi women – including the rape and setting on fire of a 14 year old girl – and the recent shooting of 4 servicemen, were both done by heterosexuals who may not have received proper MH care.)

As the second half of the 60 Minutes report shows, the 1600 people who have lost their jobs because of DADT, radically underestimates the number of troops impacted by the policy. According to them an estimated 4,000 GLBQ people did not re-enlist because of homophobia. This number is likely higher now b/c the 60 minutes report is 2 years old. And neither statistic accounts for the amount of people who retired or resigned while under investigation or in fear of being investigated. Nor does the statistics include transgender people who are explicitly barred from service and/or asked to halt gender re-assignment and/or hormone treatment when called up for active duty. (Clinton argued that DADT would give GLBQ people protections from homophobic assasinations, he never considered transgender issues in this policy. By failing to address them, he left transgendered service people open to harassment, violence, policing, and medical discharges that would have no similar rallying cry for the protection of their rights. As we talk about DADT, we must also talk about the entire queer community’s rights to serve.) More cohesive research on the issue is going to be published

People from Colin Powell to the Major interviewed in the above clip have argued that open/out service would compromise the military. Yet this has been categorically disproved by the U.S. Department of Defense itself. (Read their 2005Petriereport here) And while a Military Times Poll done in 2009 argued that 58% of troops do not want the ban repealed, and 10% said they would not serve with openly gay troops, the Palm Center argues that this number does not reflect the actual actions of the same troops. Servicepeople’s own reports show this is not the case, see Dan Choi’s story or Amy Brian’s for more examples.

More cohesive research on the impact of DADT on the military and its adverse affect on service in general, ie DADT is neither protecting military cohesion nor aiding the military effort, will be published later this year by the Palm Center in a book called Unfriendly Fire.

This is Dan Choi’s letter (you can support him and an end to DADT by following the link to the White House email in my previous post; for those who think email is ineffective, you should know that someone from the admin has already been on the blog to check the post, so they are listening or sign the petition):

Open Letter to President Obama and Every Member of Congress:

I have learned many lessons in the ten years since I first raised my right hand at the United States Military Academy at West Point and committed to fighting for my country. The lessons of courage, integrity, honesty and selfless service are some of the most important.

At West Point, I recited the Cadet Prayer every Sunday. It taught us to “choose the harder right over the easier wrong” and to “never be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.” The Cadet Honor Code demanded truthfulness and honesty. It imposed a zero-tolerance policy against deception, or hiding behind comfort.

Following the Honor Code never bowed to comfortable timing or popularity. Honor and integrity are 24-hour values. That is why I refuse to lie about my identity.

I have personally served for a decade under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: an immoral law and policy that forces American soldiers to deceive and lie about their sexual orientation. Worse, it forces others to tolerate deception and lying. These values are completely opposed to anything I learned at West Point. Deception and lies poison a unit and cripple a fighting force.

As an infantry officer, an Iraq combat veteran and a West Point graduate with a degree in Arabic, I refuse to lie to my commanders. I refuse to lie to my peers. I refuse to lie to my subordinates. I demand honesty and courage from my soldiers. They should demand the same from me.

I am committed to applying the leadership lessons I learned at West Point. With 60 other LGBT West Point graduates, I helped form our organization, Knights Out, to fight for the repeal of this discriminatory law and educate cadets and soldiers after the repeal occurs. When I receive emails from deployed soldiers and veterans who feel isolated, alone, and even suicidal because the torment of rejection and discrimination, I remember my leadership training: soldiers cannot feel alone, especially in combat. Leaders must reach out. They can never diminish the fighting spirit of a soldier by tolerating discrimination and isolation. Leaders respect the honor of service. Respecting each soldier’s service is my personal promise.

The Department of the Army sent a letter discharging me on April 23rd. I will not lie to you; the letter is a slap in the face. It is a slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated that an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.

My subordinates know I’m gay. They don’t care. They are professional.

Further, they are respectable infantrymen who work as a team. Many told me that they respect me even more because I trusted them enough to let them know the truth. Trust is the foundation of unit cohesion.

After I publicly announced that I am gay, I reported for training and led rifle marksmanship. I ordered hundreds of soldiers to fire live rounds and qualify on their weapons. I qualified on my own weapon. I showered after training and slept in an open bay with 40 other infantrymen. I cannot understand the claim that I “negatively affected good order and discipline in the New York Army National Guard.” I refuse to accept this statement as true.

As an infantry officer, I am not accustomed to begging. But I beg you today: Do not fire me. Do not fire me because my soldiers are more than a unit or a fighting force – we are a family and we support each other. We should not learn that honesty and courage leads to punishment and insult. Their professionalism should not be rewarded with losing their leader. I understand if you must fire me, but please do not discredit and insult my soldiers for their professionalism.

When I was commissioned I was told that I serve at the pleasure of the President. I hope I have not displeased anyone by my honesty. I love my job. I want to deploy and continue to serve with the unit I respect and admire. I want to continue to serve our country because of everything it stands for.

Please do not wait to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Please do not fire me.

Very Respectfully,

Daniel W. Choi
1LT, IN
New York Army National Guard

According to the Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he has had a brief conversation with the President about DADT prior to March 19, 2009 and has also been discussing the issue with top advisers within the military. However, he made no commitment to addressing or changing the policy nor did he indicate he had any additional meetings scheduled with the President.

——

Images

  • DADT Protest. Getty Image/unattributed
  • 1993 Lesbian’s in the Military March on Washington. Out Ranks Exhibit/Cathy Cade
  • Iraqis executed for being gay. AP/Bilal Hussein
  • Sylvia Rey Rivera. (rejected from draft b/c she was transgendered)
  • Jeff Petrie at Naval graduation. unattributed

Out Military Organizations where you might get more info

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