“We are going to do that,” President Barack Obama said to impatient members of GetEQUAL at Exposition Park on Monday. “Hey, hold on a second … We are going to do that.”
Obama was trying to calm civil rights protesters who were disappointed — and aggravated — by the way his administration has been dragging its feet in repealing the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“Let me say this — when you’ve got an ally [like me] … then you don’t know exactly why you’ve got to holler because [I] already hear you,” Obama said. “I mean, it would have made more sense to holler that at the people who oppose it.”
Perhaps they’re hollering because, despite all the promises, nothing’s really been done yet.
The controversial DADT policy is the brainchild of a military compromise during the Clinton era; after being overpowered by Congress and the military in his efforts to allow gays to legally serve in the armed forces, Clinton had to settle for “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which prevents the military from actively trying to reveal the sexual orientations of soldiers.
Serve our country. But stay in the closet.
Obama pledged to abolish the policy during his campaign, and more recently in his 2010 State of the Union address, allowing gays to enlist without having to hide their sexual orientation. But months later, no action has been taken outside of a study asking the military to find the best way of changing the policy, and restrictions allowing only higher-ranking officers to dismiss gay soldiers from duty. There is no congressional amendment in the Pentagon budget bill, no moratorium on the policy as it stands now and not even a specific timetable for what will be accomplished and when.
Meanwhile, forcibly outed gay military personnel continue to be discharged just as soon as their sexual orientation can be confirmed.
Obama is not entirely remiss to take things slowly before pulling the plug on a military policy that has stood firm for 17 years. He could repeal the policy with an executive order at any moment, but, understandably, he wants a comprehensive plan of reform, with everyone on board. But by stepping back and letting Congress and the Pentagon take the lead so as not to anger the military, he is also allowing the issue to be tied up, possibly indefinitely, in red tape and vague legislation.
The military wants to take about a year to review the best way to implement the repeal. Congress most likely won’t act until that study is complete. Between the passing of the anti-DADT legislature, which won’t take place overnight, and the actual implementation of the changes, gay military personnel will likely have to continue to play it straight, or else be immediately discharged, until well in to 2012.
It’s not that people think Obama will go back on his word. But the window for reform could be closing faster than anticipated; in November, the 2010 midterm elections will take place. If nothing decisive has been done by then, and if, as expected, Republicans gain more seats in Congress, the repeal could very well be blocked by a strong conservative opposition. Clinton couldn’t fight it in 1993, and it’s a legitimate concern that Obama won’t be able to either.
What the Obama administration needs, both to satiate the critics and overcome the Republicans in Congress, is to begin taking action now. If an executive order is not around the corner, there are a number of progressive steps that are the next best thing.
The military study could be allowed six months instead of a year. Obama could lobby Congress for an amendment in the Pentagon budget bill. Most beneficial to the gay men and women in active duty, Obama could call for a moratorium on DADT, which would prevent additional sexual orientation-based discharges until the issue has been studied more thoroughly.
Above all, Obama should set an exact date by which DADT will finally, as promised, be gone. No more non-specific claims of “we are going to do that.”
“President Obama has been AWOL on DADT,” said LGBT activist Dan Fotou in a press release. “We had to remind him of the promises he made to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community during his campaign and several times during his presidency — that DADT will be repealed because, as he’s stated, ‘It’s the right thing to do.’”
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a complex issue. It’s difficult to foresee the exact impact its repeal will have on our military, and how extensive an impact that will have on the gay community in turn.
But DADT is a policy that prevents all citizens of the United States from being able to express their identities fully and equally. In the end, a promise was made to repeal it, and soon.
We should be taking the necessary steps to keep that promise.
Kastalia Medrano is a freshman majoring in print journalism.