Though Congress repealed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, students are still discussing the ramifications and what is left to be done.
The Queer and Ally Student Alliance and School of Social Work Rainbow Alliance Caucus held a panel Thursday discussing the effects and limitations of the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. About 40 people attended the discussion.
The recently repealed policy prevented gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers from serving openly in the military.
“Many people think that because ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ has been repealed by Congress it’s over, but actually that’s far from the truth,” said Rainbow Alliance Caucus Treasurer and event organizer Melanie Walker, a graduate student studying social work.
Walker served in the military before coming to USC.
The panel discussed the effects of the repeal and issues that it failed to address.
“Many people in the community think that this is a done deal, and I hate to rain on their parade, but it’s not,” said Tom Carpenter, a former marine captain and current member of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s Board of Directors who was on the panel. “We ended up with a skeleton of a bill. In order to get it passed, we had to give up a lot.”
The bill that repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” lacked an anti-discrimination clause, saying a person cannot discriminate against another person based on sexuality. The bill also lacked a clear timeline for implementation of the repeal, Carpenter said.
Students attending the event said they realized how much they didn’t know about “don’t ask, don’t tell” once it was discussed.
“Learning that people who were dishonorably discharged didn’t have any benefits was really eye-opening, saddening and frustrating,” said Joe Beltran, a graduate student studying education.
Vincent Vigil, director of the LGBT Resource Center, said the panel of experts helped explain aspects of “don’t ask, don’t tell” that weren’t necessarily clear in media coverage.
“It’s important for our students to know that it’s not over yet, and, even though the repeal had been passed, that there are a lot of things that need to be done,” Vigil said.
Kristopher Patrick, a sophomore majoring in biological sciences who is involved with the LGBT resource ,said the panel made the don’t ask don’t tell repeal more clear.
“I never really understood the full extent of how it affected the soldiers because it didn’t directly affect me,” Patrick said.
Carpenter said the guidelines for the military’s plans to ensure the repeal will not affect recruitment, retention and readiness, are due today,` but there are no deadlines for when servicemen will be trained to handle servicemen serving openly.
“We need to keep an eye on them. We need to be vigilant. We need to make sure they’re doing what they say they’re doing, or else we aren’t going to get certification,” Carpenter said.
Peter Renn, an attorney for LGBT and HIV/AIDS civil rights organization Lambda Legal, said that although the absence of a non-discrimination rule could imply that one isn’t necessary, it could become problem.
“There is explicit non-discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race and natural origin,” Renn said. “The reality is that there are certain groups of people that need it. Enumeration sends a very clear message.”
Carpenter also said leadership in the Pentagon disagreed with the legal and financial distinctions made between gay and straight spouses. One air force general told him that it was “repugnant” to have two classes of citizens in the military to lead.
“Internally, that’s a good sign,” Carpenter said.
Patrick said that the panel made him more interested in the subject and that he wanted to learn more now.
“I have a lot more questions, but I know a lot more about the topic now,” he said. “The panel definitely enlightened me.”