Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's Official, DADT Is Over - We Ain't Done Yet

The work has just begun. Despite Obama's putting pen to paper on Wednesday, no one can come out of the closet just yet. The repeal has to be certified first, as this NY Times article highlights:
The repeal does not immediately put a stop to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Mr. Obama must still certify that changing the law to allow homosexual and bisexual men and women to serve openly in all branches of the military will not harm readiness, as must Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mullen, before the military can implement the new law. There remains significant resistance within the military to the change in policy, especially within the Marine Corps. But Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen have both said they are committed to implementing the change.

At the signing ceremony, Obama claimed he would not drag his feet on certification. Let's hope that is indeed the case (though I am not holding my breath).

But there is more to this issue than meets the eye. David Crary of the Associated Press wrote an interesting article on the next steps facing the military, "Blacks, Women, Now Gays: Military To Adjust Again." If the implementation of having women in the military is an indicator, this could be a difficult time for openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual service members:
[snip] Now the military has a new social challenge: Allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the ranks. It is expected that commanders will dutifully implement the policy, and overall it will likely be judged a success, but recent history provides some cautionary lessons.

On one hand, the military has earned a deserved reputation as a meritocracy in which minorities and women can flourish. On the other hand, sexual assault remains a rampant problem, and racism was minimized only after years of friction within the ranks.

Perhaps the impending repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy will unfold more easily, but some female veterans say that will be the case only if commanders are vigilant and aggressive in quashing anti-gay harassment.

"When women come forward to report sexual harassment, that's when a commander's courage is tested," said Anuradha Bhagwati, a former Marine captain who heads the Service Women's Action Network. "Even though we have fairly decent policies on paper, enforcement of basic harassment policies is very shoddy."

Bhagwati's network is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed Dec. 13 seeking access to Pentagon records on the thousands of sexual assault and harassment cases reported in the past decade. In fiscal year 2009 alone, the Defense Department said there were 3,230 reports of sexual assault involving service members.

Sadly, the incidences of sexual assault against women in the military academmies is on the rise according to a recent report. That is putting it mildly, though, as this Eleanor Clift article makes clear:
No matter how much things change, they stay the same. That was my first reaction to a new Pentagon report that shows an eye-popping rise in incidents of sexual assault at the nation's prestigious service academies -- the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.; the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The number is up 64 percent, from 25 cases in the 2008-2009 academic year to 51 cases in 2009-2010. The Pentagon attributes the increase to students being more willing to report these crimes. But the report also acknowledges student discomfort at reporting sexual misconduct, despite steps the military has taken to ensure confidentiality. Students, mostly women but presumably some men too, are afraid of being singled out and somehow being made to pay, either by their superiors or their peers, for disturbing the illusion that all is well between the sexes.

There is also confusion among students as to whether behavior they consider offensive rises to the level of initiating a reporting procedure with built-in safeguards for the accused as well as the accuser. Physical assault and rape are clearer to define, but misconduct that occurs in a social context and triggers what is known as date rape becomes harder to prove, especially when alcohol is involved. Women, who are a minority in the service academies, no doubt feel that the burden is on them to justify making a complaint. The military for too long looked the other way, rather than confront sexual misconduct in its ranks, to expect the kind of trust necessary to encourage candor. [snip] (Click HERE to read the rest.}

YIKES. Those numbers are staggering, no matter how one wants to paint them. While people have been saying they don't care what someone's sexual orientation is when they are under attack in the foxhole, they just want them to do their jobs, how about who women can trust?

But I digress. Back to the Crary article, "Blacks, Women, Now Gays":
[snip]Several military-policy scholars suggested that the armed forces had done better in regard to racial equality than it has in curtailing harassment of women.

"With race, the military led the way," said David Segal, a University of Maryland sociologist who has studied military personnel policies. "It was not that way with gender - lots of other workplaces were ahead, and I'm surprised it has taken us this long to get to where we are now."


Marcus S. Cox, a professor who teaches black military history to cadets at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., believes generational factors are at work,

"My students say they'd have no problem serving with someone gay as long as they're able to do their jobs," he said. "For young people, raised with MTV and same-sex marriage, it's not as unsettling as for some older people."

Segal said incidents of gay-bashing had occurred on a regular basis under "don't ask, don't tell" and would likely continue, but not increase, after repeal enabled gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation.

He noted that many members of the military already knew they had gays in their units, despite "don't ask, don't tell," and suggested this could make the upcoming transition smoother than the changes involving blacks and women. [snip]

Well, that is certainly a positive in terms of incorporating openly out service people, but still disconcerting in terms of women.

And then there are those who face discrimination on both fronts:
[snip] Sue Fulton, of North Plainfield, N.J., has seen military prejudice from two directions - as a lesbian and as a woman who was in the first coed class at the U.S. Military Academy in 1976.

"At the academy, it was all about leadership," she said. "Many of the problems we had came from instructors and staff who would make derogatory comments about women in front of cadets."

Those staffers were a minority, she said, and most officers were supportive.

Now, with gays soon able to serve openly, Fulton says officers will face similar choices on how to exercise leadership.

"There is a chasm of difference between saying, `We got our orders' and saying, `This is a good. This will make us stronger, and here's how we'll go about it." [snip] (Click HERE to read the rest.)

Indeed. Though I think it will make the military stronger when members do not have to hide who they are, when there will be comeuppance for gay bashing, and when there will be no "benefit" of outing members of a unit. For people to not have to worry about scrutiny for every word they say, or every action they make, or who they meet on leave, it will of necessity make units stronger.

I am thrilled that DADT has finally, after too many years, been repealed. I know people for whom this will be a huge deal, and which will mean they can continue in their military career without fear of being outed. It is about time.

But this change is far from a done deal, as the treatment of too many women in the academies and the military itself attest. I hope, and pray, that the assaults against women in the military, primarily from other service members, will be addressed swiftly and completely. And I hope and pray that those who will soon be allowed to serve openly will not face reprisal from their fellow service members.

Until that time that Certification is complete, however, we must be vigilant that Obama will keep his word, and not drag his feet on this. The work is not yet over, but still, Wednesday was a good day indeed...

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