Two weekends ago, after tens of thousands of protesters – including many GW students – took to the streets for the Equality March, President Obama stood up in front of the national LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign and did what he does best: gave a heck of a speech. The speech had moments that made the audience laugh, followed by moments filled with emotion and invocations of hope. Speaking on the U.S. military’s policy of discharging openly gay and lesbian service members, Obama echoed one of his campaign promises and said, “I will end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'” There was much clapping and rejoicing at the end of the president’s speech.
But the next morning, nothing had changed. Obama did not set any kind of timetable for implementing his promise. There was no talk of an executive order and no push to speed up anti-DADT efforts through Congress. The policy, which, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, has kicked over 13,000 men and women out of the military since its implementation in 1993, continues to hurt American equality and security.
The DADT controversy is familiar to the GW community. Last year, current sophomore Todd Belok was dismissed from GW’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps when his peers and captain found out he was gay. Belok was forced to put his dreams of joining the Navy on hold; meanwhile, his ordeal has spurred other GW students to activism. Many students want an end to this discriminatory policy, and we want it now.
In fact, it’s not only students and homosexual activists who support the right of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. A May 2009 Gallup Poll found that 69 percent of Americans also support opening up the ranks to homosexuals. In fact, the poll found in every sector surveyed – men and women, young and old, liberal and conservative, and churchgoing and secular – overwhelming support for allowing homosexuals to serve.
The governments of some of the U.S.’ closest allies see our error as well. Every other member of NATO, other than Turkey, does not ban open homosexuals from serving in the military. Neither do Israel, Australia and South Africa. None of these countries have found that opening up their militaries led to an erosion of unit cohesion or damage to morale. Additionally, a 2006 Zogby International poll found that 73 percent of American military personnel felt comfortable around gays and lesbians. With such statistics, why try to accommodate the prejudices of a small minority?
When the U.S. is fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as pursuing a global struggle against extremist terrorism, we cannot afford to lose so many skilled service members to a pointless remnant of old intolerance. According to the SLDN, more than 800 jobs especially vital to national security have been lost due to DADT, including the dismissal of some 68 Arabic and Farsi translators in recent years. How can we continue to compromise our security by discharging specialists who want to serve and protect?
With a strong Navy ROTC program and military history, as well as a vocal LGBT community, GW is the perfect stage for activism on this front. Though GW students’ activism can give us a sense of pride, ultimately it is the job of Obama and Congress to get rid of the DADT policy. And so far, I have to say, I am quite disappointed. Good speeches can only go so far; sometimes, action is necessary. Each time that Obama’s words are not followed by concrete steps, they only sound hollower. Todd Belok hasn’t given up his fight for equality. He still dreams of being in the Navy one day. How long will he have to wait?
The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.
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