Openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people will be allowed to serve as members of the US Armed Forces beginning September 20, 2011. President Obama set the date after confirming that conditions established by the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) repeal act he signed into law last December have been met. The act established a 60-day waiting period before the repeal becomes formal.
Although the repeal will end an official policy that discriminates against gays, lesbian, and bisexual people by barring them from serving openly in the military, no guarantee exists that these military members won't continue to experience harassment and discrimination within the ranks of the armed forces. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a nonprofit organization that offers free legal services to those adversely affected by DADT, is urging the president to issue an executive order barring discrimination and harassment among military members based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The repeal will also not apply to transgendered members of the military, who will still face a medical regulatory ban on joining or continuing in the military. Members who openly identify themselves as transgendered can also be diagnosed with a disqualifying psychiatric condition.
Another issue left unresolved by the repeal is the military's treatment of married homosexual members. While marrying a person of the same sex will no longer be grounds for discharge from the military, under the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex marriages cannot be officially recognized by the military. As a result, same-sex spouses won't qualify for many of the benefits (housing, medical, joint duty assignments, etc.) available to heterosexual spouses.
Don't Ask Don't Tell first went into effect in 1993, during Bill Clinton's administration. The policy allowed gay and lesbian members to serve in the US military as long as they kept their sexual orientation to themselves and didn't commit any "homosexual acts," which meant any physical contact between members of the same gender that was interpreted as satisfying sexual desire.
Since that time, over 14,500 military members have been discharged under the policy. Not all of these discharges were involuntary; the GI Rights Hotline has worked with hundreds of gay and lesbian service members who sought discharge under the policy because they felt threatened or decided they wanted to act on their sexual orientation without fear of reprisal.
Last December, President Obama signed an act repealing the discriminatory policy, but only after the secretary of defense, chair of the Joint Chiefs, and he could certify that the repeal would not hurt military readiness or performance. After months of training the troops and policy reviews, the president announced that this requirement was met on July 22, beginning the 60-day countdown to the official repeal. Technically, until that time military members can still be charged under DADT, although the Pentagon suspended separations of gay troops in early July after a federal appeal court declared the old law unconstitutional.
The GI Rights Hotline is committed to assisting any military members who suffer harassment and discrimination of any kind. If you or someone you know has questions about the DADT repeal or is facing reprisal for their sexual orientation, please call the hotline at 1-877-447-4487.