For nearly 17 years, gay and lesbian soldiers of the U.S. military were expected to deny their sexuality under threat of dismissal as part of the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The repeal of the policy on September 20, 2011 stirred controversy, and inspired passionate arguments on both sides of the issue.
Now a year later, the first academic study of the effects of repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” has found the repeal has had “no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale.”
In fact, military members have become more aware of their surroundings. Now that many of them actually know a gay person, they aren’t so ready to use derogatory language:
An enlisted soldier at a military university told researchers that when DADT was in effect, his unit mates would use degrading, anti-gay language, “almost absent-mindedly and with little consequence,” but that after repeal, he said, “it was kind of a big deal for two weeks,” as soldiers considered what it would mean for their comrades to be openly gay.
The report says the soldier told researchers that after people wrapped their heads around the idea, their consideration changed, “the new attitude seemed to be, ‘now that I know someone who is [gay], I’m talking about a real person. I’m not just using abstract insults [but words] that actually mean something.’”
This reminds me of the strategy of Harvey Milk: Make sure people know they know a gay person and bigotry and anti-gay measures will decrease.
The repeal of DADT has long been portrayed by the GOP as “social experimentation” and other such nonsense, but it was never anything of the sort. It was an exercise in treating our citizens equally in a way which was not merely neutral in the security of the United States but, indeed, in a way which strengthened our nation. The side benefit is that we’ve done away with a good deal of ignorance in the process.