Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: A Debate

December 1st, 2010 at 1:11 pm | 69 Comments |

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In light of the recommendations from the Defense Department to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, FrumForum asked our contributors who have served in the military to weigh in on the debate. We have received comments that both support and oppose a repeal of the law. Below, Ron Hill argues against a policy he finds requires soldiers “to lie” while John Guardiano writes in defense of Sen. McCain’s support of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.


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I wish I could be excited about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) being debated once again. I cannot.

Every time this issue comes up it just reminds me that I am not judged on my ability to do a job but on a private life I would not share with my troops anyway.

What many Americans do not know is that DADT requires soldiers like me to lie and pretend not only to my fellow troops but also to my parents, my siblings and even my best friends. Telling even these close friends and family members is against the law.

Being honest with my own Dad by telling him I am gay is against the law and I could have been fired for it. Dating people I am interested in – off base on my own time and behind closed doors – is also against the law.

So the choice for military members is to pretend and lie – thereby violating a fundamental military value – and to remain celibate. Only by alienating ourselves from family, friends and fellow soldiers through lies and isolation (and by living a celibate existence) may we live within the legal constraints of DADT.

It’s hard to have your second class legal status paraded on the evening news with regularity. The DADT debate serves as a constant reminder that I can be fired from my job without recourse simply because of who I am. It would be different if there was a legitimate reason to bar gays from honest military service, but 40 years of research does not support discrimination against gays in the Armed Forces. Even more telling, many of my colleagues knew I was gay and did not care.

After 8 years as an Army enlisted soldier and 4 years as an Air Force Captain, I left the military when my service obligation ended because I was tired of being forced to lie in an institution that abhors dishonesty.  Leadership demands honesty and openness, I could be neither as an officer under DADT.

So I left the occupation I loved and was good at. I received high praise in every NCO and Officer Performance Report I ever had. I gave up my retirement – living life authentically became more important. Regrettably I was in a critically undermanned position, so the military will be even shorter during a time of two wars. How many other good soldiers left the military prematurely because they could not live under DADT? We may never know.

It isn’t about not telling anymore. It’s about living an authentic existence and being who I am. I simply cannot lie or pretend anymore just because other people want to pretend that Americans like me don’t exist. So long as they can pretend we don’t exist, they can continue to deny us equal treatment under the law. So they must make gay Americans invisible, and this is what DADT is really about.

I honestly wonder if there is a place for people like me in the GOP anymore.  I grew up worshiping Barry Goldwater and  voted Republican my whole life, except in 2008. Sarah Palin was the reason I voted for Obama and she has since confirmed the rightness of my choice.  I can vote for a Milton Friedman, a Barry Goldwater, a Ted Olson … in fact, if Republican Governor Gary Johnson ran I would vote for him – I have long had libertarian leanings.  I do not know if I can vote GOP in 2014, although I hope to.  Ironically, if the GOP would let DADT and other anti-gay laws die a quiet death there would be one less reason for moderates and independents to vote against the GOP.

But we shall see. I do not have high hopes for repeal of DADT in the next month, which means the law could be around for many more years to remind moderate and independent voters of exactly where the GOP stands on this unpopular law.

Recent Posts by Ron Hill



69 Comments so far ↓

  • TJ Parker

    “4) Everything about you is dictated by your genes. There are some strong environmental factors that will act upon these core instructions, but all the base tendencies within your skull are genetic. How neurotic you are, how clever you are, how fearful you are, how tall you are, how well you will hear middle C… all of this is genetic.”

    This is not entirely true. There are several things to separate out here. There’s the genetics. There are also developmental differences: some of these occuring in-utero (e.g. your mom produces antibodies against this or that) or post-natal (e.g. you’re undernourished and don’t develop properly). And finally there’s the psychological development.

    Genetics are implicated but appear not to fully determine sexual orientation. (I.e. high probability of separated twins having the same orientation, but not 100%.) In utero effects are also observed: for example, for women who have given birth to several boys, the later boys are more likely to be gay than the earlier ones.

    The mechanism is not yet known. Of course, the mechanism of sexual orientation in general – let alone its variants – is also not known.

  • anniemargret

    TJ: There is some truth in what you say. I knew a man once that was one of 7 brothers, all born to the same mother and father. Of the 7, one was gay. This may be nothing more than trait that is common to the biochemistry of humans.

    That so many people in this day and age still want to attribute some type of ‘evil’ or ‘demon’ or ‘sin’ to this ‘in utero’ aspect, or other biochemical or natural aspect, is sickening. It is a sexual orientation.

    I have met many homosexuals in my life, and I can attest I have not yet met one who claim to have ‘become’ homosexual by choice or environment. Back in the 40s and 50s it as thought that the mother cause her child to be homosexual. But then again, women were blamed for just about everything then anyway. It was thought that her directiion, or lack thereof, or making little boys care too much about non-masculine type toys, would cause them to be gay.

    Utter nonsense of course.

    Lets go forward as a society, willing and able to open our eyes to the truths of our species. There is still so much to learn about ourselves, our psyches, our biological and innate desires and needs.

    And in the meantime, let’s show some tolerance and respect for our fellow human beings.

  • anniemargret

    As far as the military goes, it is their decision alone. And if the majority of soldiers have no problem with it, then it shouldn’t BE a problem . There are rules and regulations for all soldiers and their conduct. Whether or not it is a heterosexual or homosexual breaking rules, it will apply and they will have to take the consequences.

    But to segregate on the basis of sexual orientation – on that alone – is disgraceful.

  • Patchdee

    Good morning. I am brand new to Frum Forum and have really enjoyed reading the comments on this site. I have seen some good “gave and take” & some really interesting comments. I am a freedom loving, patriotic, real American and live in the “real” part of America! (Oh and by the way, I am also a proud, liberal Democrat.)

    I am a retired professional woman and follow politics closely on a daily basis. I try to stay well informed and crave intelligent discussion with conservatives. I abhor talking points and mindless parroting of anything proclaimed by any talking head on television – on the left or the right.

    Someone here mentioned binary thinkers. I looked up the definition: “somebody who thinks “it’s all or nothing” / a person who thinks only in absolute, black-and-white terms and is incapable of appreciating the subtleties and complexities of a situation.” I think that that is a very interesting definition and neatly sums up a lot of the problem in our society. (But it is not a new problem, nor unique to our country.)

    My mother was a classic binary thinker. We clashed from the time that I started to develop a sense of independant thought. Sadly, we clashed literally until the day she died 4 years ago, because I could never think exactly as she did. (It seemed that to her, civilization reached its Apex somewhere around 1945 and she fought against every single change in society from that point on.) In general I try to avoid discussions with binary thinkers because I know that there is absolutely nothing that I can ever say that would influence their opinion on anything. They, equally, will never be able to convince me that the world is totally black and white.

    Examples for this particular thread:
    Straight – good / Gay – bad.
    Marriage – happy / Gay- sad.
    Heterosexual behavior – holy unto the Lord / Homosexual behaviour – the work of the Devil.
    Straight – God-given / Gay- a choice.
    Religion – good / Science – bad.
    Status quo – God’s Will / Progress – evil.

    Oh, a bit of irony — my mother clashed with HER mother. I think that my grandmother thought that civilization reached it’s Apex around 1918.

    I am looking forward to discussions with any one with an open mind.

  • Patchdee

    Ron, thank you for a passionate and articulate article on your struggles to deal with the discrimination and isolation that our DADT policy has created. Our military is, I believe, weaker for the loss of brave men and women like you.

    I have seen several gay & lesbian ex-military speak out so eloquently on shows like Rachelle Maddow’s and in testimony before Congress. You are all an inspiration to the younger generation that will lead our country towards a more enlightened world view!

    I hope that somehow some of those Republicans in Congress who KNOW in their hearts that this policy needs to go will follow their conscience. I am in despair when Party loyalty is so absolute that not a single Republican is willing to stand up to their leaders for the good of the country.

  • nhthinker

    Most humans can be socially conditioned not to crap their pants.
    Most humans can also be socially conditioned to be celibate.
    Without social training, humans would have a tendency to crap their pants and be as promiscuous as the world allows them without much regard for the consequences.
    Socialised behavior modification is a mechanism to supress urges for longer term good to society.

    Socialization is critical to humans: in many ways similar to other intelligent pack mammals.

    In wolves and other mammals, celibacy is forced on the lower ranking pack members.
    Are wolves evil because the lower ranking pack members don’t get to mate?
    Pretending sexual behavior is only defined in genes and not related to socialization is idiotic.

    Sexual urges and romantic urges are different from behavior. Humans are expected to have socialization that will induce the capability of willpower to have substantial control over their urges. Without control of their urges, human societies would be very inefficient. Most inefficient human societies end up dying out or being enslaved/assimilated into a more efficient society.

    Humans are born with urges and it’s society that decides which ones are supposed to be suppressed and which ones are allowed to be acted out. Many young toddlers would kill their younger siblings if they were allowed to act on their urges.

    BTW, we are all born virgins.

  • nhthinker

    As to DADT, the larger side effect longer term will be a required “blindness” to placing soldiers based on their expected sexual urges. There will be more integration of women into smaller and smaller groups with men and in more remote places with less supervision.

    Military spouses will be rightly suspicious of increasing opportunity for hanky-panky and many a husband/father soldier will find it harder to serve for multiple enlistments.

  • KBKY

    @nhthinker
    I’m not sure I quite understand your point. Yes, wolves may do this, but they are wolves. We have slightly higher standards for human behavior. I agree that societal rules are extremely important in regulating behavior, but is your point that homosexuality is just one of these urges that needs to be repressed? You have a right to that belief, but it’s pretty much a non-starter for any useful dialog.

    In terms of the effects on the military – I think people are assuming that we are going to go from everyone being “straight” and acting “straight” to a bunch of extremely flamboyant stereotypes that would distract and make soldiers uncomfortable and possibly unwilling to serve. I think the point that we are hearing constantly from our soldiers is that they already know who is gay and who is not. When you are stuck in extremely close quarters for up to a year at a time, it’s pretty hard to keep secrets. The difference is that without DADT, soldiers won’t have to ignore/lie to keep common knowledge from being official knowledge.

    I can’t really see the behavior of individual soldiers changing that much. The entire point of joining an “army of one” is to conform – to take joy and pride out of being a part of something. What many people would call “acting straight” for men – stoic, tough, masculine – encapsulates acting like a soldier (I say for men since, oddly, no one seems to care or be threatened by lesbians in the military). Armed forces are a self-selecting group, no one’s personality is going to change just because they don’t need to lie about their orientation.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    “Most humans can be socially conditioned not to crap their pants”….um,, you are aware that pants are themselves a form of social conditioning. Animals, through instinct, learn to defecate not where they eat or sleep.
    “Most humans can also be socially conditioned to be celibate.” No they can’t. Look at all the nonsense with priests tells you that is a lie. You can force people to live without sex, but why would you? Would you abolish masturbation?

    “humans would have a tendency to crap their pants and be as promiscuous as the world allows them without much regard for the consequences.” Neither is true. I am sure primitive man didn’t defecate where he slept and ate. This is likely hardwired into the brain. And no, women would not be as promiscuous as the world allows, it would be suicide. Men also have an interest in passing along their own genes and seeing to it that their children live to adulthood.
    Our evolutionary nature has no way of knowing of the existence of contraceptives. In a primitive state, random and wanton sex is not efficient for either sex. Women’s sex drive increases during ovulation. And during menses women have a far greatly reduced drive. There is no social conditioning with regard to either.
    Men are also not Bonobos or Chimpanzees and they sure as hell are not wolves. We have charted our own evolutionary path. Lets acknowledge that first.

  • drdredel

    @TJ Parker

    I didn’t mean to suggest (or did I say) that our genes dictate everything, there are clearly other factors involved, some we know about and some we do not. All I was saying was that homosexuality is at no point a conscious choice (to the extent that such a thing even exists). I might think about going for a walk and decide against it based on a myriad factors. I will NEVER think about whether or not today would be a good day to have a sexual relationship with a man… I’m simply not programmed that way. The argument here isn’t about the specific nature of the biology that programs homosexuals, the argument is whether there is evidence (or lack-thereof) of whether homosexuality is driven by in-born “genetic” factors, or if people up and decide that they’re going to be gay. The latter is still talked about as though it is some kind of unknown, but the reality is that there is no question left. It is absolutely 100% not a conscious decision. The only question that remains is what alters our brains’ biochemistry to produce such desires, but that is entirely irrelevant to DADT or gay marriage or any other law that, if looked at honestly, has to treat gay people like any other minority that had no control over how they were born and deserve equal treatment under the law.

  • PatrickQuint

    Ron Hill, thanks for the article. It seems like good sense to me.

    Patchdee, welcome.

    Some triggers for sexual attraction are going to be more or less decided by genetics, others by factors in-utero. On the other hand, some innate triggers of sexual attraction can be killed by psychological conditioning (such as trauma), and I’d argue that other triggers for attraction can be acquired. That’s not to say that it would be easy (or even ethical) to try to affect one’s own sexuality, or that of another person.

    The study regarding younger brothers being more likely to be gay may suggest factors in-utero, or it may suggest post-natal factors. If brothers separated after the birth of the younger one still exhibit the phenomenon, then it is likely in-utero. If younger brothers who are separated from their siblings at birth escape the phenomenon, then post-natal developmental factors are likely at work. However, I don’t even know if that study looked at those factors, and I don’t have a subscription to the American Journal of Psychiatry Online.

    In any case, there are examples of triggers for sexual attraction that cannot reasonably be attributed to genetics or in-utero factors. Many fetishes fall under this category. For example, I challenge anyone to find a genetic or in-utero cause for a Hello Kitty fetish (as opposed to a fetish for cute things in general). That or a gun fetish (as opposed to a “weapon” fetish).

    Being sexually attracted to men in uniform can be another example of a trigger that is developed psychologically. Clearly, there were no real “uniforms” as recently as thirty thousand years ago. What this shows is that we can make post-natal connections between “sexy” concepts like money or power and their visual or social trappings. There’s nothing about a Lamborghini that would *in and of itself* trigger sexual attraction.

    Not only can we develop new triggers for sexual attraction by association with more primal concepts of “sexy”, but we can kill existing triggers. So far, the clearest examples of this I have seen are by association with unpleasant stimulus. This might be conditioning of the kind found in A Clockwork Orange or through trauma like sexual assault. There have been cases of women finding themselves unable to enjoy intimacy after being the victim of a rape. These cases may show that it is possible to suppress (effectively destroy) certain triggers for sexual attraction, but the processes by which it happens (that are known to me) are *incredibly unethical*. By no means can rape be recommended as a “cure” for anything.

    I do not mean to suggest with any of this that sexuality can be “cured”, any more than getting a boob job is a “cure” for having an A-cup. There’s no disease.

    The suggestion that either “sexuality can be switched on and off like a light” or that “sexuality cannot ever be influenced” is a false dichotomy. The answer is somewhere in the politically uncomfortable gray area between the two.

    In any case, I would expect a good soldier to be able to live under incredibly hostile conditions, under fire for days or weeks, in close quarters with those of a different sex or gender. That’s a soldier’s life in war. These men and women are professionals.

  • nhthinker

    KBKY,

    My point is there are clear distinctions between urges and behavior- and socialization regulates the difference. Urges might almost exclusively be genetic- behaviors are not. Therefore, allowable sexual acts (both heterosexual and homosexual types) are expected to be potentially under the purview of societal behavior control.
    The scientifically curious would ask why have social mammals including humans developed societal behavior control of sex acts? What are the chances that it was totally arbitrary ? Does it or did it at one point help with survival or efficiency of social order that helped that group flourish and potentially takeover other societies with different behavior control?

    The past hundred years have included advantages in technology (contraception, treatment of STDs, etc) that have dramatically reduced the first order negative impacts of promiscuity. Societies are evolving to be much more accommodating to desires of more individuals in society and reduced authoritarian nature as it influences behavior control.
    The second and third order impacts could be both positive and negative to societal efficiency.

    With more people focused on expecting sexual gratification than a typical puritanical society, is there a negative or positive change in efficiency? Obviously, allowing more people to have sexual gratification (that society does not shame them for) makes those people happier and is consistent with the humanistic principle of “do unto others”. (Humanism tends to focus on happiness and fairness and not efficiency). It’s unclear to me as society changes to sexual freedoms and self-fulfillment that these societies will stay sufficiently efficient not to be overrun by other societies that are substantially more efficient. Historically, this has not been the case. It will probably take five or six generations of sexual freedoms to get a good understanding of their long term impacts on our culture.

    The thought is technology has changed the game and personal fulfillment of all societies members is no longer a negative to the stability of a society.

    700 BC Greece had a social construct of sexual behavior that NAMBLA members can only dream of.
    Why did Greece change?

    Socially allowed sexual acts have varied greatly in many human societies. Those societies that had the initiative and the effectiveness to militarily overrun other societies tended not to have weak social controls on allowed sex acts.

    The American combat forces in small units had been typically chosen to be sexually incompatible. The increase in acceptance of sexually compatible persons within combat units will have an impact- it may be slight but it certainly will not help efficiency of combat groups.

  • pnumi2

    drdredel

    Good analysis.

    I wonder if this ‘problem’ hasn’t been created by Nature itself, which is appropriating to the human species a small but not insignificant number of homosexuals as a means of controlling the earth’s population, as the threat of overpopulation has never been greater than it is now. Especially with the deaths caused by war less than they have been for hundreds of years

    The minority homosexual lifestyle is not thought of as a form of Nature’s compensation by angry and religious heterosexuals for the fact that homosexuals can not, in a real sense, create families of their own with their own genes and has become a source of resentment by some heterosexuals for the perceived threat and latent envy they feel from homosexuality’s less conventional ways..

  • busboy33

    @drdredel:

    “If you believe in things that can’t be tested, the worst you can be is naive. If you believe in things that are provably untrue, you are a deranged.”

    Agreed. But that I am foolish or deranged for believing something that is provably untrue does not make it less a reality. That’s sort of why they are called “irrational fears”. Saying an irrational fear is irrational is correct . . . but that does not negate the fear.
    Fairy is absolutely terrified of Teh Gay. Why? I don’t know, and in all honestly I neither care nor am interested (with all respect to Fairy regardless). His gay phobia is irrational, but it is demonstrably real. That it should not exist does not change the clear fact that it DOES exist. Telling thr agoraphobic that there is no rational reason to fear open spaces isn’t going to make them suddenly not fear open spaces, even if it is true. I’m not a psychologist, but I think that’s one of the intrinis elements of the definition of “phobia” . . . irrationality. If I was in an eathquake, I would be scared. This isn’t a phobia, because that’s pretty damn rational. Its rational to be scared of a tsunami if you live near a coast. Its less rational if you live in Kansas, or at the top of a mountain. One is common sense — the other is a phobia.

    As I said before, the difference between Fairy and other phobics is his refusal to acknowledge his phobia. An agaoraphobe may be terrified of open spaces, but usually they don’t spend their time telling everybody else that open spaces are Teh Debil. They accept that their phobia is “wrong-but-real”, and try to get thru their day. A person with a fear of heights doesn’t insist that all buildings be no taller than one story . . . they just avoid tall buildings themselves.

    There’s nothing wrong with being irrational. Hell, there’s nothing wrong with being out-of-you-damn-mind-whack-a-doodle-insane. One of the great things about America is the freedom to be at peace with yourself, even if its wrong. But you have to keep it out of the public square, otherwise society will fail to function. Fairy can be as homophobic as he wants. In fact, I’d guess its pretty much impossible for him to be anything BUT homophobic at this point, absent lenghty, intensive, and intense therapy. But that’s fine. He should stay out of bars flashing rainbows, avoid the next Melissa Etheridge concert, and change the channel when a Will&Grace martathon comes on. Then we can all live together.

    @Patchdee:
    Welcome. Don’t worry . . . for some reason, the gay threads are formally polite. I’m sure we’ll all degerate into the usual Intertubes bitch-fest in the next thread. For example . . .

    @nhthinker:
    “Most humans can also be socially conditioned to be celibate.”
    Of all the dumb things you’ve posted on FF (and there have been quite a few), this is easily in the top 5.

  • nhthinker

    busboy33 // Dec 2, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    “Most humans can also be socially conditioned to be celibate.”
    Of all the dumb things you’ve posted on FF (and there have been quite a few), this is easily in the top 5.
    —-
    Don’t refute it with data- just call it dumb- Your debating technique is in a class by itself.

  • PatrickQuint

    busboy33: “Of all the dumb things you’ve posted on FF (and there have been quite a few), this is easily in the top 5.”

    There could conceivably be evidence to back up his position. You actually need to argue this one, because the claim is not absurd at first glance. Stranger propositions have been demonstrated.

    nhthinker: “Don’t refute it with data- just call it dumb- Your debating technique is in a class by itself.”

    Your comment is not helpful in resolving the dispute.

  • busboy33

    How can I refute a blanket assertion presented without a shred of proof?

    The only argument I can possibly offer is that there has NEVER been a society in the history of Human existence that has demonstrated success with making celibacy the norm. Infidelity, pre-marital sex, illicit relations, and so forth, have been present in every society I’m aware of, on every continent, in every time period.

    That would tend to indicate that “most” humans are either incapable of being conditioned to be celibate, or that no society on the planet in our entire history has hit upon the proper “celibacy indoctrination” formula. Thus, since there is absolutely ZERO evidence supporting his assertion, as well as the obvious evidence pointing to celibacy being a rule “most people pay lip service to rather than actually follow, I feel that I have effectively rebutted the posited position.

    Of course, nhthinker phrased it very carefully. “Most” people “can” be “conditionred” to be celinbate. That’s a null statement.
    How many is “most”? 50.1%? 75%? More than 5%?
    They “can” be made celibate? Well, of course people “can” be celibate. People “can” also stop breathing . . . they just aren’t going to. But they “can”. It is a physical possibility.
    What is meant by “conditioned”? Promiscuious sex is disocuraged, or a catle prod is affixed to the genitals?
    There are a dozen or so possible “meanings” to his statement . . . shall I refute them all, or just the top 6 or 7?
    nhthinker wrote his statement carefully. It allowed him to make a brazenly overreaching statement without backing it up, because whatever criticism of the statement anybody makes he can simply attack our foolish ill-concieved pelebian ideas about the magic undefined words. He’s not stupid . . . just a troll.

  • nhthinker

    PatrickQuint,

    Thanks for the comment to try to keep the conversation rational.

    I think it’s well accepted that humans start off very malleable vessels that are substantially programmed by the societies they are part of.

    I’ve heard of no studies that have identified a celibacy gene. Celibate monks and priests are often chosen through social expectation- celibacy is primarily an ability to resist consummating sexual acts that spring from sexual urges.

    When societies have an expectation of celibacy for certain individuals (let’s say 12 and 13 year olds), if authority has substantial influence on these people, then celibacy can be a reality for most of these people that respect authority.

    For people that view that society should not have substantial influence on their sexual behavior, the choice to be celibate becomes personal. Most of these people may have use shorter term horizons in deciding if there is sufficient value in suppressing action on their sexual urges.

    Puritanical societies use authority to try to influence social behavior to maximize celibacy outside of marriage.

  • TJ Parker

    `I do not mean to suggest with any of this that sexuality can be “cured”, any more than getting a boob job is a “cure” for having an A-cup. There’s no disease.

    `The suggestion that either “sexuality can be switched on and off like a light” or that “sexuality cannot ever be influenced” is a false dichotomy. The answer is somewhere in the politically uncomfortable gray area between the two.’

    The grey area between is “politically uncomfortable” because it is not political. The answers – scientific and hence credible answers – are currently absent.

    The only ones to claim to understand what we don’t yet understand are those who have never shown any shame in being completely wrong.

    Although the Catholic Church did eventually drop Copernicus and Galileo from its index of banned books in 1835, and Galileo got a formal apology from the Pope in 2000. So not wrong foerver. Just for a millenum or two.