LGBTQ rights advocates on campus celebrated in the wake of the official repeal of the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on Tuesday. But the repeal also raised questions about how it will affect military programs both nationally and at the University.
Following the repeal of DADT, University professors and campus organizations discussed the merits of the overturn of the legislation in advancing LGBTQ policy, while acknowledging there is much work to be done. The policy had banned openly gay soldiers from serving in the military since 1993.
In an event held Tuesday night in the Welker Room of the Michigan Union, about 20 members of the University’s chapter of Stonewall Democrats and LGBTQ rights supporters gathered to celebrate the upending of the DADT policy and to discuss how the repeal will affect the nation.
The Stonewall Democrats, many of whom were clad in buttons that read “Ask, Tell,” celebrated and proclaimed that the day was “long overdue” and a “big step for equality.” Others, while still heralding the day as a milestone for LGBTQ rights, said it was just one victory for a cause that still has ground to gain until complete equality is achieved.
Blake Mackie, co-chair of the Stonewall Democrats, said in an interview after the event that despite other laws in place that currently hinder LGBTQ rights, the DADT repeal is a milestone in advancing LGBTQ civil liberties.
“‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was an ineffective policy that resulted in the discharge of many able and qualified service members and the silencing of LGBTQ Americans,” Mackie said. “(The end of) ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was really important … to show the progress that can be made on LGBTQ issues.”
However, he added that progress still needs to be made on issues such as the prohibition of gay men from donating blood and the denial of military benefits for partners of those serving in the military. Additionally, though gay and lesbian soldiers are now able to serve openly, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” did not grant that right to transgender soldiers, Mackie noted.
David Halperin, the University’s W.H. Auden distinguished university professor of the history and theory of sexuality, said the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was “a step forward” and has the potential to advance other LGBTQ issues.
“As anti-gay discrimination becomes more and more rare, it looks more and more bizarre and archaic to more and more people, and you wonder why it still exists,” Halperin said. “So once various kinds of equality come into being, remaining forms of inequality look more and more strange and intolerable.”
Halperin also noted that the repeal of the legislation will allow for more universities around the nation to institute Reserved Officers’ Training Corps programs, since many have previously refused them on the basis that the program was not open to students of all sexual orientations.
Additionally, Halperin said many military leaders have supported the repeal for years. Because of this, Halperin said he does not foresee any problems as gay and lesbian soldiers begin to openly enlist in the military.
“It’s been clear for a long time that the only real defenders of the policy in the military and in Washington are the elderly generals and senators who were pretty much out of touch,” Halperin said.
Ariana Bostian-Kentes, the administrative and programming coordinator for the University’s Spectrum Center, said she expects gay and lesbian soldiers to join the military at a greater rate than during the era of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” She added that the repeal plays a crucial role in encouraging dialogue on LGBTQ issues and how to overturn policies that limits LGBTQ rights.
She added that the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” could help to root out other “glaring inequities” in LGBTQ rights including the Defense of Marriage Act and unfavorable marriage laws in most states.
“I think this is going to be a huge gateway in increasing equality for the entire community,” Bostian-Kentes said. “The military is such a well-respected, highly-regarded institution that when you see that service members are able to serve openly and we have a more effective military … it’s going to change people’s minds and open doors.”
Still, others were not convinced that the end of the policy would bring a deluge of military enlistment among gay and lesbian soldiers. Jonathan Marwil, a University lecturer of history, who teaches a course on 2oth-century wars as a social experience, said he anticipates a wait-and-see approach as potential LGBTQ soldiers determine how “welcoming” the program will be after the repeal.
“If a year goes by and this has worked fairly smoothly — there aren’t instances of people being picked on, humiliated, injured … then you will see more sign-up, absolutely,” Marwil said.
Like Marwil, leaders of the University’s ROTC programs said they could not predict increased enlistment. The ROTC officials also declined to comment on the implications of the repeal. Lt. Colonel Wayne Doyle, the assistant chair of the University’s Army ROTC, and Captain Richard Vanden Heuvel, commanding officer of the University’s Navy ROTC, said they would follow orders as received from command.