by Gary Peters
On May 28, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. As a former Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Reserve and strong supporter of LGBT equality, I was proud to stand with Rep. Murphy, the first Iraq War veteran elected to Congress, to speak on the floor of the House of Representatives regarding the need to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
This discriminatory policy has kicked out over 13,500 able-bodied men and women from our military while our nation is still engaged in two wars. It has wasted over $1.3 billion taxpayer dollars through investigations, legal proceedings and the wasted training of fighter pilots, mechanics, medics and even Arabic translators who are forced out of the military simply because of their sexual orientation.
On the same day that the House voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Carl Levin, voted to approve an identical amendment to the Senate’s companion defense bill. Chairman Levin has fought tirelessly for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and I greatly appreciate his leadership on this issue.
As a former naval officer, I believe we must listen to America’s military leaders on this issue. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have testified before Congress in support of repealing the law. I believe that Admiral Mullen elucidated the urgent need for change when he said “We have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens … For me, personally, it comes down to integrity: Theirs as an individual, ours as an institution.”
The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a common sense measure that is overdue. This policy is a relic of the past and American citizens do not support it.
Attitudes have changed dramatically since the law was enacted. In 1993, only 44 percent of Americans supported allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military; now this measure is over 75 percent. When this policy was enacted, military surveys showed that about three-fourths of men and half of women in the service were opposed to the presence of gay people openly serving. Now, three-fourths of troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan say they are personally comfortable with gay and lesbian people. VoteVets, the 100,000 veteran-strong organization for Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia veterans, strongly supports repeal of this outdated law.
During my years in the Navy Reserve, I served with many brave, patriotic and dedicated men and women who were always ready to defend their country and its citizens. I was never concerned about their sexual orientation, just their ability to serve the United States honorably.
We must allow our military to recruit and retain any qualified, patriotic, and courageous American who wants to serve our nation, and that is why I support repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I look forward to the full Senate passing this legislation and President Obama signing it into law, which I hope will take place in the coming weeks.
I am proud to be a member of the bi-partisan Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, a group comprised of Members of Congress who are strongly committed to achieving equality for LGBT people in the United States and around the world. I will continue working with my colleagues to pass legislation ensuring equality for all people under the law, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. ENDA will make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, deny promotion, or otherwise discriminate in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Whether it is in our Armed Forces or civilian workforce, I believe discrimination is un-American and totally unacceptable.