President Barack Obama and members of his cabinet have formally declared that the military will end its controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy this fall.
Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, formally issued their certification to the Armed Services committees of both houses of Congress on Friday, signifying that the military is ready for the transition. After hearing from senior military leaders that repeal posed no threat to the armed forces, President Obama’s signature of the certification sets in motion the open service of lesbian, gay and bisexual troops.
The repeal, which was passed by Congress and signed by the President last December, will be final in 60 days.
“Service members celebrate this historic announcement, and they are ready for this change,” said Army veteran and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. “Our nation’s top military leaders have testified that commanders see no significant challenges ahead, and now the President, Secretary Panetta, and Chairman Mullen have certified to Congress that the armed forces are prepared for the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was a compromise between President Bill Clinton and the Republican-led Congress in 1993, as the former attempted to weaken the military’s then-long standing policy of discrimination against GLBT servicemembers. Clinton has since said the policy didn’t do enough to protect them from being ousted.
Servicemembers United, the nation’s largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, announced in March that 261 members of the military were discharged in 2010 alone.
The SLDN has warned that despite the certification issue, it is still unsafe for service members to come out until September 20, when repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will become final.
For some, the repeal is not enough. Sarvis renewed the organization’s call for the President to issue an executive order prohibiting discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Such an order would give LGBT service members recourse outside their chain of command if they are experiencing discrimination or harassment.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese called the repeal “a monumental step, not just for those forced to lie in order to serve, but for all Americans who believe in fairness and equality.”
“There are many people who brought this historic day to fruition starting with the President’s tremendous leadership and the steadfast allies in Congress who refused to give in to the lies and fear mongering,” he said. “Additionally, we thank all of the brave men and women who have continued to wear the uniform under a policy that forced them to hide who they are. The end of that shameful time is thankfully near.”
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has provided a hotline at 202-328-3244, extension 100, for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members who may have questions or need assistance with issues related to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.