And you thought all of that “don’t ask, don’t tell” business was over.
Of course, effectively implementing and dealing with the ramifications of the most important federal gay-rights decision in this country couldn’t possibly have been easy.
Now that DADT is repealed, you’re allowed to be gay in the military. You’re allowed to say that you’re gay while in the military. But if being gay and saying that you’re gay results in your being discriminated against or sexually harassed, your options are, to say the least, limited.
That’s because gays and lesbians are still not a protected class in the armed services’ Military Equal Opportunity program, which aims to ensure all people equal treatment based only on “individual merit, fitness, and capability.”
Currently, individuals who feel they have been discriminated against based on race, color, national origin, religion, and gender can receive support throughout their claim of harassment. But a policy memo on DADT-repeal implementation from late January stated that sexual orientation will not be considered under the MEO program.
At a press conference two weeks ago, Clifford L. Stanley, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said that’s not a big deal:
There’s no special policy needed to address the things that we’re talking about here with regard to taking care of people and treating them with dignity. That’s so fundamentally basic. So the remedies you have are the remedies that already exist. There’s no need to create new remedies for that.
But the currently designated remedies don’t encompass sexual orientation. And in previous laws regarding hate-crime prosecution (and current laws regarding employee non-discrimination clauses), the absence of that category has made it impossible to fix any situation where gays and lesbians are targeted and not treated with “dignity.”
If there’s going to be a policy that outlines and seeks to protect minority classes from mistreatment, the policy needs to be inclusive of sexual orientation.
At the same time, it’s difficult to effectively change something and protect people when you don’t know how many people are directly affected by the policy change.
Although data on race, gender, religious preference, and marital status of service members are collected by the Department of Defense, the newest policy guidelines, updated to prepare for the official repeal of DADT (which should go into effect this year), specifically prohibit data collection about the sexual orientation of members of the military. Queerty’s Ryan Tedder explains:
Instead of adding a checkbox to personnel forms, or conducting an anonymous questionnaire, the Pentagon wants to be completely blind to sexual orientation. Which, on the face of it, is a good thing—because sexuality, like race and sex, shouldn’t be a factor in personnel matters like promotions. Unlike race and sex, sexuality is something harder to track without asking the right questions. And without those questions, we’ll have no idea if, say, the Marines appear to be purposefully keeping gay and lesbian service members from high-ranking jobs. If the data were collected, a simple glance at an Excel spreadsheet would tell wonders.
Besides charting personnel trends, a count would demonstrate the number of service members who are not receiving same-sex partner benefits, despite President Obama’s executive order last summer to extend these benefits to partners of all federal employees.
All of these problems, however, are apparently no source of worry for the guys in charge of implementing repeal of DADT. In a memo to U.S. service chiefs, Stanley again reiterated that while they may not be passing any policies to stop discrimination, it certainly will not be tolerated:
It remains the policy of the Department of Defense that sexual orientation is a personal and private matter, to treat all members with dignity and respect, and to ensure maintenance of good order and discipline.
Last fall, the media was saturated with stories about the repeal of DADT, and some excellent journalism updated the country on every single step (forward and back) of the repeal process. These new, ongoing complications need to receive the same amount of attention in order to hold the government accountable for its policies.
After all, there’s no use in being able to serve openly when you can’t serve equally.