In 2011, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy regarding homosexuals in the military was repealed (Associated Press, 2011). Many gays (and those who supported gay friends and relatives) had been pushing for a repeal for years, but it was slow to happen. Finally, the change was made and gays were allowed to serve openly in the military, no matter what branch they were in or what their occupation was. Of course, that brought on many changes and a host of conflicting opinions about what was right and wrong. That was to be expected, and it happened every time that a DADT repeal was discussed. When the repeal actually took place, however, the response was even more vocal than expected (Gerstein, 2011). There were strong opinions on both sides of the issue, and both sides wanted to be heard so that they had the opportunity to either try to stop the repeal or encourage it to go forward. Usually, the repeal failed because too many people were against it. Many of those who had been against a DADT repeal for a long time were surprised that the repeal went through, most likely, as it was a sign of changing times and a new way of looking at people in the military.
Before the Repeal
Before DADT was repealed, gay people in the military were not asked about their sexual orientation or preferences, but they were also not allowed to tell anyone about those preferences (Belkin, 2008). Many gay people kept quiet. Others pretended to be straight so that people would not question their orientation. Even though others could not legally ask them about their sexual orientation, if they openly admitted to being gay they would be forced to leave the military. There was an opinion circulating that straight people did not want gay people fighting next to them, and they certainly did not want them bunking next to them. The problem with that philosophy was that there were already gay people doing exactly that - they just were not allowed to talk about it without fear of punishment and dismissal (Belkin, 2008). People in the military were not avoiding fighting and working with gay people, they were just not clear on who was gay and who was not - so it was easy to pretend that everyone was straight and that there were no gay people who were serving in the military.
How the Repeal Helped
Gay people in the military were helped by the repeal in several ways, and hurt by it in others. The repeal helped them by giving them freedom from living a lie. Most of them struggled to hide who they were from their fellow soldiers and especially from their superior officers. Because of that, they had trouble feeling comfortable with anyone. They lived in fear that they would be "found out" somehow, and they could not even confide in their closest friends because there was that chance that the friendship would end and the person they trusted would tell their secret to everyone else. Needing to hide that secret made them feel dirty and ashamed, and many of them were also frustrated and angry. The repeal stopped all of that. It ended the fear, even if it did not necessarily end the judgment. People will always have opinions, especially on a topic such as homosexuality. However, allowing gays to serve openly in the military helped gay soldiers by taking the stigma off of their sexual orientation and acknowledging that they were "good enough" to fight right alongside those who were not homosexual. This was something that gay people had known for a long time, but that the military had not acknowledged until DADT was repealed.
How the Military Feels
There are mixed feelings in the military when it comes to DADT and its repeal (Bumiller, 2009). Privately, many soldiers supported it (Bumiller, 2009). Many others did not want to know, and some people simply feel that homosexuality is wrong. Whether they think it is a sin because of their religious beliefs, or they see it as unnatural or even upsetting or disgusting, they simply cannot hide how they feel about fellow soldiers who are openly gay. They do not necessarily trust these people, and if they had a good friend who they did not know was gay until DADT was repealed, they may feel betrayed by that person. The military as a whole has spoken out through high-ranking officers, most of who were very vocal about not liking the DADT repeal (Bumiller, 2009). The military thinks it is a bad idea to allow gay people to serve openly, because it makes other soldiers uncomfortable and can keep everyone from being focused on the task at hand, which is fighting the enemy and protecting the country.
The Reason Behind the Treatment of Gays
Gay people were treated the same way straight people were treated in the military before DADT was repealed - provided no one knew that they were gay. As soon as they told the truth, though, they were removed from the military. It did not matter if they had served for two weeks or if they were two days from retirement. Gay people - or at least openly gay people - were simply not allowed to serve in any branch of the military. That was done for several reasons, but the most commonly cited one was that of distraction. Not everyone accepts the homosexual lifestyle, but nearly everyone accepts that the heterosexual lifestyle is "normal" for people. With that being the case, the military is interested in ensuring that everyone who joins its ranks is on the same page and can fight and work together as a cohesive unit. Personalities may clash sometimes, but that is not the same as having openly gay people fighting in the same trench or bunking in the same room. Those kinds of things make many straight soldiers uncomfortable, and uncomfortable soldiers are generally distracted and distrustful soldiers who are more prone to making mistakes.
Current Quality of Life for Gays in the Military
Now that DADT has been repealed, the quality of life has changed for gay people in the military. But, has it gotten better or worse? The answer is probably both. There are some aspects that are definitely better now, but there are plenty of other aspects that have not improved. For example, when gay people serve openly, it is possible for them to be more comfortable with their surroundings. They are not living a lie in any part of their life, they do not live in fear of being discovered and forced to leave, and they are not concerned about faking an interest in the opposite sex just so no one suspects them of anything. Of course, there is much more to the issue than that, also. The downside to being open about homosexuality is that not everyone likes it or accepts it, even it is not being directed at them. The quality of life for gay people in the military today is affected by the opinions of other soldiers who do not always hide their disdain for homosexuals.
Usually, people have a pretty good idea of who will accept them and who will not, but that is not always the case. Coming out can be risky for any gay person, and in the military that is even more serious. It has the potential to cause problems, but is not guaranteed to do so in any way. There will be an adjustment period, certainly, for those who no longer have to hide and also for those who are suddenly confronted with the fact that some of the people they know and like were hiding a huge part of their identity. Of course, it is easy to suspect that someone is or is not gay, but that is not confirmation. Other people would appear to be either gay or straight, but are actually hiding so well that they fool almost everyone. Allowing them to be themselves will greatly improve their lives - and most likely their dedication to the military and their country, as well - but it is putting somewhat of a strain on the others who serve in the military with them and are now dealing with the DADT repeal.
Why Was DADT Repealed?
The idea of repealing DADT had been going around for some time, but each time it got close to a vote or decision, something would happen to keep the repeal from going through. It just could not get enough votes, and there were too many people who were complaining about all of the problems that it would cause. That, of course, does not mean that there were not proponents of it (Stolberg, 2010). Unfortunately, there were not enough proponents in the past - at least proponents who had power and clout - to get the DADT repeal to…