By Emily Sebian
“It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed.” Spoken by President Obama in 2010, these words responded to the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. They not only encapsulate the sentiment behind repeal but, in this year, the overall attitude the United States needs to adopt.
DADT’s history exemplifies a strong example of tolerated discrimination. Prior to its passage in 1993, service members could be asked explicitly about their sexual orientation and discharged from, or denied enlistment in, the U.S. military if they identified as homosexual. Under DADT, military members could not be asked about their orientation, but were required to keep silent if they identified as a sexual minority. DADT bought their silence by threat as a “compromise” between Congress, the military and disenfranchised Americans who wanted to serve.
DADT maintained the military’s authority to discharge someone due to sexual orientation. However, it defended service members’ silence on the matter by pronouncing orientation to be a personal, private matter of attraction rather than intent of behavior. Investigation and separation were justified by interpreting admission as intent to engage in homosexual behavior, which they feared would cause discord. Admitting to heterosexuality resulted in no such consequence or assumptions.
Although a step in the right direction, DADT was still discriminatory. Firstly, it largely ignored people who are neither hetero- nor homosexual. Secondly, it invalidated the experiences of minority individuals and denied them the honesty that heterosexual individuals enjoy by sharing stories, pictures, etc., that connect them with loved ones. Fear of being “outed” may also have kept military members from cohering with their unit. Furthermore, this attitude in the military only perpetuated discrimination within the civilian population as well.
This set a precedent for all citizens. If the perhaps most powerful organization in America could discriminate against minorities, how could minorities be protected in schools, at work, in the general population? A general reformation is needed. We can grow tolerance and acceptance by refusing to tolerate discriminatory jokes, not jumping to conclusions, calling out and defying bullies – children and adults – listening neutrally, accepting that “different” does not mean “threatening” or “bad,” modeling acceptance to children and emphasizing love instead of conformity.
It is time that Americans’ honor is based not on characteristics, but on character. This year, may the United States take another step toward uniting and protecting its people.
Emily Sebian is a masters in social work student at the University at Buffalo and has researched the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.