DADT repeal impacts San DiegoAround the City Thursday, July 28th, 2011
With more than 110,000 active duty military service members stationed in San Diego – the largest concentration in the U.S. – the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) could have a drastic impact here.
“It’s going to have a huge impact,” said Kristen Kavanaugh, co-founder and executive director of Military Acceptance Project (MAP), a San Diego-based support organization that serves as a resource to anyone interested in learning more about the repeal of DADT.
Enacted in November 1993, DADT mandates the discharge of openly gay, lesbian or bisexual service members. Since then, 14,000 service members have been discharged.
The repeal, which was certified by President Obama on Friday and takes effect in 60 days on Sept. 20, has been praised by national and local LGBT organizations, activists and politicians.
“This is a welcome step, and reflects what our members are saying, that the military is ready to move beyond DADT,” said JD Smith, active-duty co-director of OutServe, a national association of actively-serving LGB military personnel. “In 60 days, my life and the lives of thousands of other gay and lesbian troops changes. I cannot be more proud to be able to serve during this time.”
“Service members are sent all over the globe to risk their lives in defense of freedom. In 60 days, LGB service members will finally be able to openly partake of that freedom here at home,” said state Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (D-San Diego).
“Our LGBT troops have made a commitment to serve their country, and their hard work, dedication and willingness to put their lives on the line deserves nothing less than the same respect, thanks and benefits given to their non-LGBT counterparts,” said Dr. Delores A. Jacobs, CEO of the San Diego LGBT Community Center.
Along with the fanfare of praise, however, there are also warnings that the repeal of DADT is just one important milestone along the journey to achieving LGB equality in America’s military. First, despite the certification, it is still unsafe for service members to come out until Sept. 20, when repeal becomes final.
“Rapidly changing events regarding the legal status of DADT may be confusing for service members and recruits. The bottom line is DADT is still the law of the land, the situation is still in flux, and it is not necessarily safe to come out,” reads a warning on the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Web site, sldn.org.
Second, even with the repeal of DADT, there is no military policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Such a policy would give LGB service members recourse outside their chain of command if they are experiencing discrimination or harassment.
“Every service member deserves equal respect in the work environment. Signing legislation that allows for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was necessary, but it is not sufficient for ensuring equality in the military,” said Army veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. “It’s critical that gay and lesbian service members have the same avenues for recourse as their straight counterparts when it comes to harassment and discrimination.”
The DADT training the military conducted was just a policy change, Kavanaugh said, and now social education is necessary.
“We, as an organization, are thankful for all those people that have been fighting for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for decades, but right now is where the heavy lifting starts for the Military Acceptance Project,” she said. “Now we are talking about people serving openly. How do we help people learn to accept that? How do we talk about these issues? How do we help people feel more comfortable? How can we help people begin to create a dialog about these things? That’s the only way this is going to happen.”
Kavanaugh said MAP’s recommendation is to evaluate the command climate before coming out after Sept. 20.
“Unfortunately, There are some units where it’s just not going to be safe,” she said. “People are going to do a risk assessment about their ability to come out 100 percent.”
To learn more about MAP and the DADT assistance they provide to active duty and veteran service members, log on to their Web site at militaryassistanceprogram.org.
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