As we welcome 2010, it is customary to look back on the events that shaped the outgoing year and to make resolutions for the new. 2009 marked the 16th anniversary of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” being signed into law and, for the over 65,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) service members currently on active-duty, 2010 will be no different – unless we resolve to fulfill our promises and back up our words with actions. Together with the Obama administration, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. military, Congress must work to ensure the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2010.
Time is of the essence. These brave men and women are linguists, aviators, medics, and highly-trained soldiers who are involved
in valuable operations that have nothing to do with their sexual orientation and every- thing to do with protecting American lives and advancing our national security interests. Each discharge represents millions of dollars worth of lost talent and funding necessary to retrain new recruits. Our military is already strained, and with another 30,000 more troops being deployed to the war in Afghanistan this year we must again ask ourselves, what is the point of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?
During his campaign, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged that he would repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Almost one year into his presidency, well over 400 GLBT service members have been discharged under this discriminatory law. On June 22, 2009, I wrote a letter to President Obama along with 76 fellow Members of Congress, urging him to work with us to repeal this dishonorable and debilitating law and to re- place it with a policy of inclusion and non- discrimination.
On July 27, 2009, I offered an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act that would have prohibited the use of funds to carry out key provisions in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I ultimately withdrew my amendment due to pressure from the White House and from some of my colleagues. Having received no response to my first letter, I sent a second letter to President Obama on August 27, 2009, urging his administration to make Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell a priority and to do everything in its power to repeal this bigoted law once and for all. Despite silence on this matter from the Executive Branch and the Department of Defense, it seems as if Congress will be proceeding with its hearings on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell sometime this spring. Last month, I introduced H.R. 4180, the Honest and Open Testimony Act, along with 27 original co-sponsors, a bill that would help provide for an honest and open discussion regarding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by allowing active-duty members of the Armed Forces, including GLBT members, to openly testify in Congressional hearings without fear of retribution.
It expands current whistleblower protections between members of the Armed Forces and Members of Congress to include testimony from active- duty service members concerning Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, as well as those who do so and disclose their sexual orientation.
Given the charged nature of the on- going Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell debate, I believe that the strength of our numbers reflects a considerable desire to ensure that the upcoming Congressional hearings are truly inclusive, trans- parent, and complete. There are currently
no plans to include active-duty service members, GLBT or straight, in either the Sen- ate or House Armed Services hearings. Be- fore final repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can be achieved, these two hearings must take place first. We have two historic opportunities to bring us closer to final repeal than ever before.
As Congress prepares to debate the future of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, we must ensure that we hear all sides of the issue and especially from active-duty GLBT service members.
My legislation helps achieve this by ad- dressing a major barrier to an inclusive, transparent, and complete hearing process— fear of retribution for testifying honestly and openly about the consequences of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the Armed Forces.
2010 marks the beginning of a new decade. Let us finally close history’s chapter on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and address other issues central to GLBT equality, such as employment discrimination and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act
Congressman Alcee L. Hastings represents Florida’s 23rd district and is Vice Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, a senior member of the House Rules Committee, and Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.