When 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Ends, Our Military Will Be Stronger

Scores discharged under the policy will try to reenlist later this month, when gays are officially allowed to serve openly

Afghanistan helicopter - US Army Flickr - banner.jpg

When the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays in the military officially ends later this month, as many as hundreds of people discharged under the policy are going to try reenlisting in the Armed Forces. A look at some of their stories, as related by James Dao of The New York Times, underscores the imprudence of using sexual orientation to prohibit dedicated personnel from serving.

Dao writes:

  • Jase Daniels was actually discharged twice. Because of a clerical error, the Navy failed to note on his records that the reason for his first discharge in 2005 was homosexuality. So the following year, when his services as a linguist were needed, the Pentagon recalled him."I wanted to go back so bad, I was jumping up and down," he said. "The military was my life." He was open about his sexual orientation while deployed to Kuwait for a year, he says. But a profile of him in Stars and Stripes led to a new investigation, and he was discharged a second time upon coming home in 2007. Now 29, Mr. Daniels says that in the years since, "I've had no direction in my life." He wants to become an officer and learn Arabic, saying he is confident he will be accepted because he has already served as an openly gay man.
  • "I've been out six years, so my peers are way ahead of me in the promotion structure," said Jarrod Chlapowski, 29, a Korean linguist who left the Army voluntarily in 2005 as a specialist because he hated keeping his sexual orientation a secret. He is now thinking about rejoining. 
  • Bleu Copas... had been in the Army for just three years when someone sent an anonymous e-mail to his commanders telling them he was gay... "It took away all my value as a person," he recalled. For Mr. Copas, who is 35, age could be a factor in whether he gets back in. An Arabic linguist during his first enlistment, he is thinking of learning Dari or Pashto so he can go to Afghanistan.

There isn't anything unusual or new about these sad stories, but it is nevertheless striking that the United States has been taking talented linguists who volunteered their skills, subjecting them to humiliating investigations, and discharging them, forgoing their talents and contributions in war time, all because they're attracted to people of the same sex rather than the opposite sex.

It is difficult to think of a more striking example of irrational prejudice making America a weaker, less safe country. And while I've been critical of President Obama's leadership on national security, he deserves tremendous credit for his role in bringing about a less prejudiced and more able military.  He presided over the end of a policy that ought, in hindsight, to embarrass us all.

Image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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