Serving Openly

The NYT's Room for Debate (a fantastic new media use for the paper's long list of sources) tackles DADT. This dispatch by Zoe Dunning was clarifying:

I am a retired Navy Commander and lesbian. I publicly “came out” in January 1993 as a political statement in support of then President-elect Bill Clinton’s campaign pledge to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly and honestly in the military. I was one of the first cases under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and one of the very few exceptions who unanimously won my DADT discharge hearing (using a defense strategy subsequently deemed illegal by the Pentagon). This enabled me to serve the final 14 years of my military career as an open lesbian.

The units in which I served those 14 years did not suffer impaired cohesion or morale due to my mere presence. If anything, my honesty enabled closer relationships with my shipmates because I no longer needed to distance myself from them due to fear of discovery and potential loss of my career. I continued to serve, sleep, shower and perform alongside my fellow unit members without incident because I was a professional officer and conducted myself as such. Being “out” did not change that.

My open service did not unduly expose the unit to an increase in sexual harassment complaints or issues. If anything, it decreased it. In my 26 years in uniform, the only sexual assault or harassment I witnessed were cases of male on female misconduct, many of which went unreported for fear the man would turn the woman in as a suspected lesbian in retaliation (not an unfounded fear, as this happened frequently). I personally was the victim of many inappropriate verbal and physical advances from men, especially as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy in the early 1980s, and knew I was powerless to report them for fear of retribution and investigation of me, not the man.

These anecdotal experiences are supported by a Palm Center study of the Canadian military, which found the percentage of military women who experienced sexual harassment dropped 46% after the ban was lifted. One factor in the decline was that women were now free to report assaults without fear that they would be accused of being a lesbian.

I think this debate needs to shift from if the law should be repealed to how repeal should best be implemented.