Late afternoon classes were cancelled yesterday due to snow, but Columbia Law School still held a heated panel discussion at the Columbia Law School that called for an end to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
The discussion was co-hosted by the Columbia Law School Solomon Amelioration Committee and Columbia OutLaws, an LGBT-ally organization at the law school, and featured former Marine John Power Hely, Law ’10. He shared his personal experience in the military under DADT, while other panelists urged for the policy to be repealed.
DADT mandates the discharge of openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual service members. It was passed by Congress in 1993, and more than 13,500 service members have been fired under the law since 1994. There have been ardent movements to end this ban—President Barack Obama reiterated in his campaign a promise to repeal DADT, and 187 members of the House of Representatives have signed on to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which proposes to replace DADT with a policy that would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Nonetheless, progress has been slow.
Speakers at the discussion addressed the difficulties when individual military commanders apply the law differently. Hely said it was unfair for soldiers when “what was acceptable on Tuesday gets you dismissed on Wednesday.”
When asked how this specific matter fits into the greater agenda of LGBT activists, Hely said that efforts are being made to separate the issues. “The most important thing to ensure is that DADT is removed,” Hely said. “We are not discussing marriage in order to focus on helping those who are serving in silence.”
Rachel Wolkowitz, co-president of the Columbia OutLaws and Law ’11, urged the participants to “help us try to get this law repealed.” Accoding to Wolkowitz, despite the fact that there are a lot of veteran family support networks, “because of DADT, all the close family members of LGBT service members are completely cut off from all these service members. There is a huge stress in having to hide yourself and hide your family members.”
Hely pointed out that repealing DADT would be a big step, but not the end of the struggle. “We are facing an uphill battle in every way, shape, and form,” he said.
But speakers said they found service members to be generally supportive of their LGBT colleagues. According to a student who spoke who did not wish to be identified because he hopes have a career in the military, when he came out to his peers, they “were all very supportive. They didn’t care—they would still take a bullet for me. All the Marines who worked for me they felt the same way.”
Jeannie Chung, Law ’10, from the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic, said that study results have shown that in other countries, transitions into open military service have by and large “usually not been an issue, or actually even enhanced cohesion and performance.”
“It is insulting to the military as a whole,” Hely said. “The fact that people think this kind of negative, arbitrary control fixes the situation is quite ludicrous.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article attributed Chung to the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, when in fact she is part of the institution called the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic. Spectator regrets the error.