Nebraska Vets Speak Out about DADT
April 22, 2010
The following post comes from Cassie Fleming: HRC organizers in Nebraska have been busy setting up public forums on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and scheduling meetings with Nebraska’s Congressional delegation. Cassie Fleming sent this report from Tuesday’s two hour meeting with Senator Ben Nelson’s Lincoln staff. Six veterans, whose experiences spanned across the last 45 years and several military branches, talked with Sen. Nelson’s chief of staff, district manager and a staffer who was a retired Brigadier General. From one woman who began her service in 1973 as an aircraft mechanic to another who joined the Marines in 2000, the veterans stories were as rich as they were varied and all strongly emphasized the need to repeal DADT this year. John Andrews, who served four years in the US Navy in the 1970s, began the discussion by saying that repealing DADT is not only an issue of civil rights but of simple pragmatics:
"It is obvious we do not have enough service members. We do not have an active draft. We cannot afford to kick people out, to lose their expertise based solely on their sexual orientation.
Jeff Hurt echoed his sentiments. Hurt served in the Navy in the early 1990s and said DADT’s enactment occurred in the middle of his service, allowing him to experience serving with gays and lesbians both before and after the policy began.
"It had never occurred to us that gays and lesbians were any less competent until DADT rolled around. It was only then that the military searched out and discharged gay and lesbian service members based on their sexual orientation. When you take 14,000 people out of critical missions – and I believe that all missions are critical – because of a reason other than their job performance, it degrades the military’s integrity and unity.
Hurt cited the approximately 13,500 service members who have been discharged since DADT’s enactment in 1993. Rebecca Gonzales and Laura Roost, both straight allies, spoke about DADT’s broad effect on women in the military. Roost, who joined the Marines in 2000, remarked:
"If you, as a woman, resist advances from male service members, the threat looms over your head of them ‘outing’ you in retaliation for you saying ‘no’ to their advances. It really affected some of the women.
Gonzales, who was one of the first women who worked as an aircraft mechanic in the early 1970s, said the rhetoric around gays and lesbians in the military mirrors that of when women were first allowed in the military.
"They said if we were allowed in, we would diminish the fighting force, the morale. Then, they realized that if you did your job, it did not matter. These old prejudices are being brought up again, but they, too, will be proven not true.
Debi Smith closed the discussion by saying she did not re-enlist after 16 years of service in the Air Force because she was afraid of being discharged because she is a lesbian:
"Dont Ask Dont Tell promotes the idea of dishonesty. It breaks down teamwork, integrity. You have to hide who you are from your family, your children. It affects the core being of who you are.
Sen. Nelson’s staff listened to the perspectives presented and commended the veterans on taking the time to share their stories. Several of these vets and many others nationwide will travel to Washington, DC on May 11 to attend the national Veterans Lobby Day. To register for this event, click here.
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