Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Obama signs repeal of military's long-standing policy

Dec 22, 2010

Former Lance Cpl. Danny Hernandez , who was discharged from the Marines earlier this year for being gay, will be online Wednesday, Dec. 22, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the signing into law by President Obama of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and what it means for service members and the armed forces.

Danny Hernandez here to discuss the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and what it means for individuals who are currently serving and individuals, like myself, who want to return to the service.

Might military personnel who were dismissed for being gay be allowed to reenlist? If this is allowed, would you consider reenlisting?

It is our undertsnaing that once the implementation process is completed, there will be a way for those who had been previously discharged re-join the military. I am 100% committed to returning to the service.

Often the military is touted as being an example of how racial integration has succeeded and is a kind of meritocracy that rewards excellence. However, African Americans make up a disproportionately large number in the Army's enlisted ranks, for example, they account for a disproportionately small number in the officer ranks and even smaller numbers in the general officer ranks. While a lot of this (most?) has to do with educational opportunity and socio-economic status, at the most senior ranks, promotion becomes less about merit and more about politics, with Congress having a chance to weigh in on who gets additional stars on their uniform. Do you think something similar could be faced by gays and lesbians? Do you think they will face a glass ceiling of sorts at the highest ranks? I could imagine that members of a promotion board or congressional panel weighing a couple of candidates and saying behind closed doors, well General A is a family man and his wife hosts excellent receptions, where General B is gay and his partner is not like General A's wife. What do you think?

Gays and lesbians have been serving in the military since its inception, and we have no clear idea what ranks they have achieved. Once gay and lesbian individuals are allowed to serve openly we would expect that service members be promoted based on merit, but taking into consideration that the glass ceiling exists in all sectors still today.

Now that the bill has been signed into law, what are some of the next steps?

Despite the signature, this is still law until the next steps are complete. The next step is certification of repeal by the President and the Chairman of the Joint Cheifs, as well as Sec. Defense Gates. They must certify that DADT will not have a negative effect on the military. After certification there is a 60 day waiting period after which DADT will be fully repealed and no longer on the books. As of today though, even with the signature, servicemembers are still at risk and can still be fired. Our web site below: http://SLDN.org/stillatrisk

SLDN WARNING TO SERVICE MEMBERS - DADT is STILL in EFFECT

As a straight man, I've long objected to the "morale" argument used by DADT supporters, because they're essentially making the issue about them. Many of the ones in the service fret about gay comrades allegedly ogling them in the shower, and in a world where gays and lesbians still face many types of pervasive discrimination, that shows a lack of perspective at best. I suspect that gay service members such as yourself have been much more likely to suffer maltreatment from straight comrades than the reverse - is that your own experience? Also, DADT has been disproportionally used against female service members. Some anecdotes I've heard suggest that perhaps most of these women weren't lesbians but simply victims of sexual harassment and retaliation. Do you think there is anything to that theory?

Based on my experience, it was neither. There was mutual respect among my comrades, and there were a couple of them that knew that I was gay. In regards to women in the military facing harassment, SLDN has dealt with cases in which women who have turned down advances from male service members have then been accused of being lesbians. In regards to straight women who have been victims, we don't have hard numbers, but it has been the case in a few instances.

President Obama during the signing encouraged people that were discharged under the provisions of DADT to reenlist. Do you think that many will? For what it's worth, I hope that many do.

I think that many will. I have met many individuals who were simply waiting for this day to come.

As a gay man, did you decide to act on an attraction that you felt to a fellow service member? I'm puzzled as to why you would have been discharged under DADT unless your behavior did in fact cause a problem somewhere.

No, I never acted on an attraction to a fellow service member. Keep in mind, I went through training just like my counter parts, and was pursuing an officer contract. I understand professionalism just like the individuals I served with. I never caused any problems, and many like myself were simply discharged because being openly gay in the military was against the DADT policy.

An obvious question: How are other Marines going to deal with openly gay colleagues? A lot of them are, I assume, quite young and from small, conservative southern towns. So even if they're not by nature homophobic, this may be hard for them. Will they deal with it okay?

I think your assumption is incorrect: Marines come from all over the country, not just small, conservative, towns. Just like the rest of the military, the Marines will obey their orders and carry on with the mission. I have full faith that the Marine Corps will be able to implement this swiftly and effectively.

This is a great day for all Americans, including those of us who are not gay, but believe in equality and appreciate those men and women who offer their lives to serve our country. There was a lot of vitriol aimed at the president for not repealing DADT by executive order, instead of getting the military brass on board and going through Congress. I guess no one cares now that DADT is done, but if it this strategy had failed, would the LGBT community have abandoned him?

The President's leadership was essential to getting this done. His strategy was a succesful one, and it was exciting to see him fulfill his promise today.

As a former E-7 on the promotion list (14 yrs of Service) working under Embassy, OSD and Chairman Joint Chiefs back in 82-85, I was discharged for being gay. The threat from my dead partner's family to tell the Army caused this discharge. I now work for the OSD as a civilian. I am glad other soldiers will not have to go through my pain.

There are thousands of stories like yours where the military lost essential men and women simply because of who they were. Thank you for your service.

We've heard from some sides of this debate that openly gay soldiers threaten unit morale. In your experience, what has been the effect on unit morale when a gay person has been outed and discharged in the past?

I think the story of USAF Mike Almy's discharge is the perfect example of how his separation from the military negatively impacted his unit once they returned from Iraq. There are many more examples like this. When a command loses someone who is critical to the mission, it is never a good thing.

How do you feel about General Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, who cautioned repeal could cause causualites, being responsibile for implemention of the new policy? Some have called for his retirement.

I think his example was an extreme one, and he has said now that he will make sure that repeal is effectively implemented. I respect him as a leader of the Marine Corps and have full faith that he will help the Marines lead the way throughout this process.

When was the last discharge due to DADT?

The 2010 discharge numbers from the military will not be available until next year. It was widely reported that there were no discharges in November, however our legal hotline are still receiving calls from service members as they still continue to be at risk.

I know I should be praising Pres. Obama, but watching his passionate speech this morning laying the great case for open service, I was wondering why he didn't give that speech ago month or even a year ago?

President Obama has exhibited leadership in many ways, both publicly and privately. The bottom line is that the bill is signed and we can now move forward. DADT is on it's way out.

Thank you for your service. I was in Maine during the gay marriage ballot vote last year and the White House was very quiet on the issue (Atty. Gen. Eric Holder said he was completely ignorant of the issue when asked by the press). I'm not trying to imply that all LGBT rights issues are interchangable and DADT is very different kettle of fish compared to the vote on gay marriage in Maine, but still wonder if the White House actual commitment to the American gays.

I'm not White House personnel, so I am unsure about the commitment to other issues. Working with SLDN, we know he has been clear since the beginning that he wanted to repeal DADT and he kept his promise.

As I understand it, most discharges were not because somebody came out, but rather was found out (via postings, letters, etc.). How likely are gay soldiers to be "out" with their fellow soldiers? Repealed law or not, it still seems risky given the level of homophobia as suggested by the recent study on the subject.

Repealing DADT does not require gay and lesbian service members to come out. It depends on their unit and how comfortable they are with disclosing that information, just as individuals outside of the military do.

I have a friend who is a lawyer in the Air Force. She recently was forced to investigate a service member because he was gay. (She said that, in her experience, such investigations were used as an excuse to boot out service members who were otherwise performing poorly or in trouble.) Do such investigations/prosecutions stop immediately? By the way, thank you for your service.

The investigations because of DADT related cases will not stop immediately. After the 60 days following the certification, then will prosecutions stop. Unless the President says otherwise, until that point, service members are still at risk.

 

And, thank you!

You said you were openly gay when in the military. Did you not try to hide your sexuality? Didn't you realize you were at risk by being open about it and get discharged? Why did you risk it?

I was out to two individuals who I trusted. There wasn't an issue until someone else told my chain of command. It isn't that I chose to completely ignore the law, but please understand dealing with personal issues and having virutally no one to talk to, confide in, etc. The feeling of isolation is miserable, and you take the risk simply so you can get by.

Do you think the support for the military personnal would grow even higher among the overall population and especially the elite universities after the full repeal of DADT? DADT, though a abhorrent law, was the last straw they were grasping for their policies against military enacted during Vietnam.

I think so. ROTC programs, especially at America's elite schools, are going to be of huge benefit to our armed forces.

Don't you realize that even asking this question is the equvialent of asking "As a straight man, did you ever act on an attraction to a female service member?" The rules concerning fraternization and harassment have been in place for generations. Why is there this assumption that gays cannot control themselves, when the evidence is to the contrary (they have successfully hidden who they are for centuries now, while heterosexual harassment is known to be a serious problem in both the service and the service academies).

You're right. It's hard to understand from this side. Those arguments undermine the professionalism and leadership that clearly exists in our military.

Once a soldier is discharged, is that it? Prior to discharge I assume there is an investigation. Does the investigation end once there is a discharge? Or does the military continue surveillance. In other words, does the investigation continue into the private life of the former soldier?

No, once the discharge process is complete, the military's investigation is over. During the discharge process, the investigation can look into the service members private life or anything else that might be relevant.

Do you anticipate an increase in openly gay recruits once DADT is officially off the books?

Yes, there will be an increase from individuals who want to serve, but did not want to under DADT. Whether that is a huge increase is still to be forseen...

I've recently been helping my 89-year-old next door neighbor recover from a fall. He served in the military and landed on the beach on D-Day. His mail is full of letters begging for money to help older and disabled veterans. I've discovered in doing his banking that he contributes to many of those organizations. He's gay. In WW2 when every able-bodied male was called to service I imagine there were thousands of gay men who served and somehow we still won the war. I wish you well and thank you for your service. I hope that those who castigate Clinton for signing the original bill will learn that he did so to protect service people who were being subjected to a witch hunt and under pressure from such leaders as Colin Powell who threatened to make things even worse if he did not agree to the compromise. We've come a long way and I hope we never again institutionalize bigotry.

Thank you for your support. Gay and lesbian servicemembers have been serving for a long time. Now, we can finally honor their service.

What is your opinion allowing gays to serve in combat troops? I have heard interesting arguments on both sides.

Gays are already serving in combat arms postions without disruption. Allowing them to be open about who they are will not change that. Mission completion is top priority, always.

Now that there is a repeal on paper, how does the military plan to handle the divisions caused that can't be regulated (men's hearts and souls)? How do you now "take back" the negativity that's been "tolerated"?

Leadership is of utmost importance. Training, education, and moving forward. Personally, I don't feel like the military owes me an apology or to take back the negativity. It's unfortunate, what happened, but my focus now is on serving this country again.

What does "openly gay" mean if not being sexually active, and/or attempting to be sexually active?

Openly gay means being able to tell people how you identify instead of having to lie. Being a straight male doesn't mean they are all sexually active or attempting to be sexually active.

It has been sugessted that if Obama went public as negoiations to get R votes, he would be accused of pandering and the R's would not cross party lines, so he had to work behind the scenes. This political game playing when it affects the lives of so many men and women, must have been agonizing. Will the GOP that did not support the repeal suffer any political reprucusssions?

It's hard to tell. We were not appreciate of the political games that were played throughout the process, but we are obviously very happy about the outcome. It was essential to have R votes, and we are grateful for those who did the right thing.

How did your discharge come about? Did you come out publicly, or did someone report you?

Someone reported me. Who? - I have no idea. But when I went into my 1st Sergeants office he had written statements and enough "credible evidence" to proceed with the dishcharge. I got a lawyer soon thereafter.

McConnell is still trying to stall this repeal. Why do you think the GOP is, for the most part against this repeal?

For the same reasons and arguments we have heard before: we are in two wars and it will hurt unit cohesion. The study has proved otherwise but it has been hard for a group of GOP Senators to let that go.

I think that now that ROTC will be allowed at Harvard and other quality institutions, the armed forces may have higher quality recruitment, especially after reading that current recruiting is harmed by people who cannot make the grade. Do you think this is true?

I do agree. Among the best and brightest are those who attend Ivy League schools - why not have those men and women leading our nation's military? This repeal will strengthen our armed forces in that way too.

What type of discharge is it? Dishonorable or administrative?

For everyone it is different, and most people receive an Honorable. I received two different types of dischargesas a mistake. I won't get into it because my case is still open.

I wish to enlist as a female Marine. I am also lesbian. Having grown up around Marines, I do have some idea of what to expect - however, do you have any advice for those out there who, like me, are gay and wish to enlist in the near future? I have not yet enlisted because I am still a fatbody, though I am working diligently on that.

I enlisted because I wanted to serve and I wanted to be able to call myself a Marine. I can do that today. Do it because you want to live that lifestyle and serve. It's an honor that not many have. With due time, this will have been a thing of the past and you and I can both proudly call ourselves Marines.

Did you endanger the good standing of those soliders to whom you revealed your sexual identity while serving under DADT?

No, I did not.

Are military recruiters being trampled now by gays rushing out to enlist? How many fewer enlistments will result from DADT since the military is one place homophobes can escape a gay-friendly society? With trouble brewing in Korea and President Obama unable to bring the troops home from the Middle East in spite of his numerous campaign promises, will DADT push us over the edge to a draft?

I think assuming DADT repeal will push us to a draft as unrealistic. As time goes on, more people will serve openly and their counterparts with hesitation will realize that this is a non-issue. There is no place for homophobes in society, and the military will soon follow suit. 

When I was in basic, I had a (male) drill sergeant tear up a male recruit who he'd overheard saying wouldn't like taking orders from a female officer. He told the young man (in harsher words) that if he was too much of a weakling to take orders from a trained and competent officer, regardless of gender, that he was too much of a weakling to serve. I hope we see similar leadership and training regarding orientation.

Agreed. I have full faith in the leadership of our military. I hope others do as well.

Has there been a discharge (gay) as a result of an Executive Order?

Not that I know of...

It means being able to have dinner out with your partner without the risk of trouble. It means you can have a picture or your family on your desk. It has nothing to do with sex. I want to bang my head on my desk when I see comments like the one above.

Agreed. Wholeheartedly.

How cognizant are gay and straight troops of those individuals who helped blaze the trail for this day -- guys like Leonard Matlovich, Perry Watkins, and Vernon Berg, who were among the first to challenge pre-DADT military policy on gays in the military?

Honestly, there are many who are very aware but I imagine most of the younger generation of gay and straight troops do not recognize the names. Hopefully, they soon will!

I've never understood the "let's wait until after the wars end to repeal DADT." Although Truman ordered the armed forces desegregated in 1948, it didn't really happen until the Korean War. And I think animus toward lesbians and gays is not near what blacks were facing in the 1940's and 1950's.

When I heard that argument on the Senate floor, I also did not understand it. We are always going to be engaged in protecting America - why not have all the bodies who are capable in helping carry out that mission.

Hey, a great day for us gay vets! Will discharged soldiers be able to collect backpay?

It's unclear, but we (SLDN) will be working closely with groups helping implementation to achieve justice in all ways possible. This also includes court cases outside of DADT repeal implementation.

I have gone over time a little bit here. Thank you for all of your questions and for your support. I am looking forward to being in uniform again soon. Semper Fi!

In This Chat
Danny Hernandez
Former Lance Cpl. Danny Hernandez, USMC, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2008 and achieved the rank of Lance Corporal before being discharged earlier this year. Before beginning his undergraduate studies he was awarded a four -year ROTC scholarship to Oklahoma University, but declined it to attend Texas A and M. Danny spent four years in ROTC there, obtaining the rank of Commanding Officer his senior year and was months away from attending Officer Candidate School as a college graduate. He is fully committed to returning to military service after the repeal of DADT.
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