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U.S. Military Allows Openly Gay Recruits

  • RFE/RL

U.S. Marines stand on a hill after clearing through a cave while on patrol in Farah Province, Afghanistan, in 2009.

U.S. Marines stand on a hill after clearing through a cave while on patrol in Farah Province, Afghanistan, in 2009.

Daniel Choi is an Iraq war veteran who was discharged from U.S. military service because he his openly homosexual.

Now Choi is reenlisting. That choice became possible on Tuesday, after the Pentagon was ordered to drop its ban against homosexuals serving in the U.S. military if they are open about their sexual preference -- a policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Upon hearing news of the policy change, Choi immediately went to a recruiting center in New York City to sign up for another tour of duty in the U.S. military.

"I told them that I was discharged under 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' -- that I'm gay and I intend to serve openly and honestly," Choi recounts. "And they continued processing me and I'll be finished with it tomorrow."

In fact, the Pentagon's policy change follows a federal court order to drop the ban on openly gay men and women in the U.S. military. U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips issued the original decision which declared the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy as unconstitutional.

On October 19, Phillips issued a written decision denying a Pentagon request to lift her injunction -- effectively barring the Pentagon from enforcing the ban.

Today, the government took its request to a higher court, requesting an emergency stay of the ruling while its appeal is being considered.

In its court filings, the Justice Department argued that more time was needed to provide forces, especially combat troops, with "proper training and guidance" with respect to the policy change.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell” since the early days of his administration, but has advocated doing away with the policy through a decision in Congress rather than through a court ruling.

He has been unable to secure enough lawmaker support to do so.

Soldiers Return

The U.S. Defense Department had anticipated the unfavorable ruling and had already instructed its recruiters for the first time to start accepting applications from enlistees who acknowledge they are gay.

Choi is one of three U.S. services members discharged for being gay who decided to test Phillips' court order.

He says that soldiers shouldn't decide whether or not to serve in the military baed on a "political timetable."

"[Soldiers] base their decisions on the values and virtues that they learned at basic training from the very first day that they signed up."

The Associated Press sent reporters to recruiting stations across the United States to determine whether recruiters were following the new Pentagon order. Reporters say some recruiters were respecting the order, but others said they had not heard about the policy change.

Recruiters have also been told to inform potential recruits that the moratorium on enforcement of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy could be reversed at any time if the ruling is struck down by an appeals court.

Gay rights groups were continuing to tell service members to avoid revealing that they are gay, fearing they could find themselves in trouble if "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is reinstated at a later time.

Financial, Political Impetus

A U.S. Air Force officer and co-founder of a gay-service-member support group called OutServe said financial considerations play a big role in gay service members staying quiet.

The officer, who asked not to be identified because he still fears he could be discharged, said he feels "financially trapped" because he could owe the military about $200,000 if he is dismissed.

The officer said he is hearing increasingly about heterosexual service members approaching gay colleagues and telling them they can be open about their sexual preference now. He also said more gay service members are revealing their homosexuality to peers who are friends, while keeping it secret from leadership. In the last few days, he said he has told his secret to two of his peers.

Among U.S. voters, there are many supporters of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. New York resident Sandy Alexandre says she supports gays in the military, but understands that other servicemen might be uncomfortable.

"I feel like it should be private. You shouldn't have to know what's going on. This is their personal issue."

Tony Perkins, president of a Washington-based conservative advocacy group called the Family Research Council, opposes the idea of allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the U.S. military.

Perkins says the court's order has led to confusion over what the Pentagon's policy on homosexuality will be in the future. He says that confusion shows there is a need to postpone the lifting of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy while the government appeals the ruling.

Political debate over the issue comes at a difficult time for U.S. President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress, who need support from the gay community to hold off a possible Republican rout in midterm elections on November 2.

Republicans, many of whom fiercely oppose gays serving openly in the military, are seen as gaining from any controversial social issues they can use to galvanize their conservative base at the polls.

According to research by the University of California, 25 countries allow gays to serve openly in the military, including about half of NATO alliance members.

written by Ron Synovitz, with agency reports
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