After "Don't Ask Don't Tell"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's a Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. This morning on The Brian Lehrer Show, Commander Beth Coye, former naval officer and author of My Navy Tooreacted to the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy affecting gay servicemen and women.

Since retiring from the military, Beth Coye has been a tireless advocate for repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It's surprising to note that one of her childhood friends has also been one of her biggest opponents: John McCain.

On Saturday, the Arizona Senator gave what is likely among the last in a long line of speeches against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Of all the politicians in Washington, McCain has been the most recalcitrant about repealing DADT, by turns citing the need for further studies, consultations with top brass, and the status quo as reasons not to abandon the policy just yet. While frustrated by the foot-dragging, Coye says that a lifetime in the military lets her see where McCain and others are coming from.

I undertand the military and its conservatism, and if you think about it, because of our policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the military just didn't discuss this subject. That's the way people change their views, we listen, we educate each other as Americans, and we could not do that in the military. Therefore, the Pentagon study showed what we already knew, which was that seniors aren't quite ready to do this. It's a matter of, as they say, security issues vs equality, but it really isn't a versus, because in this case we've proved that it's not a matter of security.

Whatever the facts, McCain isn't alone in his opposition. General James Amos, the current Commandant of the Marine Corps, railed against repeal last week, criticizing President Obama and arguing that ending the DADT policy would confuse and distract troops, thereby endangering them in combat. Coye doesn't buy it, offering that any complications in the wake of Congress' decision would be short-lived.

He's coming from fear, and he fears that—and maybe it's a rightful fear—that there's going to be anti-gay in his Corps, and there's going to be emotions, and they're going to be bullying gay people if they come out. I think that's part of it and somewhat true. However, it won't be true for very long because our rules and regulations prevent bullying and all that.

A caller named Christopher had just finished four years of service in the Marine Corps, and he admitted to keeping his sexual orientation a secret the entire time. He was optimistic that integration wouldn't be an uphill battle.

I think it will go completely smoothly. The culture of the Marine Corps is very top-down. People don't get to say, "I don't like this policy." There are many marines who probably would not like to see women serving in the Marine Corps. However, the wish of a commanding officer is the equivalent of a direct order, and marines follow orders.

Christopher went on to point out the irony of a Marine Corps Commandant criticizing a sitting president for what amounts to issuing orders.

I thought it was very unseemly, and I can say this now because I got out last Friday, that General Amos came out and contradicted President Obama on his policy of repealing DADT, because what he did in effect was contradict the Marine Corps' own policy of obeying the chain of command.

Another former serviceman named Ricardo called in to express reservations about a conflict-less transition. He seemed concerned that General Amos wouldn't be the last officer to thumb their nose at repeal.

I think it will go as well as it is implemented. If we take the steps that we took with desegregation where commanders actually implemented the policy, then I think it will go really smooth. But if commanders take the attitude, "Well, this is what the civilians are doing in Washington," then I don't know.

Nobody had any illusions about the battle being over. Christopher, Ricardo and Coye all recognize that there's work left to be done. For Coye's part, she stressed the continued need for patience, respect, and dialogue as one of the most enduring civil rights debates draws to a close.

I try not to get angry, I don't think that's the answer. I think it's more—and this is what happened—keep talking, keep explaining, and that's our democracy.


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Comments [20]

juljo from Brooklyn

I am always struck by the question of the clergy in regards to DADT being repealed. No one seems to worry how they handle supporting troops that break that other law that is considered the back bone of many religions, Thou shall not kill.

Dec. 21 2010 10:52 AM
bernie from bklyn

wow, 46 minutes on this so far. no one really cares about this brian.
korean problems, DREAM act, START treaty....yeah, no reason to talk about that unimportant stuff.
i'm tuning out as i'm sure many others are as well.

Dec. 20 2010 10:48 AM
ruth from Brooklyn

This is huge! I am not in the military, I am a 40+ lesbian mother of 2. I feel like this the first step on the road to everything else for gay rights. It is the first time the federal goverment truly recognized gays/lesbian as an actual group of people. Prior to the vote, many homophobic people prefer to maginalize gays/lesbians as just people that CHOOSE to have sex with same sex partners. I think this will lead to the recognition of gay/lesbian families now that it is not hidden. Now that gay/lesbian people can be seen as heroes, it will become quite difficult to continue to deny that their families exist, should be valued and deserve all the same benefits. I also think an inadvertant consequence is that the military may become a haven for gay/lesbian youth, who are not supported by their families because of their sexual orientation, they actually choose the military so that they will have place to live, 3 square meals, training, get paid, contribute to the country and be valued. I think it is great!

Dec. 20 2010 10:45 AM

One of the guests just said that she feels that members of Congress voted "cynically" -- they "voted their constituency."

If that is the prevailing view -- that voting to represent the constituency -- is cynical, then we have a problem.

The real problem is that Congress is NOT voting its constituency much of the time.

Dec. 20 2010 10:36 AM
bernie from bklyn

any stats on how many soldiers we're talking about? and how many gay soldiers would actually use this new right when in the service? i suspect the answer is ridiculously low.
c'mon brian, why would you lead off the show w/ this? enough already.

Dec. 20 2010 10:34 AM
Former USMC from wi

Dont Ask Dont Tell repeal raises questions that wounded soldiers will have a higher chance of contracting aids from tainted available blood supply on the battle field.

Dec. 20 2010 10:33 AM

Well this is nice to give gays and lesbians full access to our military-socialism economy...but this is still a classic class war move. Last week the government passes a huge handout to the rich that will redistribute billions upward and then this week they give us this cultural policy win. Well, I have a nice warm fuzzy feeling now but I don't think I can pay my student loans with warm fuzzies.

Dec. 20 2010 10:31 AM
Robert from NYC

Drummed and fifed out of camp, hey? Sounds very gay to me. lol

Dec. 20 2010 10:30 AM
John from office

I thnk it is funny that the people most for the repeal are those that would never serve their country. Brian and his band of upper westsiders. You never cared about service and now it is soooo important to you.

You will find that the Gays that serve are conservative people, honorable people that love America.

Dec. 20 2010 10:24 AM
Leta from Times Square

I fail to see how repeal of DADT can be distracting to troops on the battle field. Does’t the army train you not to be distracted on the battle field? When people are shooting at you are you really concerned about the sexual orientation of the person next to you?

Dec. 20 2010 10:21 AM
bernie from bklyn

of course, all people of all sexual orientations should be able to openly serve in the military.
BUT, this is an issue that should be addressed after much more important ones are. this is just a hotbed, cultural issue but it affects a miniscule amount of people and should not be part of public or legislative debate right now when we have so many more problems of much more importance.
how about addressing issiues that affect the lives of americans. we're suffering and no one really cares about this.

Dec. 20 2010 10:18 AM
Robert from NYC

John McCain? Hero turned coward! The Marines? Well, if they are as big and brave as they claim then they should be able to handle this.
This is nothing but pure politics based on long history of fear and prejudice and hypocrisy.

Dec. 20 2010 10:17 AM

Here's my take, the vote should be by combat troops only and not by courts or legislation. Sure, everyone potentially can fight but in reality that's not the case, and the military is about combat cohesion, period.

Maybe it's what it used to be since they've been changed from a fighting force to a hearts-hugs-n-minds force.

Really, does the web really need another splintered off website from wnyc's, more web-clutter.

Dec. 20 2010 10:16 AM
Tom from Upper West Side

Why do homophobes think or believe that all gays and lesbians are attracted to each and every other person of his/her gender? We're just as discriminating in our choices as everyone else!

Dec. 20 2010 10:15 AM
steve from NY, NY

Simply put: Open military service today... full equal rights including same-sex marriage tomorrow.

I consider myself a lefty/progressive populist in good standing who is both anti-War and anti-American Imperialism, somebody who is 90% in agreement with Chalmers Johnson and the American Empire Project.

Over the years some of my fellow travelers (lol) have objected to the left taking up the cause of the repeal of don't ask don't tell, viewing this more as a pro-militaristic "equal wrongs" then "equal rights."

However, regardless of one’s views on the military-industrial complex, fortress America, and our imperialist role with bases in hundreds of countries all over the world, the fact is (whether it should be the case or not; alas) that historically open and acknowledged military service is the route by which oppressed minorities eventually gain full and equal legal, civil and social rights in America.

The fact is that was important at the time for abolition and (albeit briefly) reconstruction that African-Americans served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

It has been an important path to respect, lessening of social discrimination and equality for every immigrant group throughout American history, from Germans and Irish during the Revolution and War of 1812; to Jews, Italians and other southern and eastern Europeans in World War I and II; and again for African-Americans and the civil rights movement coming out of World War II and Korea.
Military service today... full equal rights including same-sex marriage tomorrow.
That is the real reason why it has been fought for, for so long (regardless of one's views about the military and American militarism and the military-industrial complex per se)... and by the way, this is the real reason why the Christian Right "family values" crowd are against it.

Dec. 20 2010 10:12 AM
Tanner from Brooklyn

I'm gay, and most of my gay friends see the repeal of DADT as an obvious thing to do. I'm frankly underwhelmed, however, that it took so much effort for our country just to allow the gay and lesbian community to openly participate in war (hooray?). My focus has been and continues to be on marriage equality. Let's get it done.

Dec. 20 2010 10:12 AM
John from office

How did I know this would lead off Brians Show. Hopefully only for one segment.

As an Ex Cop and Marine I served with Gays and had no problem. I found the Gay Women to be very good soldiers and police officers. The Gays were there already so this is not a big change. I am glad it was repealed.

But, Brian, keep the Rah Rah to a minimum.

Dec. 20 2010 10:09 AM
Michael K. Lavers from Brooklyn, NY

One can certainly view this vote as a watershed moment for LGBT Americans. That said, however, one must acknowledge there is still a lot more progress that must be had towards basic dignity and respect for LGBT Americans (i.e. hate crimes still occur against LGBTs and anti-LGBT bullying remains a serious problem in the country's classrooms.)

Dec. 20 2010 10:08 AM
Vegan Vicki from Vinegar Hill, Harlem

"Don't ask, don't tell" ordered military security to stop enforcing the ban on gays. But the ban still existed, and continued to be enforced, if somewhat surreptitiously. DADT is an ambiguous catchphrase. We're not asking security to resume enforcing the ban openly. Better to say, "Stop banning us," or "Let gays serve."

Dec. 20 2010 09:04 AM
Gaetano Catelli from Oxford, Mississippi

It's about-time.

Dec. 18 2010 07:40 PM

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