» By BRIAN BIGELOW – bbigelow@my.apsu.edu

“While I was enlisted in the United States Navy, the issue of sexual orientation should have been the last thing I needed to focus on,” said Ryan Whipkey, sophomore political science major and president of the APSU Gay-Straight Alliance. “However, it haunted me daily. I was constantly worried that fellow shipmates or commanders would find out.”

Whipkey enlisted in the Navy at age 18, but was discharged one year later, in 2007, under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a military policy prohibiting gays from serving openly in the military.

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 22, 2010, and took effect Tuesday, Sept. 20.

According to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a member of the armed forces would be “separated,” or discharged, from the armed forces if they are found to have “engaged in, attempted to engage in or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act or acts,” or admitted to homosexuality or bisexuality, unless it was found they did so solely to achieve termination of service. However, the act also prohibited investigation concerning a service member’s sexual orientation in the absence of such behavior or statements.

“Homosexuals have been serving with distinction since the founding of our nation,” said Donald McCasland, senior social work major and U.S. Army veteran with over 21 years of service, including three tours of duty in Iraq. “It seems silly to not allow them to do it openly.”

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010” strikes the entire “policy concerning homosexuality in the armed forces” from military law. The repeal was enacted after a comprehensive review by the Department of Defense into the potential effects of its repeal.

The review addressed the potential impact on “military readiness” and “recruiting/retention,” as well as the steps needed to enact such a repeal.

“Valor and sacrifice are no more limited by sexual orientation than they are by race or by gender or by religion or by creed,” President Obama said. “No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who were forced to leave the military … because they happen to be gay. No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder, in order to serve the country that they love.”

This sentiment is echoed by Whipkey.

“My sexual orientation had no effect on my ability to be a submarine technician in the United States Navy. However, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ did,” Whipkey said. “If ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was not in effect during my time in the military, that would have relieved a lot of stress and I would still potentially be enlisted in the service.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” was originally put in place in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton.

It stipulated “there is no constitutional right to serve in the armed forces,” and “the prohibition against homosexual conduct is a longstanding element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service.”

The law cited risks to “morale,” “discipline” and “unit cohesion” within the military as factors supporting the prohibition.

“To be honest, for the time it was emplaced I believe [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] was a very good thing,” said Army Pfc. Ted Bonham and former student at the APSU Center at Fort Campbell. “It was not meant as an oppressive thing in a homophobic regard. It was meant to protect those serving from people who had problems with [homosexuality] because, back in the day, people got hurt.”

Bonham is currently stationed in Afghanistan. He is openly gay in civilian life, but says it is only a small part of what makes him.

“I have thought about it a lot on whether or not to come out to the military,” Bonham said. “People having that knowledge changes nothing about who I am as a person or as a soldier.”

Though the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” opens certain doors, it may not change certain realities of military life.

“[The repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] changes nothing for me other than I can choose to come out to everyone if I want to without fear of being kicked out,” Bonham said. “I know I am gay and I feel a lot better being open about it even with the negativity that comes with it.”

The repeal is not about allowing people to engage in conduct that puts the military in a bad light, McCasland said, “It’s about the ability to serve their country.”
“Speaking as someone who’s been in combat and been shot at, the only thing I care about is that the person to my left or right is going to look out for their buddies and do their job so we can all make it home. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with that ability,” McCasland said.

Bonham echoes this experience.

“I know plenty of other gays in the military … and that doesn’t change how they are treated,” Bonham said. “The way you perform as a soldier is what changes the treatment you get.”

There is some harassment, Bonham said, but “that’s normal no matter what, and being gay is no different.”

As Whipkey put it, “It is wrong for one human to deny fair treatment or mentally hurt another human being because they are scared of what they do not understand.” TAS