The repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is a significant political victory for many, and we are witnessing a powerful social reform taking place in America. As a former U.S. Army Captain turned business school student, I’ve had the unique opportunity to see an organization under such regulations and its terrible consequences.
While deployed to Iraq as a Platoon Leader in 2006, I found that one of my soldiers was gay. That meant, of course, that the rest of my soldiers also knew he was gay. He even had a boyfriend in the unit over. As a bright-eyed Second Lieutenant straight out of West Point, I quickly became nervous, and I wasn’t sure what to do or not to do. However, I soon realized that despite his sexual orientation in the context of an organizational culture that was itself nervous about homosexuality, my soldier got along with everyone in the unit just fine, and he was judged solely by his contribution to my platoon. I breathed a sigh of relief and didn’t think much of it for the rest of the deployment – I had other things to worry about.
However, on August 16, 2007, about a year after redeployment, I found myself at the lobby of my soldiers’ barracks in Mannheim, Germany. I stood frozen as I looked up four flights of stairs at the lifeless body of one of my soldiers. I later discovered a horrifying truth: my soldier had committed suicide because of the overwhelming pressure he felt from being gay in the U.S. military. I was then overcome with emotion – grief from the loss of my soldier, guilt over what I could’ve done to prevent this tragedy, and anger that the Army had set such conditions.
On September 20, 2011, the U.S. military’s 19-year-old Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy towards homosexuals in the military was officially repealed. The policy acknowledged that while sexual orientation is a personal matter and cannot be a bar to military service, homosexual conduct can be grounds for a bar to service or separation. The DADT repeal is certainly a monumental step in the military, but homosexual service members still do not enjoy the same rights that their heterosexual counterparts do. The U.S. military today does not recognize gay marriages nor does it provide equal benefits to same-sex partners, such as full access to military bases and accompanied overseas tours.
Our government fell short of its mark; the repeal of DADT is still too little too late. However, I believe that America will soon see the military, yet again, leading the way in social reform. Executive Order 9981 (1948) established equality in the Armed Services for people of all races, religions, and national origins, and the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act (1948) allowed women to serve alongside men all before similar rights were granted to the greater American population by the Civil Rights Act (1964). Similarly, I believe that the military will see full sexual orientation equality rights long before any such law is enacted at the national level.
As a student now one year removed from Active Duty service, I often reflect upon my time in the Army and I miss it terribly. I miss the opportunity to proudly and directly give back to a country that has given me so much. It’s about time we extend all citizens this same privilege to serve their country and be treated fairly for that honor.
Danny Cho is a 2nd year MBA student and a co-president of the Armed Forces Alumni Association. A West Point graduate, Danny spent over 5 years in the U.S. Army stationed in Germany and South Korea with a deployment to Iraq in 2006.