Thursday, March 25, 2010

Slow Change: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

First email of the morning:  a friend of mine had just listened to an announcement by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the new Don't Ask, Don't Tell regulations [DADT] and was somewhat livid about the contents of the new regulations.  In case you live under a rock, DADT is the military policy for coping with gay and lesbian service members in their midsts.  If homosexuality gets discovered, out you go.  But if you can keep it under your hat, why, no problem at all.  My pal - who by the way, is not gay but simply cares about this stuff, but who made me take his name out of this blog because "his people" told him being discussed this way in public makes it sound like he's gay - was bent out of shape because he had hoped DADT would simply go away.

The reason for my nameless friend's expectation:  ending the discrimination and hypocracy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was high on President Obama's campaign promise list.  So here we are, well into President Obama's term in office, and the Department of Defense is finally issuing some promised change.  Only, according to my friend, it's a luke-warm change indeed.  He says they've only offered a new version of the same old DADT. 

Drat!  I missed the announcement.  I was on a conference call with my department chair, Dave Renz, trying to convince him to convert me from a graduate teaching fellow's pittance to a regular salary.  It was kind of important. 

So - pardon a quick digression because my mom is going to be more interested in my success with Dr. Renz than the Department of Defense announcement.  Mom, Dr. Renz made no promises but he did make all the right sympathetic, caring noises, and promised he was looking for money.  Meanwhile, he encouraged me to hang around the department post-dissertation and use the time to publish - it will set me up better to get hired, and most importantly perhaps, allow me to hang onto my excellent student health insurance.  Ok, Mom?

Getting back to my friend's complaint, at first I thought about googling Secretary Gates' announcement to see what was what, but quickly remembered a much better source: Chuck Blanchard, currently General Counsel to Air Force, formerly (among other things) Arizona state senator, and general counsel to the Army and chief counsel to the drug czar's office under Bill Clinton.  I count him among my friends, but better than that, I have instant access to him because he is an active facebooker!  Chuck personally worked on the DADT regulatory changes. 

Chuck made himself instantly available on facebook.  He's just that sort of guy. 

His fuller explanation is below, but loosely for those of you who've had too much coffee,  the new regulations are promulgated under the original DADT statute, so the extent of change is bounded by what is permissible within the language of that law.  And no, they obviously don't repeal DADT and they cannot be the end of the story, but even so, the new regs represent positive change.  

These regulations are said to be temporary, until Congress can change the underlying law.  I suppose that will be one big hurdle (God only knows why it should be), but Gates has launched a study to provide leadership with the information it will need to begin that process.  Here is the text of a speech given by Gates about the steps being taken by the military in that direction:

In the meantime, a couple of highlights:  an anonymous report will no longer trigger an investigation, third paraties will not be allowed to testify, and investigations will require a higher level of review before a discharge can occur. 

If you have further questions, I highly recommend you friend Chuck on facebook and ask him.  Chuck is very approachable.  Here's the blurb from our facebook exchange:

Sandy: I am one of the authors so I am not an objective source. We were limited to what we could do under the existing statute. While I understand the frustration that it does not go far enough (and again, we are limited by statute as to what we could do), it does make some significant change in favor of servicemembers. There is no way in which we made it worse (especially since many of these ideas came from organizations favoring a repeal) Indeed, I know of at least a few pending Air Force cases that will likely go away as a result of these changes:

• Raise the level of the officer who is authorized to initiate a fact-finding inquiry or separation proceedings regarding homosexual conduct to a general or flag officer in the Service member’s chain of command.

• Raise the level of the person who conducts a fact-finding inquiry regarding homosexual conduct to the level of O-5 (Lieutenant Colonel or Navy Commander), or above.

• Raise the level of the officer who is authorized to separate an enlisted service member for homosexual conduct to a general or flag officer in the service member’s chain of command. (Under current policy, the separation authority for officers is the Service Secretary.).

• Revise what constitutes “credible information” to initiate an inquiry or separation proceeding, by, for example, specifying that information provided by third parties should be given under oath, and by discouraging the use of overheard statements and hearsay.

• Revise what constitutes a “reliable person,” upon whose word an inquiry can be initiated, with special scrutiny on third-parties who may be motivated to harm the service member.

• Specify certain categories of confidential information that will not be used for purposes of homosexual conduct discharges:

     o Information provided to lawyers, clergy, and psychotherapists;

     o Information provided to a medical professional in furtherance of medical treatment or a public health official in the course of a public health inquiry;

     o Information provided in the course of seeking professional assistance for domestic or physical abuse;

     o Information about sexual orientation or conduct obtained in the course of security clearance investigations, in accordance with existing Department of Defense policies.

Hats off to Chuck, both for his accessibility, and for the photos, which I nabbed right off his facebook photo album!

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