White House voices support for gay troops
by Bob Roehr
In what is believed to be a first, the White House last week acknowledged gay service members in the wake of homophobic comments made by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace.
In a March 12 meeting with editors and reporters of the Chicago Tribune, Pace said, "I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts." He did not frame his support for the anti-gay military policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the traditional terms of homosexuality being detrimental to unit cohesion.
Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, was asked last week what message Pace's comments sent to gay service members serving in Iraq. He replied, "The president appreciates the sacrifice and service of every service member, and what they're doing on a daily basis to improve the situation."
Steve Ralls was stunned. The spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the leading group working to repeal DADT, said, "As far as I'm aware, this is the first time the Bush White House has said they appreciate the sacrifice of gay troops."
"In late February, after Congressman [Marty] Meehan re-introduced his repeal legislation, Tony Snow said, 'We'll wait and see what Congress comes up with,' when asked if the president would support the bill. That wasn't a flat no, and I had to read that transcript twice, too!" Ralls added.
SLDN also released the latest of its annual reports on DADT. It showed that 612 service members were kicked out of the military under the policy during fiscal year 2006. That is down from 742 in 2005. The total number has ebbed each year since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, when it was more than twice as large as today.
"The Pentagon's data shines a bright light on the hypocrisy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" said SLDN Executive Director C. Dixon Osburn. "When military leaders need the talent, skills, and qualifications of gay personnel, dismissals decline. The Pentagon's own data shows that, during times of war, when unit cohesion is most important, fewer gay troops are dismissed. The ban on their service, and not their service itself, is what erodes cohesion most."
Gary J. Gates, a senior research fellow at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, documented the full cost of DADT in a report released on March 19. From a survey of LGB veterans, he calculated that about 4,000 soldiers per year would have decided to stay in the service rather than get out at the end of their tour of duty.
"The military intends to add more than 18,000 troops each year for the next five years," said Gates. The Pentagon could achieve one-sixth of that total by eliminating DADT and retaining more gay service members.