Gay Former U.S. Airman Questions Whether DADT Repeal Can Work Without Non-Discrimination Protection

Today The Advocate published on its website an interview with Albert Pisani, the Air Force member who was recently discharged under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy for being gay.  There had been much speculation about this discharge, because generally such discharges had stopped last fall after Defense Secretary Robert Gates changed the rules to require that the subcabinet level Secretaries of the various services personally sign off on any DADT discharge.  People wondered whether this discharge represented a failure to observe the de facto moratorium on gay discharges.

As had been rumored, it turns out that Pisani was discharged because he asked to be.  According to his interview with The Advocate, he had encountered sufficient homophobia during his service, both here and overseas, that by last fall he had become fed up and decided to get out while he could still do so relatively easily by "coming out" to his commanding officer and asking to be discharged under the existing policy.  However, because of the changes made by Gates, Pisani's discharge did not proceed as quickly as he hoped. 

Meanwhile, in December Congress passed and the President signed the DADT Repeal Act, which provisionally repeals the policy effective 60 days after a joint certification by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that implementation of the new rules won't harm the effectiveness of the military.  The Repeal Act does not provide any anti-discrimination protection for gay and lesbian service members; it merely ends the requirement that they be discharged.  In framing new regulations to cover the changed policy, the Defense Department has not proposed adopting any sort of administrative non-discrimination protection for gay members.  This has stimulated adverse comment about how well things will go when openly gay members are serving without any formal protection from discrimination.

Pisani did not like the way things were going, and decided to try to accelerate his discharge before certification took place, so he sent an email directly to the Secretary of the Air Force asking for his case to be expedited.  He got his wish, and was formally dismissed in April.  He and his partner, another former military member, are living with his parents in the Boston area while he looks for work in information technology, intending to capitalize on the skills he developed in the service — skills that are now lost to the service.  It turns out that Pisani's action was prudent, since the Defense Department indicates that once the repeal policy goes into effect, pending discharges on grounds of homosexuality will be cancelled and "coming out" will not longer have any adverse consequences – at least officially.  Pisani is not so sure, however, relating that one officer implied in an offhand remark to him that openly gay members were likely to be targeted by homophobes in the military for adverse treatment.  Which just brings home quite forcefully the need for the military to do more than just repeal the existing policy if they are seriously committed to making this work without undue risk to gay service members.

Gates has indicated that it is possible he will be ready for certification before the end of June, when he steps down as Secretary of Defense.  Some concern has been expressed that implementation of the Repeal Act might be delayed by the changes in leadership at the top (a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is also taking office), but it appears that Senate confirmation of Leon Panetta as the new Secretary is proceeding on track and that Panetta is "on-board" with the repeal policy, so that may not be a problem.

What is a problem, at least in Pisani's view, is the lack of a non-discrimination policy.  He told The Advocate that he thought it was a good thing that gay people won't be kicked out for being gay, but he doubted the wisdom of trying to function as an openly gay member without any protection against discrimination.  His reservations sound reasonable.  It is difficult to understand the continued resistance of the White House and the Defense Department to the simple step of adding "sexual orientation" to existing non-discrimination policy in the military. 

If their hesitation is because Congress has not yet passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and unilateral implementation of a non-discrimination policy in the military may arouse hackles in Congress, I think such a concern would be misplaced.  After all, during the Clinton Administration every executive branch department adopted administratively an internal non-discrimination policy (including the Defense Department for its non-uniformed employees), and Congress, which was controlled by the Republicans for most of the Clinton Administration, didn't say boo.  Congress has not shown any inclination to interfere with the executive branch's internal personnel policies – at least as they relate to a voluntarily assumed non-discrimination obligation.  So I see no reason to hesitate on this score.  That the lack of a policy may lead to problems – and may seriously endanger the health and well-being of gay service members – seems evident.

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