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20 May 2009

Discharged lesbian, gay US service members speak against 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy

Three US service members recently discharged (or facing discharge) under the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy share their stories in the media to highlight the reality facing gay and lesbian members in the US military.

May 19 was Second Lieutenant Sandy Tsao's (top, left) last day in the US Army. She is one of 12,500 women and men who have been forced to leave the US military under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy since it was implemented in 1994, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group leading the fight to change the law.

In January, Tsao, a 24-year-old Chinese American army officer based out of St. Louis, Missouri, told her superiors that she is gay - a violation of the DADT policy.

Tsao then wrote to President Barack Obama, urging him to change the DADT policy. Excerpts of her letter were reproduced on the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) web site: "Today is Chinese New Year day. I hope it will bring good fortune to you and your newly elected office. Today is also the day I inform my chain of command of who I am. One of the seven army values is integrity. It means choosing to do the right thing no matter what the consequences may be. As a Christian, this also means living an honest life.

"I have fought and overcome many barriers to arrive at the point I am at today. This is the only battle I fear I may lose. Even if it is too late for me, I do hope, Mr President, that you will help us to win the war against prejudice so that future generations will continue to work together and fight for our freedoms regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin or sexual orientation." Said Tsao who described her role in the military as her number one dream job.

President Barack Obama sent Sandy Tsao a handwritten note to say he is committed to repeal DADT. Click here to see a larger image.
On May 5, Tsao received a handwritten note from President Barack Obama who said he is committed to repeal DADT.

He wrote: "Sandy - Thanks for the wonderful and thoughtful letter. It is because of outstanding Americans like you that I committed to changing our current policy. Although it will take some time to complete (partly because it needs Congressional action) I intend to fulfill my commitment. - Barack Obama."

US Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, who came out on Mar 19 on MSNBC’s The (Rachael) Maddow Show, has also been discharged from the National Guard. He was on the show to talk about Knights Out, a support group launched the same month for US Military Academy active duty alumni and cadets. According to ABC News, of the group’s 97 members, 59 of whom are out, and Choi is the only member on active duty.

In a letter to the president, Choi, an Arabic language specialist, said the discharge letter, dated April 23, 2009, was "a slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated that an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.

"My subordinates know I'm gay. They don't care. They are professional.

"As an infantry officer, I am not accustomed to begging. But I beg you today: Do not fire me," Choi wrote.

Choi told ABCNews.com that he had stayed silent for nearly 10 years and had never confided about his sexuality to anyone in the army. But in 2008, he said he found the man he describes as his first love, and that relationship spurred his decision to come out.

He added that staying in the closet "traumatises people in a way... Number one, I'm taught the honor code at West Point: do not lie. Units are based on honor code. But 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' says you have to lie. It forces people to lie, to hide. Hiding and lying aren't army values."

Choi, a founding member of Knights Out, said he receives hundreds of e-mails every day from people looking for support, or simply thanking him.

"People are saying, 'I'm in Iraq right now and I got kicked out' or 'I'm in Afghanistan' or 'I'm at West Point right now and keep going because we need to know there are other people out there,'" Choi said. "One said he wanted to commit suicide, but 'Now I know there is someone else.' That's the main reason why I cannot stay quiet."

The Korean-American will be a celebrity grand marshal in the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade Sunday, June 28.

As of Tuesday, May 19, over 131,000 have signed a petition organised by the Courage Campaign to stop the discharge of Choi and any other soldier as a result of the DADT policy.

The latest service member to speak to the media about being discharged under DADT is Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. Fehrenbach, a F-15 fighter pilot and 18-year veteran of the Air Force. He has received nine air medals including one for heroism and estimates that the US has spent US$25 million training and equipping him. It is not known

Fehrenbach told Rachel Maddow of The Maddow Show on Tuesday that he had originally wanted a "quick, quiet, fair, honorable discharge" but later decided to fight it. He and his lawyer have tried to put off his appeal for as long as possible expecting President Obama to follow through on his commitment to end DADT.

"But the more I thought about it, about how wrong this policy is, I thought that I had to fight it and perhaps with my unique perspective I could speak out and help other people in the mean time," Fehrenbach said on the show.

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" was introduced under the Clinton administration in 1993 as a compromise between openly gay people serving in the armed forces and those opposed to gays in uniform.

Gay service members are allowed to serve unless "manifested by homosexual conduct." Policy guidelines define "homosexual conduct" as "a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or attempted marriage to someone of the same gender."

Since then, according to the most recent numbers released by the Pentagon, 12,500 service members have been dismissed because of their sexuality.

The Pentagon on May 19 said it has no plans to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gay troops. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said on Tuesday, "I do not believe there are any plans under way in this building for some expected, but not articulated, anticipation that don't ask-don't tell will be repealed."


1. 2009-05-20 22:44  
i have a lesbian friend at work who has told me she was discharged for no other reason than being gay. this is a shame on our society. it shows we do not "practice what we preach". our nation remains shamefully backwards in the way we think. are't we supposed to all be "free" in America. NOT if you are GAY. American society forces people to act/think like the majority. If you do not fall into that majority way of thinking, talking, acting, believing, then you are ostracised. Gays need to do what the American black did in the 60's and are ongoingly doing..and do what the American womens movement did. We need to ACT UP and FORCE change and acceptance on an antiquated American society. Wake up America, get into the 21st century like some other progressive countries have done by accepting Gays--the way Canada does. WAKE UP AMERICA! quit being so backwards and hypocritcal
2. 2009-05-21 00:06  
I thought I'd heard that the American military brass might be changing their attitude as, since the UK ended its ban a few years ago our military brass have experienced it as a positive thing.

These days we also get uniformed contingents from the military and the police taking part in the gay pride parades, as well as recruitment stands at events.
5. 2009-05-21 00:12  
Sorry for the deletions, I posted the same message three times by mistake as there was no response from the server.
6. 2009-05-21 05:12  
I have done my conscription service in Germany in the early 90s - having had a choice between Turkey and Germany - and I remember that amongst the professional army ppl there were loads and loads of gays of different styles... the butch, the queen and the inbetweens... I thought it was fun... :D
7. 2009-05-21 12:18  
Re: terrificturk #6: Sounds like fun...do they have a lesbian contingent as well? :p

Re: GWM4LTR #1: Sorry to hear of this, it's really sad American society has had a very strong bias of glbt people that continues even today. Though it's probably no surprise when one considers the stranglehold of Evangelical "Christianity" there?
8. 2009-05-21 20:37  
there r a lot of women soldiers in the army nowadays... not all are les and not all are in the red cross section... some are in the marine corps and so on... the code of conduct simply requires a professional attitude and love, sex and so on are considered private matters.
9. 2009-05-22 14:37  
When someone says "I am gay", while we normally tend to interpret it to mean that he seeks male to male sex, to me it means that he does not really feel attracted to members of the opposite sex, physically, emotionally, whatever.

So, he could stay locked up in his room, with no physical relationship with anyone out there, and he would still be gay if he continued to feel no attraction to members of the opposite sex. That would be part of his gay nature.

So, how does that gay nature translate to gay behaviour? Why can't a man be gay without having sex? Why does being gay necessarily mean having gay sex?

If you can have 40-year old straight virgin men, why not 40-year old gay virgin men? And, talking of these two, why would you attack one but not the other, considering that neither of them has had any sexual encounters whatsoever? Why is a straight virgin man good, but a gay virgin man bad? Why would a man "choose" to be gay and yet remain a virgin if his "choice" was intended to pander to base and "evil" lifestyles as some people claim?

What are the indicators of right conduct in the defence forces? Are these defined by the "macho" man that's constantly harassing and trying to get into the pants of every woman that he sees, the "real he-man" that's constantly making crude and demeaning jokes about women, the "tough guy" that's proud to abuse, beat and rape women, ...? Is that what it takes to be in the American defence forces?

And, now that there are so many women in the defence forces, should all straight men be discharged dishonourably too? After all, if every gay man is supposedly going to pounce on any male in his vicinity, isn't every straight man going to pounce on any female in his vicinity? What's the difference?

Someone needs to relentlessly voice such questions and more. You need to be heard if you want to make any difference.
修改於2009-05-22 14:55:29
10. 2009-05-22 16:25  
"9. 2009-05-22 14:37
When someone says "I am gay", while we normally tend to interpret it to mean that he seeks male to male sex, to me it means that he does not really feel attracted to members of the opposite sex, physically, emotionally, whatever. "

Mymanfriday, you make some good points later in your post, but I find both these definitions of "gay" really bizarre, and have only come across the first of them from some fundamentalists who choose to know nothing of sexual orientation. Where on earth did you get the idea that this is what most people think? And your second, preferred definition simply tries to define something by what it is not, which could apply to asexual people too.

A person , male or female, that is only attracted, physically and emotionally, to people of the same sex is someone who is gay. In the military, if they were found out before the don't ask/don't tell policy in the US, or before the repeal of the ban in the UK, they would be discharged regardless of whether they had had sex.

Of course there are gay virgins! People often know they are gay for years before they do anything in the way of having a sex life or dating, just as straight people generally know they fancy the opposite sex long before they do anything about it. And people are no less gay because they are celibate or suppress their feelings.

Also, straight people are no less straight if they have at some stage experimented with gay sex or in some cultures have engaged in it out of sexual frustration when there are no people of the opposite sex available.

Sexual orientation is obviously irrelevant to a person's ability to serve in the military. Gays have served in the military throughout history. It's other aspects of the person that are relevant.
11. 2009-05-22 17:51  
Steve, my meaning of "most people" was the homophobes with their loud nasty voices. These are the ones who form public opinion against the gay community.

I was indeed defining gay in terms of what is not. Obviously this was not a complete definition, but at the same time, it is indeed an important aspect of being gay, and this aspect is exactly what the straight community chooses to ignore when it persecutes gay people.
I simply wish to draw attention to it.

For example, I could be in the army, and I never have sex with another man; never even approach another guy. If so, how exactly is my lack of interest in the opposite sex affecting anyone? How exactly does my being gay affect the army if I don't even approach another man?

Why should every homophobe insist that being gay means you are going to pounce on him? You don't need an action (attraction to the same sex) to define gay. Surely absence of action (lack of attraction to the opposite sex) can also define it?

So, when I say "I am gay", I could be merely telling you that I am not attracted to women. Why is that sufficient reason for me to be kicked out of the army? Why should you assume that I meant I was attracted to men and was going to start chasing after other soldiers?

I don't need dumb homophobes backing away covering their asses and screaming rape the moment they realize I am gay. Being gay is not necessarily about doing something. It is also in not doing or not feeling something. Which is why I choose to draw attention to what is not.

All that homophobes need to know is: "A gay man is not attracted to women, period. Anything else is none of your business, as long as he doesn't bother you".

Hope I've spelt it out clearly enough for you. Surely you realised that most of my questions were also directed at homophobes? I thought that was rather obvious.
修改於2009-05-22 17:53:10
12. 2009-05-23 00:32  
My heart goes out to Lt. Col Fehrenbach as well as the other men and women being discharged. I too was in the US Air Force back during the Viet Nam era. I served my tour of duty in Viet Nam and knew then that I was gay. Of course the attitude back then did not even include "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" which made life even more closeted. I served eight years in the Air Force and decided that I could not live in the closet any longer. I knew that if I stayed in the Air Force that eventually my homosexuality would come out and I would have given all those years of service only to be kicked out and loose my pension. Lt. Col Fehrenbach will loose everything he has worked for over the last 18 years because he is gay. Sure Obama made a campaign pledge to do away with the current policy but it is NOT high on his priority list. There is probably some way of stopping the discharges until congress can act on legislation but good luck. Obama, like all politicians, make hollow promises to get elected. Those promises invariably get put on the back burner. America has done some great things in its history but it is still a country run by politicians and bureaucrats all with an interest in perpetuating the status quo. That's, after all, where their power comes from. If Spain, a strong Roman Catholic country, can pass legislation permitting gay marriage, where does that leave America? What's right is right and it is amazing how many states and local governments have passed legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation but the federal government can't find the time to tackle the issue. In the mean time individuals like the ones listed in the article who have put themselves in harms way serving their country are tossed out like rotten garbage. Says a lot for the American dream, doesn't it? The American Congress is an impotent organization constantly arguing about nothing of importance. I am proud to have served in the Air Force for those eight years and met many fine people while serving. I could not however have survived long in the enviornment of those days. I was lucky and maintained a Reserve affiliation for 20 more years and eventually was able to receive my retirement also as a Lt. Col. I survived the system and I am safe now collecting my pension but can't begin to contemplate the lives ruined by such policies that have existed in the US military. It is time for Obama to step up to the plate, not in two years, but NOW!
13. 2009-05-23 12:50  
To add to trouble's post, I think that if and when the US government does get around to doing the right thing, they must also reinstate and/or compensate all those people who were discharged or penalized for these irrelevant reasons. These people should not have to suffer because of government inaction. This demand should be made as soon as the laws are changed. Demanding it prematurely could lead to further delays. This is done in industries all the time, for unfair dismissal. Why shouldn't it also apply to the defence forces, where these people put their lives on the line?
修改於2009-05-23 13:00:22
14. 2009-05-24 22:27  
15. 2009-06-01 15:13  
I think Chris Rock put it in the best of ways.


Basically, I don't think any profession requires sexual orientation to be a barrier, particularly the military when it preaches integrity. Especially with a slogan like "Be All That You Can Be".
16. 2009-06-17 11:35  
Latest news from CNN :
Obama to OK benefits for same-sex partners of federal workers
17. 2009-06-17 16:36  
re ade11ne:

yeah, something Hillary did earlier for her staffers, right? but it's all good. at least now the government practices what it preaches.





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