Opening Statement of Senator Levin At Hearing Relating to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Policy

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–March 18, 2010.  What follows is the opening statement of Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) before the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing to continue to receive testimony relating to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

“The Secretary of Defense testified before this Committee on February 2nd that he supported the President’s decision to work with Congress to repeal the law known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell stating that “the question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it.”

At the same hearing, Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, expressed his personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. He said: “No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity: theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

Today, we will hear testimony from witnesses who do not represent the Department of Defense, although each of them has served with distinction in the military: We welcome General John J. Sheehan, United States Marine Corps (Retired). While on active duty General Sheehan served in various command positions ranging from company commander to brigade commander in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of operations. General Sheehan’s combat tours include duty in Vietnam and Desert Shield/Desert Storm. His last assignment was as Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic and Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command.

Michael D. Almy served as an active duty Air Force officer for thirteen years before he was discharged in 2006 under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He deployed to the Middle East four times during his active duty career, serving in Operation Desert Fox, Operation Southern Watch, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was named Officer of the Quarter and Officer of the Year several times throughout his career, and in 2005 he was named the top communications officer for the Air Force in Europe. He was recommended for promotion to lieutenant colonel prior to his discharge in 2006.

Jenny L. Kopfstein, a Naval Academy graduate, served on active duty in the Navy for nearly three years. She revealed her sexual orientation to her commanding officer during her first shipboard assignment. Apparently, knowledge of her sexual orientation had no impact on her duty performance as she was sent on a second deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Jenny earned several awards and honors and was promoted during her service. Significantly, two of her commanding officers testified at her separation hearing that while they understood that she was a lesbian, she was an excellent officer who should remain in the Navy. Despite this testimony, Ms. Kopfstein was discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2002.

Cases like these make it clear to me why we should repeal this discriminatory policy. I did not find the arguments used to justify Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell convincing when it took effect in 1993, and they are less so now, as made evident by the experiences of Mr. Almy and Ms. Kopfstein. What matters is a willingness and ability to perform the mission – not an individual’s sexual orientation.

In the latest Gallup poll, the American public overwhelmingly supported allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. 69% of Americans are recorded as supporting their right to serve – and many are in fact serving. As former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. John Shalikashvili, who supports ending the policy has pointed out, a majority of troops already believe they serve alongside gay or lesbian colleagues. It’s hard to know for sure, but one recent study estimated that 66,000 gays and lesbians are serving today, forced to hide their orientation and at constant risk of losing the chance to serve.

Supporters of the current Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy argue that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would damage unit cohesion and morale, crucial factors in building combat effectiveness. But there is no evidence that the presence of gay and lesbian colleagues would damage our military’s ability to fight. Gay men and women are serving now, and their fellow service members know they are serving with them. Their service is not damaging unit cohesion and morale.

Other nations have allowed gay and lesbian service members to serve in their militaries without discrimination and without impact on unit cohesion or morale. The most comprehensive study on this was conducted by Rand in 1993. Rand researchers reported on the positive experiences of Canada, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, and Norway, all of which allowed known homosexuals to serve in their Armed Forces. Senator McCain and I have asked the Department to update this 1993 report.

We should end this discriminatory policy because ending it will contribute to our military’s effectiveness. Dozens of Arabic and Farsi linguists have been forced out of the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at a time when our need to understand those languages has never been greater. Thousands of troops – 13,500 by one estimate – have been forced to leave the military under the current policy. Certainly that number includes many who could help the military complete its difficult and dangerous missions.

Mr. Almy and Ms. Kopfstein were discharged – not because of their duty performance, not because their presence interfered with unit cohesion, and not because their sexual orientation compromised the military mission. They were discharged solely on the basis of who they are, what their sexual orientation is.

We are making progress on this and other gay rights issues:

  • Last year, the Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that made hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation a Federal crime.
  • The Secretary of Defense has directed a 45-day review of Defense regulations implementing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law so that the policy can be enforced in a more humane manner while we continue to work to repeal the law. This review should be completed this week, and hopefully some of the most egregious practices can be halted immediately. But I think it is unconscionable to discharge men and women in uniform solely because of their sexual orientation when the Commander in Chief and top uniformed officer in the United States, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believe they should not be discharged.
  • The Secretary of Defense has also appointed a working group to review the issues associated with properly implementing a repeal of the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy.

Senator Lieberman has introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010 that would replace the current policy concerning homosexuality in the Armed Forces with a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

I hope we can move quickly but deliberately to maximize the opportunity for all Americans to serve their country while addressing any concerns that may be raised. We can and should do that in a way that honors our nation’s values while making it more secure.

The Committee has received statements for the record from the American Veterans for Equal Rights, the Center for American Progress Action Committee, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Servicemembers United, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Without objection, these statements will be included in the record.”