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Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, Ask What It Won’t

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In 1993, President Bill Clinton offered gays a “compromise”: You can serve in the armed forces, just don’t tell anyone you sleep with the same-sex. Ever since, the policy has always been part of a contentious debate between gays, the White House, and the Pentagon. But with a gentleman living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who promised to repeal the policy, but now refuses to do anything of the sort, it’s helped create a breaking point between gay Americans and the man they elected to America’s highest office. Last night, PBS aired Independent Lens: Ask Not, a riveting documentary on the issue that had our military leaders looking like assholes, and young gay men and women trying to serve this country looking like victims fighting an impossible battle. Did you catch it?

MORE: Read the story of veteran Jarrod Chlapowski, who was trained as a Korean linguist and cryptologic voice interceptor, here.

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  • Michael @

    Since filming, the two articulate main guys who were featured in the documenary have started a repeal DADT organization principally for gay vets who’ve served in the last few years and their allies, and opened an office in DC. They could use everyone’s help at

    Here’s a brief history of “stop-loss” [as Obama could and should do now]:

    It goes back for more than half-a-century and didn’t just, as some claim, apply to those in the process of being discharged…. Decade after decade, WHENEVER the military has gotten to a point where they, as Candidate Obama phrased it when he promised to fight for DADT repeal…”need all hands on deck”…THEY have ignored the ban both when it was only “policy” and after it became “law.”

    Based on research by Allen Berube for “Coming Out Under Fire,” in World War II it once even took the extreme form of “the adjutant general ordered the commanding general of the West Coast Air Corps Training Center in California to review the cases of some men ALREADY CONVICTED OF SODOMY “to determine their respective availability for military service” with “the view of conserving all available manpower for service in the Army.” He canceled the men’s dishonorable discharges and made them eligible for reassignment AFTER COMPLETING THEIR PRISON SENTENCES!

    In 1945, facing manpower shortages during the final European offensive in Europe, Secty of War, Harry Stimson, ordered a review of all gay discharges and ordered commanders to “salvage” homosexual soldiers for service whenever necessary.

    Only 5000 men were screened out of entering the military for being gay in WWII. The number of men discharged for being gay during WWII is also only in the low thousands out of 16 MILLION men who served. That’s A LOT of “looking the other way” however low a statistical incidence one ascribes to “numbers of gay men.”

    Before and after both the Korean and Vietnam wars, gay discharge #s revealed an obvious stop-loss pattern.

    1950, during Korean War – 483 discharges.
    1953, when the Armistice was signed – 1353 discharges.

    1966 – the Navy ALONE discharged 1708 gays.
    1970 – when the US was deep in Vietnam, the Navy only discharged 461.

    During the first Gulf War, a Pentagon spokesman said in relation to gay discharges, “Any administrative procedure is dependent on operational considerations of the unit that would administer such proceedings.” [And they will do whatever the President tells them to, formally or informally.]

    After 9/11, President Bush signed executive Order #13223 that authorized the individual service branches to initiate a stop-loss which allowed them “to suspend certain laws relating to promotion, involuntary retirement, and separation” of military personnel.

    In the “Army Commander’s Handbook,” updated in 1999 and still in effect, under the criterion of homosexuality: “if discharge is not requested prior to the unit’s receipt of alert notification, discharge isn’t authorized. Member will enter active duty with the unit.”

    In 2005, a military spokesperson acknowledged they were sending openly gay service members into combat in Iraq.

  • Michael @

    Sorry, hit Enter too quickly.

    The two Servicemembers United organizers featured in “Call to Duty” I referred to are Jarrod Chlapowski and his partner Alex Nicholson.


  • RichardR

    @Michael @ Just want to observe that I truly value and appreciate your perspective, information, and activism, Michael. I am not/was not military but feel this issue to be central and critical. You are helping move it. Thanks.

  • michael @


    Thank you, Richard, for your kind and generous remarks!

    For the record, I’m not a vet either, but even had I not been friends with the first person to battle the ban, I would still agree with you that the issue is both “central and critical.”

  • RichardR

    @michael @ And on a completely different level, how yummy are Chaplowski and Nickolson! Thanks for the, er, stimulation. Hate that I missed the Independent Lens piece, if for no reason than to enjoy them!

  • Terry

    I saw the show last night. It was wonderful and inspires me to be even more active, and I urge others to do the same. Email or even better, hand write letters to President Obama and your Representatives. Speak or attend rallies. Join us in Washington DC on 10th and 11th.

    If we all do this, we can be a force that cannot be ignored. We will be a force that will be heard from small town to large.

    Get involved and urge your friends too :) We can make a difference!

  • TJ White

    For those disappointed by Obama’s recent flip flop on DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, please check out this link. You too can send a penny to the White House as Obama has apparently lost his ‘change.’

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