The public reemergence of controversy surrounding the U.S. Military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has UCSB’s Palm Center buzzing in a debate over whether the ban on openly gay individuals in the armed forces will soon be repealed.
Founded in 1998, the Palm Center is a campus think-tank with a long-standing focus on researching homosexuality in the military. The national fervor over the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy — which was established in the Clinton era — has risen significantly recently, launching the center’s research onto the political stage.
“The Palm Center has been continuously engaged with this issue for over 10 years,” Assistant Director Indra Lusero said. “We consistently have up to a dozen studies in development. We regularly speak with journalists and scholars and to classes at military universities.”
On Oct. 10 President Obama reaffirmed a campaign promise to repeal the military’s prohibition of expressed homosexuality, sparking debate among high-ranking military officials.
Last Monday, Secretary of the Army John McHugh issued a statement of support for repealing the policy. However, not all military officials are as eager to reverse “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In a press statement yesterday, Marine Corps Commandant General James Conway expressed clear opposition to Obama’s promise to permit openly gay individuals in the military.
According to Nathaniel Frank, a senior researcher at the Palm Center, this national dialogue on gay rights signals a paradigmatic change in the way homosexuals are perceived by the U.S. government and society.
“There is clearly a shift going on,” Frank said. “Democrats have historic margins in Congress and the White House has been the most gay-friendly ever. That said, the window for real change is not going to be open forever, and it remains to be seen whether the sentiment translates into action that affects the real lives of [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered] people in more significant ways.”
Furthermore, Frank said the ban serves as a way for some heterosexuals to subjugate sexual minorities. Thus, he said, repealing the policy would help to remove the perception of superiority that many straight individuals feel.
“Part of the point of the ban is to continue to allow those who cling to heterosexual privilege, to view gay people as inadequate, assuming they could never be warriors who give back to their country and enjoy first-class citizenship,” Frank said. “[A repeal of the homosexual ban in the armed forces] deprives them of that belief.”
A UCSB military science department representative stated that the stance of the department coincides with the official policy of the military.
Lusero, on the other hand, said she disagrees with this military policy.
“I think McHugh’s statement is a part of a growing consensus that openly gay service will not threaten the military or unit cohesion, that in fact today’s armed forces are professional and sophisticated and capable of changes,” Lusero said. “It’s always comforting when decision makers are confident in their abilities to adapt and change.”