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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Fmr Joint Chiefs Chairman Calls for Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

In an op-ed published inTuesday's New York Times, John Shalikashvili, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says Congress should give "serious reconsideration" to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the ban on openly lesbian, gay and bisexual military personnel.

Shalikashvili, who supported the ban on open service in 1993, writes that "I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces," and goes on to say that "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."

President Bill Clinton introduced "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as a compromise means of allowing gay men and lesbians to serve in the U.S. military. Prior to the policy, military personnel could be asked about their sexuality and drummed from service. Clinton had first proposed allowing gays to serve openly but Senate Republicans challenged him and he announced "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" instead.

"'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is out of step with both the American publicand those within our armed forces," says C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). "The counsel of military leaders increasingly supports repeal of the law. Congress must, as General Shalikashvili urges, consider the overwhelming evidence of the past 14 years. If they do, the clear answer is that we must lift the ban."

Shalikashvili, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs from 1993 to 1997, joins other senior retired military officers who have called for repeal of"Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

In May 2006, retired Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, the first female three-star officer in Army history, called the law "a hollow policy that serves no useful purpose."

Lieutenant General Daniel Christman, former superintendent of West Point, recently told The New York Times that "It is clear that national attitudes toward this issue have evolved considerably in the last decade. This has been led by a new generation of service members who take a more relaxed and tolerant view toward homosexuality."

Retired Admiral John Hutson, who currently serves asDean of Franklin Pierce Law School, also recently wrote that "It would be agreat tragedy if we didn't take advantage of [the] chance to correct a flawed policy."

In 2003, two retired generals and an admiral 'came out' in the New YorkTimes, and in November 2006 14 senior retired military officers urged the First Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the ban. They wrote that the law "undermines the military's ability to fulfill its primary mission ofproviding national security by discouraging the enlistment of gay persons qualified to serve their country and by expelling from the military those who have served with honor."

In today's op-ed, Shalikashvili writes that "Last year I held anumber of meetings with gay soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew. These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays andlesbians can be accepted by their peers."

A December 18 Zogby poll also found that 73% of military personnel polled were comfortable with lesbians and gays.

"General Shalikashvili's statement is the first by a Joint Chiefs Chairman to call for repeal, and as such is enormously significant," says Osburn. "The Pentagon has dismissed more than 11,000 men and women under this law. It is clear that enforcement of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is arbitrary. We continue to lose critical personnel who happen to be gay. As General Shalikashvili points out, continuing to keep this law on the books is detrimental to our national security."

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