A new look at the journey to repeal of the US ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ (DADT) policy has been released with the help of a Sydney undergraduate.
The Rise of Repeal: Policy Entrepreneurship and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, published in the February issue of the Journal of Homosexuality, details how LGBTI rights lobbyists helped overturn congressional support for DADT and make a repeal of the controversial policy viable, eventually allowing gay soldiers to serve openly in the US armed forces.
The article highlights the success of strategies such as protesting the mass dismissal of gay Arabic linguists in 2002 and contesting the 2003 promotion of Major-General Robert Clark, whose commanding tenure at the Fort Campbell army base saw a private murdered for suspected homosexuality by a fellow soldier in 1999.
Palm Center deputy executive director Christopher Neff, who co-wrote the article with University of Sydney undergraduate student Luke Edgell, said that repeal of DADT was seen as “an impossible task” by gay rights groups less than ten years ago.
“When we decided to challenge DADT everybody was terrified – support for it in Congress was nearly universal, and we’d been defeated so badly by Republicans before that people were scared any move on our part would only make it worse,” Neff said.
“Under the Bush administration there were organised witch-hunts against gay service members, there were actual purges. We had no choice but to push back as hard as we could – we just had to throw everything at it because we had nothing left to lose.”
In 2005, Neff started the Q Street Project, Washington’s first LGBTI lobby group, and previously worked as a staffer for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
DADT, which was enacted as a compromise measure by the Clinton administration in 1993, allowed gay and lesbian soldiers to serve in the military on condition that they keep their sexuality concealed, or else face dismissal. More than 13,000 soldiers were discharged for breaching DADT in its 18-year existence.
In December 2010, US President Barack Obama repealed DADT, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces from September 2011.
Neff said that the repeal of the law was the start of a “tidal wave” in the American gay rights movement.
“Barack Obama first said he might be evolving on marriage equality the day DADT was repealed. We made the US military pro-gay around the world – that was the star of something huge in America.”