Ask and Tell: Gay and Lesbian Veterans Speak Out

Ask and Tell: Gay and Lesbian Veterans Speak Out

Ask and Tell: Gay and Lesbian Veterans Speak Out

Ask and Tell: Gay and Lesbian Veterans Speak Out

Synopsis

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was the directive of President Clinton's 1993 military policy regarding gay and lesbian soldiers. This official silence continued a collective amnesia about the patriotic service and courageous sacrifices of homosexual troops.

Excerpt

Robert Stout peered through his night vision goggles at the road ahead. He was manning the M-2 Browning machine gun atop a U.S. Army Humvee. The Tigris River was not far off, and neither was the safety of his base. It had been a long night already. Stout’s platoon of army engineers had been sent to investigate an abandoned truck by the side of the road. They were checking for IEDs—Improvised Explosive Devices—which have caused many of the casualties in the Iraq War. But this time, it was just an abandoned truck. On the way back to base, as they passed the high walls lining the narrow road, Stout’s unit was ambushed. “The only thing I really remember is a loud flash off to my left side, pretty much the loudest noise I’ve ever heard in my life,” Stout recalls. “After that, I was blinded by the explosion, which in the night vision goggles was insane.” Wounded in the ambush, Stout received a Purple Heart and eventually a promotion to sergeant. After he returned to Iraq, Stout had a new set of priorities. First, he wanted to make sure that “his guys”—the young men he now led—made it home safe and sound. Second, he was no longer going to hide the fact that he was gay.

When “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was implemented as a political compromise in 1993 and 1994, it legislated the silence of gay and lesbian soldiers like Robert Stout who served on active duty and in the reserves. Though gays and lesbians have long served this country in the military, their official exclusion mandated silence and secrecy about their sexuality. In one sense, the debates about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” shattered this silence, making public discussions about sexuality central to considerations of military policy in the 1990s. Gay rights advocates welcomed such public debates, but the focus on sexuality in the service created frustrating and frightening situations for many gays and lesbians in uniform. Because military policies before and after the implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” necessitated silence, the men and women most directly affected by these policies were unable to testify openly about their impact. Yet this was more than political silence; it was personal. In day-today interactions with friends, superiors, and even family members, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” required a skillful navigation of silence (and often deception) to hide homosexuality. “What did you do last weekend?” or “Are you seeing anyone?” might seem like innocent questions, but for gay and lesbian military personnel, they took on the weight of interrogation even in friendly conversa-

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