1st Lt. Dan Choi, 2002 West Point graduate, Arabic linguist and Iraq War veteran, is being fired from the United States Army for publicly announcing that he is gay.
In the Army equivalent of a pink slip received by postal mail on 23 April 2009, Choi was informed of his firing because of what he said. The Army wrote, “You admitted publicly that you are homosexual which constitutes homosexual conduct. Your actions negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard.”
The Army doesn’t care that Choi is gay, but they do care that he told everyone. The Army’s explanation is a weak justification of his firing. More appropriate would have been to say you violated policy, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, therefore you are fired. Under federal law, openly gay people are prohibited from serving in the United States Armed Forces. The military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is the only law in the country that allows for the firing of a person based on open expression of sexual orientation alone.
More than a decade after its implementation, the policy continues to create significant anxiety among gay service members. It is a policy which encourages gay soldiers to lie in order to continue in their chosen profession and selfless service to the Nation. This is in direct conflict with “integrity”, one of the Army’s seven core values. Integrity, by Army definition, is “do what is right, legally and morally. Be willing to do what is right even when no one is looking.” The Army proffers that integrity is its “moral compass” and inner voice. This makes sense: integrity builds trust, and trust builds unit cohesion.
So how does a service member’s admission of sexual orientation “negatively affects the good order and discipline” of a military unit? What makes Choi’s being gay detrimental to good order and discipline? That question remains to be answered. In the early 1990’s, when then President Bill Clinton moved to allow gays in the military, Pentagon brass commissioned a Rand Corporation study of the issue. The study found that gays and lesbians could serve without negative impact to the military. The study was suppressed.
A more appropriate question might be what negatively affects good order, discipline and morale in military units? A few common to mind. Leaders who do not lead by example – they say one thing and do another; leaders who are guided by self-interest – not for the good of the unit or mission; and units where standards are not uniformly enforced. Two more obvious ones are sexual harassment and fraternization. But these are already regulated – we don’t need special regulations for gays and lesbians. Meanwhile, the distancing and dishonesty that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” requires of serving gays and lesbians certainly has a negative impact. One could argue that the policy itself is detrimental to good order and discipline.
Since the enactment of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, more than 12,500 soldiers have been discharged from the military for being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. According to figures from the General Accounting Office, the cost of training replacements for those soldiers exceeded $360 million from fiscal years 1994 through 2003. Included are soldiers in military occupational specialties with critical shortages, such as pilots, intelligence analysts and Arabic linguists.  With the dismissal of 1st Lt. Dan Choi, the number just increased.
In a 2004 article for Compass: A Journal of Leadership Magazine, a publication of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, former Army Maj. Lissa Young, also forced out of the profession of arms because of her acknowledgment of her sexual orientation, addressed the failure of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. She wrote: “We are afraid to challenge the assumptions of our institutions even as we respect their foundations. A notable example of our failure is the unwillingness to lift the unconstitutional and incoherent policy, commonly called ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ that prohibits homosexuals from serving openly in our armed forces. They are told they can serve only if they treat their sexuality as a secret they must hide from the world. And in the next breath they are told that a soldier never lies.”
What the 12,500 figure does not include are soldiers who complete their service obligations but choose not to continue their military careers because of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Many gay veterans are proud of their service and likely would have continued to serve, but the toll and cost of keeping one’s life secret became too great. It is a choice many talented, patriotic and committed soldiers have had to, and continue to, make.
The time has come to change the current policy. The commander-in-chief has the authority to suspend gay discharges under federal law (10 U.S.C. §12305) to retain any member of the military he believes is essential to national security. President Obama, please invoke your authority and leadership while you work to change the policy.
 Young, Lissa, “Service and Disservice,” Compass: A Journal for Leadership, Volume 1, Number 2. Spring 2004. Center for Public Leadership, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. 26-27.