Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; how it has affected people in Salt Lake City

Story and slideshow by SHERYL CRONIN

The long-awaited repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy occurred Sept. 20, 2011, following certification signed by President Barack Obama on July 22.

“Homosexuals have a right to be in the military,” said Ryan Newman, 28, of Salt Lake City. Newman is currently enrolled in the National Guard. He has been in the National Guard for approximately a year and a half and says he is happy about the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy change.

The guidelines that were previously in place for the U.S. Military stated that bisexual, gay, or lesbian individuals were prohibited from being enlisted within the armed forces. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell went into effect in December 1993 after President Bill Clinton signed the policy. According to section 15 of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy concerning homosexuality in the armed forces, the military could not discriminate against a person simply for being gay, but for openly being gay.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a step in the right direction to protect homosexuals. Previous guidelines banned anyone who was gay from serving in the military.

This policy was made to decrease the number of people discharged from the military, but it failed to stop discrimination. The intent of the policy was to benefit the gay community but in turn it continued to isolate.

According to section 15, “The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.” Therefore, the U.S. Military was allowed to discharge any member who would disclose their sexual orientation.

But, according to Newman, the Salt Lake man serving in the National Guard, people were commonly known to be homosexual but it just was not talked about due to the repercussions.

Derek Kjar, 26, who is gay, dated Scotland Briner from 2005 to 2010. Briner was a cadet in the U.S. Army Reserve who served a year in Afghanistan before they met. “There were areas of Salt Lake City that we didn’t feel comfortable being a couple, especially at the University of Utah because that is where Scotland did ROTC.”

Before the change of the policy, Briner and Kjar had to be careful of where they showed affection because Briner could have been discharged from the Army. Kjar said that Briner had to act more masculine in public and put on a persona due to fear of being ostracized.

Kjar recalled a time that the couple and another gay friend went to a restaurant near the U for lunch. One of Briner’s sergeants walked into the restaurant and Briner had to act like he was straight. Kjar said he was nervous the sergeant would see through his act.

The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will make it so situations such as this will not be an issue anymore to the gay community. Individuals will not be forced to hide who they are in or outside of the military.

Under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell police the military was prohibited from investigating a person’s sexual orientation, unless there was an eyewitness account of homosexual behavior. That behavior never was sufficiently defined. These are some of the difficulties the military had to deal with under the policy.

Briner mentioned to Kjar that there were a few men who came out to him in private while he was serving his country. “It was just something people didn’t talk about publicly,” Kjar said.

According to the code, “A member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces [if] the member has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act or acts.”

Brian Robbins, 26, who has been in the Marine Corps since April 2004 and served a year in Iraq, said that even though he supports homosexuality he thinks that getting rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell could cause more problems than solutions. “The people who come out in the military might end up being harassed because they came out of the closet,” he said.

Robbins said the policy was working just fine before the change. Some people may argue against this idea, but the risk of being harassed now will be much greater in Robbins’ opinion. Now that individuals can be open with their sexual orientation, the unit might be unaccepting of the information and could intensify homophobic tendencies.

Robbins felt that the risk for overtly homosexual individuals could be more harmful rather than not talking about it. He said that before the change there wasn’t an issue with homosexuality, but as a straight man he may not have felt the kinds of pressures facing gay  soldiers.

Robbins has not been deployed since the policy change but can be called into duty until April. He said he doesn’t know what kinds of changes will occur but he thinks that within his all-male unit it may be difficult if someone were to come out.

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The repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy has encouraged same-sex couples to speak out against unequal rights. This will be the next battle to overcome for the LGBTQ community.