After months of debate and deal-making in Congress, President Obama signed a bill Wednesday to end the military’s 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, paving the way for gays to openly serve in the military.
We applaud this bold move, but at the same time warn that full integration and acceptance will likely not come as quickly. We still have work to do before all people are accepted by one another, no matter their color, religion, or sexuality. The repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a leap forward for the military and equality in this country, but declarations are not the goal.
Some commanders may not enforce anti-discrimination policies in their units to avoid drawing attention to the problems there. Others may feel that their personal convictions about homosexuality are above military policy. Like the integration of blacks and women into the military in decades past, homosexual soldiers will likely continue to face discrimination for years to come until attitudes change.
Military commanders will have to step forward and set examples for their subordinates – not only with their own behavior, but also in how they deal with reported harassment. While the integration of blacks and women introduced unfamiliar soldiers into military units, gays have already been serving in the military – and in many cases, their colleagues were aware of them. The changes, therefore, should not feel as sudden as when female or black soldiers began to appear in units that had previously been composed solely of white men.
This is a far different society from the ones that first integrated women and blacks into the military. But while many more people may be open to the ideas of change and acceptance of diversity now, convictions based on moral codes are difficult to change.
It took more than three years for the Army to fully comply with President Harry Truman’s desegregation order in 1948, and racial problems still existed in the 1970s, the same time the Women’s Army Corps was dissolved and women could serve alongside men.
We may never be a society free of bigotry, but removing institutionalized homophobia is a good step forward.