Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Estes-Ask-coverMaybe hearing it from retired officers in the armed services will push Congress to reconsider the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy toward gays in the military: “Evidence shows that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline or cohesion.” A new study points to the British and Israeli armies as examples of the successful and open integration of gays in the military and proof that no, it doesn’t ruin the army. In fact, one officer who helped conduct the study “said he was struck by the loss of personal integrity required by individuals to carry out ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.'”

A recent 60 Minutes segment addressed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and this page archives the multitude of viewpoints and testimonies, both for and against, that animated the discussion. (The 5,000+ comments posted so far to that site show the debate is far from over!)

Oral historian Steve Estes, who spent time working with the Veterans History Project for the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, found the program allowed gay and lesbian veterans to break the silence of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Estes pursued their stories further, and the result was the book Ask and Tell: Gay and Lesbian Veterans Speak Out. Estes states in his introduction:

Though it may not have been the original intention of Congress in establishing this undertaking, the Veterans History Project is allowing gay veterans to speak out. In their interviews, these veterans talk about the sacrifices that they made to defend this country and about the discrimination they faced in uniform and out. As an oral historian, I feel an obligation to ‘ask and tell,’ to uncover the hidden transcripts that are left out of recorded history. In this case, the stories are not simply left out; they are silenced by official federal policy. How wonderful then that an oral history project supported by the federal government has provided the impetus to collect these personal narratives.

Ask and Tell draws on more than 50 interviews with gay and lesbian veterans who served their country from the beaches of Normandy to the streets of Baghdad. Their stories remind us of the value of all those men and women who serve and protect the United States.