Troops Discharged for Being Gay, Re-Enlist
October 20, 2010
SAN DIEGO -- At least three servicemembers discharged for being gay have begun the process to re-enlist after the Pentagon directed the military to accept openly gay recruits for the first time in the nation's history.
The top-level guidance issued to recruiting commands Tuesday marked a significant change in an institution long resistant and sometimes hostile to gays.
"Gay people have been fighting for equality in the military since the 1960s," said Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a think tank on gays and the military at the University of California Santa Barbara. "It took a lot to get to this day."
The movement to overturn the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy gained speed when President Obama campaigned on its repeal. The effort stalled in Congress this fall and found new life last month when a federal judge in California declared it unconstitutional.
The recruiting announcement came even as the Justice Department battles in the courts to slow the movement to abolish the 1993 Clinton-era policy.
U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips rejected the government's latest effort Tuesday to halt her order telling the military to stop enforcing the law. Government lawyers have said they will appeal.
The Defense Department has said it would comply with Phillips' order and had frozen any discharge cases. Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said Tuesday recruiters had been given top-level guidance to accept applicants who say they are gay.
AP interviews found some recruiters following the order and others saying they had not heard of the announcement.
Recruiters also have been told to inform potential recruits that the moratorium on enforcement of the policy could be reversed at any time, if the ruling is appealed or the court grants a stay, she said.
Gay rights groups were continuing to tell servicemembers to avoid revealing that they are gay, fearing they could find themselves in trouble should the law be reinstated.
"What people aren't really getting is that the discretion and caution that gay troops are showing now is exactly the same standard of conduct that they will adhere to when the ban is lifted permanently," Belkin said. "Yes, a few will try to become celebrities."
An Air Force officer and co-founder of a gay servicemember support group called OutServe said financial considerations are playing a big role in gay servicemembers staying quiet.
"The military has financially trapped us," he said, noting that he could owe the military about $200,000 if he were to be dismissed.
The officer, who asked not to be identified for fear of being discharged, said he's hearing increasingly about heterosexual servicemembers approaching gay colleagues and telling them they can come out now.
He also said more gay servicemembers are coming out to their peers who are friends, while keeping it secret from leadership. He said he has come out to two peers in the last few days.
An opponent of the judge's ruling said confusion that has come up is exactly what Pentagon officials feared, and shows the need for the judge to immediately freeze her order while the government appeals.
"Judge Phillips' refusal to grant an emergency stay is an incredible display of contempt for the constitution and our nation's military leaders who say overturning this law will be enormously disruptive for the men and women who defend our country," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group based in Washington that supports the policy.
The law's uncertain status has caused much confusion within an institution that has historically discriminated against gays.
Before the 1993 law, the military banned gays entirely and declared them incompatible with military service. There have been instances in which gays have served, with the knowledge of their colleagues.
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