For the past sixteen years, the U.S. government’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy has barred gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces, while also prohibiting military officials from initiating inquiries into service members’ sexual orientation when they are abiding by the rules. Top military leaders, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, support repealing the policy. In March 2010, Senator Joseph Lieberman introduced legislation that would repeal DADT after a waiting period of several months. The Pentagon is now reviewing how such a change would be implemented.
Jason Torpy enlisted in the Army in 1994 as an intelligence interceptor. He was an active nontheist throughout his military service. After earning top graduate honors from two intelligence training programs, he was offered direct admission to the United States Military Academy. Upon graduation, Mr. Torpy was commissioned as an officer and served for five years in Germany, Kuwait, and Iraq with the Army’s 1st Armored Division. He left the service in 2005 at the rank of Captain and is currently president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF), a national nonprofit community for nontheistic veterans. Torpy recently discussed the waning of DADT with Derek Araujo, vice president and general counsel for the Center for Inquiry.
Free Inquiry: When DADT was enacted sixteen years ago, opposition within the military and among the public was rather strong. To what extent has that opposition dwindled, and why do you think it has done so?
Jason Torpy: Major military leaders have said enough that I don’t need to weigh in more. Their action to overcome their own prejudices is commendable and also speaks to the volume of evidence.
I would also point out that it’s been a generation. People have had another twenty years to get over their prejudices. The repeal of DADT will be just one more step in a slow but steady process of expanding tolerance and affirming the worth and dignity of all.
FI: DADT supporters say the experience of foreign militaries that have successfully integrated openly gay soldiers is irrelevant, because the U.S. military is somehow fundamentally different. What do you make of this argument?
Torpy: I think it is fair to say that the U.S. military is different because of its sheer size and its advanced armaments. I think it may also be fair to say that the U.S. military has more prejudice and fear related to homosexuality than those of other Western nations. These differences should be overcome rather than accepted.
FI: In what ways does the policy hurt combat readiness and military effectiveness?
Torpy: In the same ways that integration of blacks and women “hurts” combat power. That is to say, the military actually benefited from additional personnel, new skills, diversity, and enlightenment for all our forces. There will be issues as the military accepts gay and lesbian members, just as in the transition away from race- and sex-segregated units, rejection and even hate gave way to patriotism and service. I look forward to this disruption, because we will be eradicating a hateful and divisive disease, homophobia, for the collective benefit of our military. Whatever pain this transition may bring, the greater pain is the continuing reality that the honor of our military is being stained by bigotry against homosexuals.
FI: Some have argued that DADT should be repealed only gradually or after a waiting period that would allow for further study, if at all. Should the government and the military deliberate any further before repealing DADT? Is there any waiting period that would be too short?
Torpy: There have been thirty years of gradual change. Now is the time to take that last, decisive step out of the shadow of prejudice and ignorance.
FI: What are your thoughts on the new Pentagon rules recently announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, purportedly designed to ensure that discharges under DADT are carried out in “a fairer and more appropriate manner”?
Torpy: This is a political move in the right direction. It must be temporary, but I think it sends the right message—DADT’s time has passed, and open service for all is coming soon.