Appointed by President Clinton to run the White House Military Office from 1997 to ‘99 after a stint as the Associate Deputy Secretary in the Department of Labor, Apuzzo, as head of the Military Office, held the highest commissioned rank in the White House. Notably, she was the first openly gay person to do so. While she took much pride in this achievement, it conflicted with her feelings on DODD 1304.26. “It meant a great deal of responsibility and a tremendous amount of respect,” said Apuzzo. “It also gave me the opportunity to demonstrate that we can be involved in every echelon of business and government. I was proud to serve and proud as a person for the gay community.” But her conflict with holding such an office in a government that was still dismissing homosexuals from service soon became evident. “It’s interesting that the President had an unfortunate setback with ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ and on the other hand saw fit to appoint an openly gay person to oversee the military office.”
Hidden from sight
Gays and lesbians can now serve in the military but have to hide their orientation—effectively forced to lead a double life. They can still be discharged and lose their pensions after a long career defending their country because of their sexual orientation. In fact, some 726 military personnel were discharged service-wide in 2005, suggesting that Clinton’s policy may not have really leveled the playing field as much as may have been intended. This situation recalls other half-hearted legislation that sometimes took decades to rectify. The Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education ruling in 1954 that made school segregation illegal shattered the legacy of institutionalized discrimination in this country. However, it came 57 years after Plessy v Ferguson, also decided in the highest court, which made separate facilities for blacks and whites legal as long as they were equal. Today, segregation is over but discrimination continues. However, blacks now have legal recourse; gays in the military do not.
Colonel Grethe Cammermeyer is very familiar with the military’s stance on homosexuals, having served in the US Army in eras both before and after “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” She was given a dishonorable discharge from the Washington State Army National Guard in 1989 after disclosing her sexual orientation in an interview required for top secret security clearance.
“[Don’t ask, don’t tell] was a disaster and a betrayal of the dedicated service of gay service members from its inception,” said Col. Cammermeyer, who thinks no great change was brought about by President Clinton’s actions. “Forcing someone to live the lie of another is unconscionable. Not only is the law outrageous, it does not work and is not followed as intended.”
While DODD 1304.26 affords homosexuals some limited protection—it is illegal for other soldiers or their superiors to ask them to ask them if they are homosexual—Col. Cammermeyer says it is not nearly enough and can be easily circumvented. “No longer are individuals asked about their sexual orientation during top secret security clearances, supposedly, so one does not have to lie to get a security clearance, supposedly. On the other side, there are the witch hunts that continue in the military that truly do undermine morale and discipline. It is ironic that 300 linguists have been discharged under [Don’t ask, don’t tell], 50-plus who are Arabic linguist specialists desperately needed by the military.”
Clinton’s “groundbreaking” policy change was one of the first of its kind in the modern era, but it was soon eclipsed by other nations. In September 1999 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the then-current ban on gays serving in the armed forces of the United Kingdom was unlawful. This ruling immediately allowed for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the British military. In protest, Brigadier General Pat Lawless, deputy commander of Britain’s Joint Helicopter Command, resigned his commission and retired, stating that he could not reconcile his “strongly held moral and military convictions” to the policy change.
While such dissent has served to fuel the debate, it did not lead to mass protests or resignations in the British military. Since the ruling seven years ago, there have been no problems reported by the British Ministry of Defense. At present, homosexuals can serve openly in the British, Australian, South African, and Israeli militaries. Similarly, there has been no major backlash in these militaries due to their policy change. It should be noted, however, that most of the armed services of nations outside of Europe still strictly forbid homosexuals from serving.