The one place there has been some backlash is here in the US. In the first few years after Clinton’s policy was instituted there were some violent repercussions that gave many in the Pentagon proof that it would be difficult to integrate open homosexuality into the military. In July 1999, Army Private Barry Winchell was bludgeoned to death by a fellow soldier, Private Calvin Glover. Glover was later convicted by court-martial and sentenced to life in prison. His accomplice, Spec. Justin Fisher was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison for his role in the murder. Prosecutors in the case stated that the crime was motivated by a hate of homosexuals. In the wake of the trial the Army launched an investigation into anti-gay harassment. This investigation, in which soldiers were interviewed privately, proved that there was a long way to go before homosexuals would be completely accepted in the military. Investigators found that the language used by drill instructors was often rife with anti-gay sentiments, and that on several military posts anti-gay graffiti was common and had not been removed.
A separate investigation undertaken by the Pentagon’s Inspector General in 2000 polled service members on 38 military installations and 11 naval vessels. It found that nearly 40 percent believed that they had witnessed or been a target of harassment for perceived homosexuality. At a press conference following the unveiling of the report, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon told reporters, “We need to do work on this policy. In short, offensive comments about homosexuals were commonplace and a majority believed that they were tolerated to some extent within the military. Overwhelmingly the harassment was verbal, although there was a disturbing amount of graffiti or gestures, and in some cases even reported violence. This behavior is not acceptable and can’t be tolerated in the military.”
Legality and Equality
In an article written for National Law Journal in August 2003, John D. Hutson, dean and president of the Franklin Pierce Law Center and retired admiral who served as Judge Advocate General of the US Navy, stated that the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” directive, “was a badly flawed policy. But it was the best Department of Defense [DOD] could do on an issue whose time had not yet come.” Citing the problem President Clinton faced trying to maintain troop levels in an all-volunteer military whose mindset was still rather conservative—not to mention the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the considerable growth in the economy—Hutson continued, “It was a compromise designed to avoid embarrassing the president, to mollify gay activists, and yet to be acceptable to the military. It didn’t completely succeed in any of those respects. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was the quintessential example of a bad compromise….[It] demeans the military as an honorable institution.” (Hutson is referring to his belief that the policy mocks the core military values of serving with honor and dignity.)
Addressing the issue that the mindset of today’s enlistees has changed since the policy was initiated, but that the change was slow in the making, Hutson wrote, “There is a somewhat more enlightened population, particularly among younger people. Right now I think the biggest impediment to the change is that Congress has a lot on its plate and we are in the midst of a war. People are distracted. I think the public is largely in favor of a change, or at least, they would be if they were informed and thought about it. In light of Lawrence v. Texas, which explicitly overruled earlier cases in which sodomy was ruled as a criminal offense, a court could now hold that a gay soldier’s due process or equal protection rights are being infringed.”
Just how much the mindset of active duty soldiers and officers has changed is only one element to be considered when examining the validity of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in the new climate of the 21st century. More to the point is the question of soldier’s civil rights and in what way can anyone justify violating them.
In March 2006, Army 2nd Lt. Alexander Raggio, a 2006 West Point graduate, won an academic award and Congressional recognition for a thesis he wrote as a senior that argued that the military’s gay ban should be ended because it violates the core military values of integrity, honor, and respect which are hammered into every new recruit. The fact that he was given permission to write on this topic and then publish his thesis signals a change in the traditionally conservative culture of the military.