In personal letter, Obama says he wants to overturn 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy

by Michael Foust, posted Wednesday, May 13, 2009 (9 years ago)

WASHINGTON (BP)--President Obama's administration may not be rushing to change the military's ban on homosexuals serving openly, but he nevertheless has restated his commitment to overturning the policy in a personal handwritten note to a lesbian soldier who is being discharged.

Obama said several times during the campaign that he wanted to see overturned what is known as the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which prevents the military from inquiring about a person's sexuality and thus allows military personnel who are homosexual to serve as long as they don't disclose it. The policy was implemented as a compromise during the administration of President Clinton, who favored military personnel being allowed to serve openly.

Although some homosexual activists have expressed frustration about Obama's inaction on the issue, the president wrote a handwritten note to Second Lieutenant Sandy Tsao, who earlier this year told her superiors that she is lesbian. She wrote Obama in January, asking him to stick by his commitment.

"Sandy -- Thanks for the wonderful and thoughtful letter," Obama's letter, posted on the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's blog, reads. "It is because of outstanding Americans like you that I committed to changing our current policy. Although it will take some time to complete (partly because it needs Congressional action) I intend to fulfill my commitment! -- Barack Obama."

The military, though, may not be so willing to change the policy. A Military Times poll released in December found that 58 percent of active military personnel oppose repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Additionally, if the policy is overturned, nearly 10 percent said "I would not re-enlist or extend my service" while another 14 percent said "I would consider not re-enlisting or extending my service."

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council and a former U.S. Marine, previously told Baptist Press there are practical, common sense reasons to keep the current policy.

"Sometimes you'll have 100, 500 or 1,000 soldiers, sailors or Marines together in a barracks or in a ship bay, all using the same showers and bathroom facilities. When you introduce sexuality into that kind of environment, it begins to break down discipline and unit cohesion," he said.

The White House recently changed its website to new language that seemed to soften the administration's opposition to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. When the website changed hands on Jan. 20, the administration posted a 100-plus word statement that said:

"President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals."

But the website now reads: "[Obama] supports repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security."


Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

Download Story