Diversity is a strategic priority in the Navy. Sailors are to embrace "individual uniqueness, race, gender, ethnicity, cultural heritage, geographical background, religion, education, talent, skills, ideas, creativity and experience." The Navy rushed to trumpet that the Naval Academy class of 2013 is the most racially diverse in the school's history, but one minority group is conspicuously absent from the party: homosexuals.
Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT, Section 654, Title 10, U.S.C.) represents legal cognitive dissonance between congressionally mandated discrimination and our professed values. DADT has come under fire with growing frequency. Since its enactment in 1994, organizations such as the Servicemember's Legal Defense Network and policy analysts like Dr. Aaron Belkin have been vocal critics. A 2009 study by Laura Miller of the RAND Corporation and Bonnie Moradi of the University of Florida found that support for the ban continues to decline.
Admirals and master chiefs may have reservations about serving with open homosexuals, but junior officers and petty officers do not. Some detractors worry that parents and other "influencers" will hesitate to send young adults into a perceived den of iniquity. This a valid concern, given the de facto guardian role that Navy leadership plays with respect to junior enlisted.
But parents should not fear. If open service were allowed, the military would still prohibit relationships prejudicial to good order and discipline. Nonconsensual activities could still be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Navy can continue to discriminate on the basis of sexual preference—thereby sharing the same admission criteria as a Whabbist madrasa. Or we can adopt an Ivy League mindset, basing acceptance on performance and potential.
Some worry that heterosexuals would react to the policy change by quitting in droves, taking with them years of hard-won expertise and institutional knowledge. This fear also is unfounded. Frankly, the older service members who may be less tolerant of homosexuals have the most financial interest in staying for at least 20 years.
Anecdotal reports from the past eight years suggest that the tired logic of the "unit cohesion" argument died on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Medically retired Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva testified before Congress: "Even under the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, I was out to a lot of my fellow Marines. The typical reaction from my straight, often married friends was, 'so what?' I was the same person, I did my job well, and that's all they cared about."
Indeed, the policy has become a laughing stock among mainstream Americans. On 14 June 2007, a skit on Comedy Central's Colbert Report featured a gay Arab linguist discharged from the Army under DADT. That show's audience includes young people we are trying to recruit, influencers to whom we're trying to sell military service, and taxpayers who fund our fleets and pay our salaries.
The Navy should take the initiative and request exemption from DADT. We should implement a gradual phase-in of open service over the next year. A specific region or fleet could be designated for open service. Perhaps some communities could be temporarily firewalled off, as submarines are for women. Lessons learned could be shared internally and with other services. This test-bed concept worked when women were introduced on warships, and it serves as a viable model for open service. Indeed, homosexuals are already integrated in the Fleet. We have only to stop persecuting them, while at the same time not implementing "targets" or quotas practices.
The Navy will benefit by being an early adopter of an open policy. Most obviously, we will broaden our recruiting pool. We can poach talent that would otherwise join the Army or Air Force and serve secretly. And we can recruit and retain heterosexual Sailors who bristle at institutional bigotry, tired of the Orwellian doublethink required to prioritize diversity—while status-quo policies privilege straight felons over gay Eagle Scouts.
Only our elected officials can repeal DADT. But legislative leaders have indicated their willingness to defer to the judgment of senior military leaders on matters of policy. Let's hear what the CNO has to say.