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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 5, 2007


Former Joint Chiefs chair calls for 'don�t ask' to end

Policy was a �useful speed bump,� says Shalikashvili, but times have changed

Washington, D.C.--The nation�s top military officer when �don�t ask, don�t tell� was introduced has called for rescinding the policy in a January 2 op-ed piece in the New York Times.

Gen. John M. Shalikashvili supported the policy when it was created in 1993 as a compromise between traditionalists who wanted to keep an earlier outright ban on gay and lesbian servicemembers, and LGBT advocates, who had secured a campaign promise from Bill Clinton to lift the ban.

�When I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,� wrote Shalikashvili, who held the post from 1993 to 1997, �I supported the current policy because I believed that implementing a change in the rules at that time would have been too burdensome for our troops and commanders. I still believe that to have been true.�

�The question before us now is whether enough time has gone by to give this policy serious reconsideration,� he continued. �Much evidence supports that it has.�

Shalikashvili�s retirement has not lessened his interaction with military personnel. He notes, �Last year I held a number of meetings with gay soldiers and Marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew.�

�These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers,� he said, calling the policy �a useful speed bump that allowed temperatures to cool for a period of time while the culture continued to evolve.�

Shalikashvili backed up his opinion with figures from a Zogby poll of personnel �returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, three quarters of whom said they were comfortable interacting with gay people.�

He also noted that 24 other countries� militaries allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly, �including Israel, Britain, and other allies in the fight against terrorism.�

Spain, who pulled its troops out of Iraq after election victories by its left-of-center government, not only allows LGBT personnel to serve openly, but celebrated a marriage between two Army privates last year.

�I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces,� Shalikashvili concluded. �Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.�

He warned, however, that �the timing of the change should be carefully considered. As the 110th Congress opens for business, some of its most urgent priorities, like developing a more effective strategy in Iraq, share widespread support that spans political affiliations . . . Fighting early in this Congress to lift the ban on openly gay service members is not likely to add to that healing, and it risks alienating people whose support is needed to get this country on the right track.�

�Gen. Shalikashvili�s statement is the first by a Joint Chiefs chairman to call for repeal, and as such is enormously significant,� said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. �The Pentagon has dismissed more than 11,000 men and women under this law. We continue to lose critical personnel who happen to be gay.�

�As Gen. Shalikashvili points out, continuing to keep this law on the books is detrimental to our national security,� Osburn continued.




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