The Living Hell of "Donít Ask, Donít Tell"
by Bleu Copas, a gay former Army Sergeant and Arabic linguist
The beginning of my story looks a lot like that of many other Tennesseans, and Americans for that matter. I remember sitting on my dadís shoulders waving a small flag as we joined the community lining Johnson City streets to welcome home our troops. I sat in church every Sunday listening to my preacher using his old Navy stories from World War II to keep my attention. My uncles showed off their battle scars and bullet wounds from their tours in Vietnam. Early on, these great role models were helping me form a burning desire to serve my country, to wear the uniform.
The best decision I ever made was to enlist in the United States Army. On September 11, 2001, I was in the middle of my graduate studies at East Tennessee State University, but naturally I decided to put my studies on hold in order to satisfy my personal obligation as an American to defend my country.
My two-year training included stints at Fort Jackson, SC for Basic Training, the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA to learn Arabic, and Airborne School at Fort Benning, GA. I was quickly becoming very proficient with the skills needed to do my job and necessary to take care of my soldiers. However, just short of four yearsí service, my extensive Arabic training and Top Secret security clearance were thrown out the window, and my platoon in the 82nd Airborne Division lost a proven leader and experienced paratrooper. All because of an eight-month anonymous email campaign to convince my leaders to discharge me under the ďDonít Ask, Donít TellĒ law.
Although I received an honorable discharge and still consider myself a respectable veteran, my discharge continues to haunt me, instilling doubts in me that my service is somehow less credible or reputable. In the last couple of weeks though, I have been encouraged to hear our top military and bipartisan political leaders speaking out about their intentions to lift the ďDonít Ask, Donít TellĒ law.
The law is sorely outdated and is crippling many of our company and battalion commanders by forcing them to make decisions that weaken their unitsí readiness. My commander told me the day he handed me my discharge papers, that he regretted losing one of his best leaders, and that he did not feel I deserved to be fired by my country.
I never felt threatened or uncomfortable as a gay service member and even though everyone I worked with knew they were working alongside a gay soldier, it never became an issue of tension in our ranks.
In fact, I have never felt like I belonged to a family more than I did with my fellow soldiers. When I broke my leg and couldnít get around on my own, my buddies stepped up to help me. The fact that I am gay did not change the shared values of selfless service that had brought us to the military. It didnít change their willingness to help me get in and out of the shower. They were, and still are, my family.
Some lingering supporters of this discriminatory law mistakenly assume that these kinds of familial relationships canít exist without somehow destroying morale or compromising mission accomplishment. However, every study ever done regarding the issue of gays in the militaryóeven the one lawmakers supposedly referenced in the 1993 decision to implement DADTóhas debunked this myth, proving just the opposite.
The fact is that itís an insult to Americaís service members to assume they canít handle being confronted with soldiers of a different value system, race, religion, sexual preferences, or age. On a daily basis, soldiers are already maturely dealing with these differences, and their missions are still being accomplished. It is long past time to allow all service members to serve with integrity and honesty, and not live in fear that the government may be forced to fire them needlessly.