For the fourth straight year, discharges under the military's antigay "don't ask, don't tell" policy have fallen, according to Department of Defense figures released on Monday. The number of discharges has dropped 15% since fiscal year 2003 and 47% since the start of the global war on terror, reports the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a support organization for gay soldiers. "The continued drop in 'don't ask, don't tell' discharges at a time of war clearly shows that [the policy] is a law we don't need," said Kathi Westcott, SLDN senior counsel for law and policy. "These numbers clearly show that military commanders value good service members during a time of war, whether the service members are gay or straight."
According to the Department of Defense, 325 Army soldiers, 92 airmen, 59 marines, and 177 sailors were discharged in fiscal year 2004. Numbers for the Coast Guard were not released. These numbers represent the lowest annual "don't ask, don't tell" discharges since 1994 and the second lowest number of discharges in the last 20 years.
Despite this year's historic low, "don't ask, don't tell" continues to weaken U.S. military readiness by forcing out service members with critical skills, argues SLDN. Recently released Department of Defense information found that at least 20 Arabic linguists have been discharged under the antigay policy in
the past five years. Congressman Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), a leading opponent of "don't ask, don't tell" in the House of Representatives, stated, "Even one discharge of an able-bodied service member under 'don't ask, don't tell' during a time of war is one too many. At a time when reservists' tours of duty have been extended and thousands of former service members have been involuntarily recalled, 'don't ask don't tell' is stretching our troops to the breaking point. The Department of Defense should be focused on winning the war on terror, not advancing an agenda of discrimination."