LGBT organizations and gay service member advocacy groups met last week with Pentagon officials for a status update on implementation of “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, The Advocate has learned.
During the Friday meeting, which included representatives from Human Rights Campaign, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Center for American Progress, Servicemembers United, Outserve, Third Way, and American Veterans for Equal Rights, advocates discussed ongoing concerns related to DADT repeal, including the lack of antidiscrimination protections for gay service members under the Military Equal Opportunity program. Representatives from two separate organizations spoke to The Advocate on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the meeting.
Concerns addressed at the meeting centered on three main topics: benefits for same-sex partners of gay service members, the insufficiency of existing channels for reporting antigay harassment, and a mechanism to allow those removed from the armed forces under DADT to reclassify their discharge.
“The bottom line was this: Because the Repeal Implementation Team sees that the task before them is to implement the Pentagon Working Group Report, it was important for us to raise these issues,” said a source.
At the one-hour meeting — led by Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Steven A. Hummer of the Repeal Implementation Team — officials spoke about completion dates for DADT implementation training but would not speculate on a possible certification date for repeal, though a source said a “summer or fall window” is likely and that certification is not necessarily tied to completion of training.
“[Pentagon officials] led us to believe that certification could be earlier or later than [training completion],” said one source. “Certification depends on a commander’s judgment of a unit’s readiness, more than checking the box of a unit’s training. … But they were very careful not to make commitments. The more we pushed, the more they stuck to their talking points.”
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” remains in effect until the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the military is prepared to implement repeal, followed by a 60-day waiting period.
Officials said the Marine Corps is scheduled to complete implementation training by May 31, the Navy by June 1, and the Army and Air Force by mid-August.
Regarding benefits for same-sex military spouses, the groups in attendance pressed officials to devise solutions similar to those of government agencies such as the State Department, which has provided broader benefits to its employees under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that are not barred under the Defense of Marriage Act.
In the absence of sexual orientation nondiscrimination language in the Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) program, advocates pressed for a sensible and efficient mechanism for gay service members to report abuse. Officials have said that service members can report antigay harassment to a commander or to the Inspector General’s office.
“But a young service member could be fairly intimidated to take a harassment complaint all the way to the IG,” said a source. “We did discuss the idea that even though sexual orientation may not be explicitly contained within the MEO program, having the MEO serve as a resource for finding solutions for individuals suffering harassment could be an option. There has to be a way for service members to access a complaint process that they can navigate.”
Advocates also recommended that the Pentagon consider creating a special discharge review board to handle what may be a large amount of former service members seeking to have their discharge statuses upgraded.
A source noted it’s likely that Pentagon officials have met or will meet with anti-repeal groups as well to discuss implementation plans.
Update: A Pentagon spokeswoman issued the following statement on Wednesday afternoon:
DoD's Repeal Implementation Team held stakeholder outreach meetings last week to share information and hear any concerns and comments from organizations that represent current or former service members, families and the general public. The groups invited were largely the same ones who worked with the Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG), to help inform their final report in December.
All the services have begun training and expect to have it completed this summer. The services are training most members before deployment. They will provide training to those deployed as the opportunity presents itself, based on the type of unit and mission they have. If members do not receive training while deployed, they will be trained upon return. We'll provide commanders and experts in the field with the education and training tools to educate the force on what is expected in a post repeal environment. The training materials were developed based upon the CRWG's Support Plan for Implementation (SPI), and packaged in such a way to facilitate low bandwidth and non-traditional training settings and include slides, narration, vignettes and Q&A. The predominant form of teaching is by commanders and leaders, but the services are also using Mobile Training Teams, Chain Teaching and Computer-Based Training.
The decision to certify will be made by the SecDef/Chairman when they determine DoD is ready to make this change consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces, and that conditions have been met for all the services, commands and units.
Training the force is an essential component to ensuring implementation is consistent with these standards. However, certification by the secretary and the chairman does not require a hundred percent of the people to be trained. We're going to try to get to a high percentage of the units as quickly as we can.