By Anthony Palermo and Lindsay Schare
“DADT is government-sanctioned discrimination. There are thousands of closeted gay women and men serving in our armed forces today, and we disrespect their service by clinging on to this insulting law,” said Captain Joe Lopez, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and a current JD/MBA candidate at Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Army for almost five years, during which he was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot and a platoon leader in Iraq, before being discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Captain Lopez spoke at a recent panel discussion moderated by Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow that featured Harvard Law Professors and those who had served in the military.
Saying that they would not “pretend to be balanced,” they professed their belief that the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy does not serve the national interest. Martha Minow and others said that DADT bars some of the most qualified Americans from service and potentially deters qualified heterosexual Americans from service as well. One recent example of such a brain drain cited by the panel is Dan Choi, an officer in the Army National Guard and Iraq combat veteran, who is fluent in Arabic but was discharged after coming out of the closet. The DADT policy necessitates the exclusion of otherwise capable individuals, like Choi. This includes, perhaps, Harvard students deterred or disqualified from pursuing such career opportunities last week.
Some of the panelists that served in the military as homosexuals described working under constant fear of the law that could discharge them at anytime for displaying any “homosexual tendency.” They said that this ever-present distraction made it more difficult for them to focus on their duty, making their valuable work more dangerous. Yet in an effort to demonstrate that their service was unaffected by their personal lives, Captain Lopez and other panelists also described the highlights of their military performance and their numerous accolades. They maintain their status as homosexuals never hurt their units’ cohesion.
Strong arguments were made that the military’s previous, successful integration of African-Americans and women, despite vehement opposition, has demonstrated its capacity to overcome any difficulty that could be presented with allowing gay service members. Given what they perceive as a desperate need for troops, Captain Lopez and others made a powerful presentation about the need to – at the very least – critically review, if not repeal, the DADT policy for the sake of national security.
A day after the panel discussion, several Harvard Law School students protested the presence of military recruiters on the law school’s campus. At the same time, some of their peers interviewed for positions with the US Armed Forces. (Friday’s protest was planned in advance of the panel). The Harvard panel on DADT came less than a week after a large gay rights demonstration in Washington, D.C. and a pledge by President Obama to end DADT.
NSJ will continue to cover this issue in the coming weeks.
More information on Obama’s renewed pledge to end DADT can be found in the report by