Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog

6.30.2009

"Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell": The Struggle Continues

By Andrew Miller
The participation of gays in public life, particularly in the military, is a highly controversial issue, as manifested in the contentious battle over President Bill Clinton’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," a compromise military law that embraces mutual compliance between homosexual soldiers and their superiors. Homosexuals are banned and military officers are forbidden to ask if soldiers are gay. President Barack Obama promised to overturn this policy, but he hasn’t yet. To do so, he would need the support of the Congress.

This lightning rod issue was the subject of a debate between anti-"Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" Dr. Nathaniel Frank, an openly gay scholar focusing on gay rights and author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban undermines the Military and Weakens America and Dr. Brian E. A. Maue, a U.S. military official who speaks on his own behalf and holds a PhD in Policy Analysis and an MBS in Human Resources Management. The debate was held at non-partisan, nonprofit, research Pritzker Military Library. The moderator was Shawn Healy, managing director for the McCormick Freedom Museum.

Opening the debate, Dr. Frank explained that the law was "in search for rational." He took the position that original rationale behind the policy evolved and was based on a number of unsubstantiated claims. At first, gays were, as he said, seen as "unsuitable and weak." After that was proven false, gays were then portrayed as "sinful and mentally ill." This too, failed to convince the public, so gays were then portrayed as "a threat to security." After this claim failed to satisfy the public, gays were said to represent an "invasion of privacy" for straight people and were described as "disorderly." Dr. Frank emphasized that all of these stereotypes were proven false by the service of gays in American wars and were only "denigrating gays." According to Dr. Frank, after World War II, military studies showed that sexuality had no bearing on one’s conduct in war.

He continued to talk about homophobia in the military: straight people were reportedly "uncomfortable" with openly gay individuals, and yet the military is supposed to be a place of risks and uncomfortable situations, such as fighting in war. Dr. Frank noted that 24 countries allow openly gay soldiers in the military, and those countries have not been hurt militarily by such openness. According to Dr. Frank, this "policy of pretend" in America treats the soldiers like children, causes agony for closeted gay Americans, and increases sexual harassment in the military. All of this, in his opinion, is counter-productive for the American military and society as a whole. In a practical sense, the firing of openly gay Arab linguists only hurts America’s potential in fighting Islamic extremists.

Dr. Maue took the opposite position. In support of a military ban on gays in the military, rather than the "flawed" ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ Dr. Maue emphasized that the military defends all citizens, not just straight people, but it also must prioritize. For example, physically disabled people are not allowed to be in the military. In addition, age, height, and weight are taken into consideration in hiring recruits. Another key issue is separation of the sexes, because a crucial principle in the military is avoidance of unnecessary risks and disruptions. For example, you don’t see a male soldier doing a physical check-up on a female soldier. According to Dr. Maue, one doesn’t know what could happen between the two soldiers, but the military doesn’t want to take the "unnecessary risk."

Additionally, Dr. Maue stated that the military’s second important principle is justice, which has “three concurrent laws,” namely intelligible, objective, and universal. He stated that there had to be “separate sexual preference in areas of close body contact,” as shown in the male checkup of a female in the military. Also, he emphasized the fact that “people don’t behave all the time—straight or gay.” According to him, there is no preference for men or women or straights or gays. The military is supposed to be a neutral force. He criticized the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy as "not completely objective and universal," but didn’t mean that he wasn’t for some kind of ban on openly gay soldiers in the military.

This battle is hardly abating. Culture wars regarding the military continue between pro-gay and anti-gay activists. Both sides have thrown out statistics, trying to counter each other and persuade the public to join them. According to Dr. Frank, President Obama has the power to sign a Federal Order that allows openly gay service in the military, but he then must shepherd legislation through Congress to repeal the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." The battle rages on…

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SHAWN HEALY

Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project


Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.



Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.


First Amendment journalism initiative


The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at



Dave Anderson
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McCormick Foundation

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Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project


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