For Martin Luther King Day, we hear from an artist who makes civil rights heroes leap off the page.
Much has changed in American society since 1993, when the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was put in place. Most Americans now support its repeal — and the Department of Defense will spend the coming months making the transition to a post-“Don’t Ask” era. We’ll talk with workplace consultant Howard Ross about how such major changes affect the culture of large institutions like the military.
- Aaron Freed U.S. Air Force veteran who was discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell; web entrepreneur and founder of divvy.com
- Howard Ross Diversity consultant; Principal, Cook Ross
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. In 1778, the Continental Army discharged a lieutenant named Gauthold Fredrick Insulin for allegedly committing sodomy. 232 years later, the debate over the role of gays in the U.S. military now finally appears to be ending. President Obama signed legislation ending, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" before Christmas.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd the policy change is expected to go into effect in the coming months. But a new video just leaked to the media suggests the culture of the military may take longer to change. In that video, a navy captain, now commander of the U.S.S. Enterprise uses anti-gay slurs and vulgar language to entertain his crew. Joining us to talk about all of this is Howard Ross, workplace consultant and Principal with the Farm Cook Ross. Howard, Happy New Year. Good to see you again.
MR. HOWARD ROSSHappy New Year to you, Kojo. I'm very conscious, by the way, of my Washington accent now, having just listened to your previous segments.
NNAMDIYou are a Washingtonian?
ROSSI am, absolute, born and bred.
NNAMDIJoining us from studios in Seattle is Aaron Freed, graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a 12-year veteran of the Air Force. He was discharged in 2005 under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. He recently wrote a study for the Palm Center at UC Santa Barbara and training the military to adapt the repeal of "Don't Ask." He now lives in Seattle and is the founder of the web company, divvy.com. Aaron Freed, thank you for joining us.
MR. AARON FREEDGood morning, thanks for having me.
NNAMDIStarting with you, Howard Ross, President Obama has now signed this legislation. We appear to be in something of a holding pattern for at least a few months. What message do you think the military should be communicating to servicemen and women and potential recruits during this period?
ROSSWell, first of all, I think it's something for us to celebrate that one more example of legalized discrimination or bigotry is going into the dustpan of history. I think that, you know, first of all, and Aaron having been in the military can speak to this, I'm sure, with a lot more authority than I can. But, you know, one of the things about the military that's very interesting relative to social change is that the very structure of the military, the hierarchical structure, the need for protocols, for rules, actually makes it easier in some ways than for and lots of other kinds of organizations to make changes like this.
ROSSBecause when people send something down the chain of command, it actually has an authority that, for example, in a lot of organizations or community groups it doesn't have. And so the most important message right now should be, this is coming, resistance is futile and the question is, how are you going to make this work? And it begins by identifying very specific behaviors that are in accord with what the repeal of this policy means.
NNAMDITechnically, either policy remains in place until the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff certify that it will not harm military readiness. After that point, there will be a 60-day waiting period before the policy is implemented. Aaron Freed, in your recent report for the Palm Center, you seem to suggest that it may take a while for this policy to actually be removed longer than that 60-day waiting period. Why?
FREEDWell, I certainly might hope that we can pull off faster than we did the implementation of the policy back in 1993, which took 40 days from congressional enactment until it was fully enforced in the military. So a repeal certainly should take less time than implementation of the original. But the history of Pentagon training or training in the Department of Defense runs the range from implementation within days to years in some cases. And what we found is it really boils down to leadership in setting a date.
FREEDIn cases where training and implementation were protracted or cases where memorandums did not include very specific deadlines or where leadership wasn't provided the necessary support, guidance or held accountable to make sure that such policies were put into force expeditiously.
NNAMDIYou were discharged from the Air Force under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," can you share your story of servicing under this policy and why you eventually decided to disclose your status?
FREEDSure. I graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1993 when this debate first began and the policy went in force just as I, or at least the interim policy was enforced just as I was graduating. But as the director of a recent movie called, “Out of Annapolis,” Steve Hall has said about two-thirds of the people that enter the military; given the fact that that's about 18 years old, don't know their sexual orientation at the time they enter. And I would fall in that category.
FREEDSo I had to grow up in an environment where I wasn't able to explore my sexuality. So my journey wasn't quite as clear as some coming out of the closest. It took me a lot of years to figure it out and I reached a point where I realized that I was gay but I knew that I was in a world where I couldn't be it, where, under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" you couldn't say that you were gay, you couldn't engage in homosexual acts or you could not marry. And if those are the things that define one as gay and I couldn't do any of those things it was a really very strange place for me to be emotionally, psychologically.
FREEDAnd so when I found myself having finished my active duty service commitment I was six months from able to leave with no commitment, having served my time and done my combat time. I decided rather than going quietly I would make a statement. Let it be known that I was indeed homosexual so that the members of my chain of command and those whom I'd served with could wrestle with the fact that we have a policy that would keep people from serving, like myself, who had, by most estimation, a great career and I was being groomed for a generalship.
FREEDBut my presence was considered antithetical to good morale, order and discipline so I decided to tell my commander that I was gay and they proceeded with separation under the statement clause of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
NNAMDIThat's the formal part of it. How about the informal part of it? What was the reaction when you informed your commander and other leaders in the military at the time, what was their attitude towards you after you revealed this?
FREEDEveryone was extremely professional. They knew that they had a policy that they had to enforce whether or not they agreed with it personally and that is the nature of the military and that same professionalism with which they discharged me will be the same professionalism by which they implement the repeal of the policy.
FREEDI had several people pull me behind closed doors and say that they were forever challenged by my service and that if they ever met anyone that said that they felt, that said that homosexual don't belong in the military they would ask for proof. Because in having served with me they had proof to the contrary. So that was really a validating experience for me and it also improved my relationships with people.
FREEDBecause I think any policy that hurts communication, whether that's between friends or lovers or married people or in the workplace, is really what undermines, you know, cohesion and morale. That anyone who presumed I might be gay was in capable or not allowed to ask me about it and therefore defuse any of the concern or anxiety around it. We couldn't have a good laugh or a good chat about and move on.
NNAMDIWhat does that story say to you, Howard Ross?
ROSSWell, I think it speaks to the heart of what we're talking about. Which is the, you know, we've got one hand the policy issues and then on the other hand the psychological and social issues that underpin them and, you know, if we think about this, it's obviously much more than what the military is going to do, is what society is going to do.
ROSSI mean, if we look at the point that Aaron brought up about sort of dragging our feet on implementing this or the possibility of people dragging their feet. You know, if we go back to Brown vs. Broad of Education, it was 10 years before schools were really, truly integrated in our country. And we might even say longer than that beyond the legal determinations.
ROSSBut before there are even legal determinations that it was completely done, it was 10 years. We have a long history of holding onto these old beliefs and as long as we think of the DADT and the military as a separate thing. What we won't get is that it's our own homophobia as a society that lets us feel so hesitate about what's so obviously the right thing to do here.
ROSSAnd so while that's in the background we have all of this notion, I mean, when Aaron talks about his colleagues telling him how his experience shifted things. You know, in a way we know historically, if you look at the history of race relations in the military, for example, that when the military shifts around these issues it does have a huge impact on society.
ROSSWe can only imagine when we begin to have, for example, people getting medals or citations for heroic behavior in the battlefield and they are self-disclosed as gay or lesbian but that's going to begin to change the mindset of people about what gays or lesbians are capable of. The notion of gay men, for example, as weak and feminine, seen only as weak and feminine is going to be challenged by somebody having a medal pinned on their chest for saving their fellow soldiers in battle. So there's a deep psychological stream that runs through all of this that's much more ultimately impactful than the code.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to call us, the number is 800-433-8850. Have you, a family member or a friend been directly impacted by "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? If so, we'd like to hear your story. 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. You can send e-mail to kojowamu.org or send us a tweet at kojoshow.
NNAMDIThere's a new video that was just released by the Virginian Pilot newspaper that shows Navy captain Owen Honors making jokes about sex and vulgar language. Here is a portion of that clip and I should warn you that some listeners may find it objectionable. If you want to get young people away from it, you might want to do that right now. But here's that clip.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1The admiral and the captain have no idea about the contents of the video or movie this evening and they should not be able to in any judicial setting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2Over the years I've gotten several complaints about inappropriate material during these videos. Never to me personally, but gutlessly through other channels. This evening, all of you bleeding hearts, and you fag (word?) boy, why don't you just go ahead and hug yourselves for the next 20 minutes or so because there's a really good chance you're going to be offended tonight.
CAPTAIN OWEN HONORSThis evening we're going to go through some racy topics and after that, we're going to go through some old clips that MC1 Gushner and I thought were pretty funny.
#2The first topic is something we always get easy laughs on.
NNAMDII could describe for you what goes on after that, but if you have any imagination, you probably can figure it out yourself so I won't really bother to describe it in detail. But first, Aaron Freed, I'm pretty sure you've heard about this. It's been making the rounds of news media. What's your response to that clip or that video?
FREEDWell, I'm very proud of my military service and I'm very proud of military brothers and sisters and anytime that there are news stories or information that comes out that tarnishes the good image character of those people I'm saddened and I'm just shocked that -- well, I'm eager to see what the Navy will do in the days to come. I know they've initiated an investigation. I'm just disappointed this wasn't dealt with a little more decisively back in 2005 or '06 when these videos were first released.
NNAMDIHoward Ross, and of course there was a lot of explicit references to the word fag in the course of this video and just a lot of objectionable stuff.
ROSSMm-hmm, well, I think, you know, the thing that I thought was the most interesting -- I watched video in its entirety or at least a part that was put out on the end. I don't know its entirety and he -- there's a piece that I think captures something before the piece that you just played and that is, he describes it as his last normal video. And I think that that, that really speaks volumes about what we're dealing with in situations like this.
ROSSYou know, how something like that is described as normal. Because it's easy to look at somebody like, you know, Commander Honors or somebody and say, well, this guy is the problem. But I think that there's a much broader issue, which is this kind of boys will be boys attitude that pervades in a lot of circumstances, almost like a frat boy attitude and this kind of humor that is accepted as the norm.
ROSSIf you remember, after tail hooks, similar things were said, well, this was just sort of what we do. We've had the same thing said when there have been racial incidents. I was just teasing. And then this was kind of interesting because they said -- on one hand, he says, I know some of this will, as we just heard, some of this will offend people. But then the response was there was no intention to offend. So I think that there's two issues.
ROSSThere's the individual issue, what do you do about this individual person. And there's a second issue, which is how do we begin to look at systemically eliminating the kinds of jokes, the kind of things that create hostile environment for people who are not considered to be, quote, "in the norm group," whether in this case it's folks who are gay or lesbian, but also there are some gender issues that come around in this as well.
NNAMDIWe're also inviting your calls if you have heard or seen that video, you certainly heard the clip we just played. Call us at 800-433-8850 to offer your opinion. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation about the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and how it should be implemented. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with workplace consultant and principal with the firm Cook Ross, Howard Ross, about the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". He joins us in our Washington studio. Joining us studios in Seattle is Aaron Freed, graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a 12-year veteran of the Air Force. Aaron Freed was discharged in 2005 under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
NNAMDIHe recently wrote a study for the Palm Center at UC Santa Barbara on training the military to adapt the repeal of "Don't Ask." He now lives in Seattle and is the founder of the Web company, divvy.com. Allow me to go to the telephones. Here is Dave in Leesburg, Virginia. Dave, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVEYes. First of all, I'd like to say to your guest (unintelligible) average.
ROSSFriendly good, good.
DAVENext, I'd like to say that I -- while I was on active duty, I never noticed any difference between those I suspected of being gay and those who were not, as far as performance, loyalty, courage, commitment and all the things that matters. And I had the opportunity to help a young person, get her commission. She's currently serving and probably waiting for the day that she can come out and be honest about who she is. It's about time.
NNAMDIAaron Freed, care to respond?
FREEDI agree. At the time, I wrote a memorandum when I came out to my command and to read it now is a little emotional for me. And I realize what a terrible place I was in emotionally to not be able to be myself. It was very subtle and yet very profound, because to most people, it seems quite natural to not have to discuss or not be allowed to discuss sexual matters at work. But in fact, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a misnomer. It was really a don't be and to the extent that I couldn't be myself under my ability to be a good officer or a good fellow service member. So, absolutely, I think this will allow a lot of us a lot more peace.
NNAMDIDave, thank you very much for your call. Howard?
ROSSYeah, Aaron, you're really talking about something that's so important for people to understand and that is that this is not an issue of sexuality. It's an issue of orientation. And so many people see this as a sexual issue. But really, what you describe as a way of being is really what's at the heart of it for so many folks who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. And, you know, when we think about sexuality, we can say that there are all kinds of ways that people are monitored in terms of appropriate sexuality in any kind of workplace situations whether it's the military or business.
ROSSYou know, we know that there are certain things that are just not appropriate. There are certain things that are considered to be hostile environment. There are certain things that are considered to be harassment. But this goes far deeper than that. What people are asked to do is actually pretend like they weren't something that they were. And that, at the heart and depth of the pain that we can hear in your voice, Aaron, when you share that.
NNAMDIThe topic that always gets easy left according to Captain Owen Honors as he refers to it, the F bomb. But there's another F word, fag, that's repeatedly used in this video and it seems that even after "Don't Ask" is long gone, there's a bigger cultural change in the military that's going to maybe take a longer time to happen, Howard.
ROSSWell, I think culture change does take time. You're talking about, you know, hundreds of thousands of people who turn over regularly. So you got new people coming in and new people coming in, et cetera. But as I said before, I think one of the things that we -- there are two things that strike me. I mean, one is that there's a lot of concern about how this is going to affect soldiers moving forward.
ROSSYou heard that in, you know, and you hear Senator McCain talking about it or other people talking about it. But all of that completely negates the effect it's been having on people moving from the past. That is the effect of asking people to lie when they're asking on code of honesty, the effect of asking people to hide themselves as Aaron was just saying. All of these kinds of things. So I think that that's all there.
ROSSBut the military has the ability to do this far more easily, I don't mean to simplify it, but far more easily than a lot of other organizations or institutions cans because of the fact that the military operates by very clear protocols, very clear sense of ordering behavior and holding people accountable to very specific behavior as part of the fundamental structure of the organization.
NNAMDICare to comment on that cultural change and how you see it taking place, Aaron?
FREEDOne thing I do want to comment on is that the use of gay or fag derogatorily is still being used quite commonly at least in my circles but less and less so the more people know that I'm gay. I've had friends who have grown up using the word gay or that's so gay. But now knowing me, they've been more careful and considered that that's really not an appropriate thing to say. And I think the same thing will happen in the military where those words have been used just for fun and why don't you put a face now that we can come out to our -- the people we're serving with, they'll see that they are hurting people in using those terms in that way. And I think that we'll see change.
ROSSEspecially when that face is your commanding officer.
NNAMDIHere is John in Waldorf, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNYes. Can you hear me, Kojo?
NNAMDIYes, we can, John.
JOHNOkay. I have spent 30 years in the Air Force in the military.
JOHNAs far as I'm concerned, homosexuality is an abomination. It says so in the Bible. I think that way and millions of other Americans think that way and you can never change our opinion because what the Bible says is what we believe in. And that's my final answer on this whole question. It's just plain an abomination. And if you're a religious person, then you believe in the Old Testament, which I do, then there's no other way to get around it. That's what the Bible says.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, John. Rather than debate John on that issue, we'll raise it as an issue that is likely to be raised in the implementation of getting rid of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and that is there are a lot of religious people in the military, people who consider themselves Christian and many of them chaplains in the military who will feel that it goes against their fundamental beliefs in the Bible to go along with ending this program. How, in your opinion, Aaron Freed, should those people be dealt with?
FREEDWell, the Pentagon site that was released back in November 30th along with the implementation plan made it clear that we have no intent, or the Pentagon has no intent, of trying to change people's attitudes. You get to think what you want, you just have to act like everyone else. There still is a military culture, there are standards of conduct that are expected to be maintained by all members of the armed forces.
FREEDBut at no point are we trying to tell people that we think sexuality -- that they have to change their attitudes about sexuality and they address, I believe, we disagree -- I imagine the gentleman who just called in disagrees with people on other philosophical issues and religion or taxation or government, and yet he still wore the uniform, he still served next to other people that have differing opinions from him for 30 years. And that's what the military does.
NNAMDIHoward, there are some 3,000 members of the clergy currently serving as military chaplains and we've heard a lot of talk about how some of their religious beliefs like our caller John may conflict the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". Again, how should this be handled?
ROSSWell, there are a couple of things here in John's comments. I mean, first of all, virtually every human being on the planet selectively chooses which passages of the Bible are sacrosanct to us and which are not. You know, for example, in Numbers or Leviticus, in Numbers and Leviticus, it speaks to not working on the Sabbath and says that in fact it's an abomination not to work on the Sabbath and you can stone your neighbor to death for working on the Sabbath. But I would imagine that John is not likely to be throwing stones at his next door neighbor when he mows his lawn on Sunday. And we can go and on. There literally are hundreds of similar places in the Bible where it's speaking to something that's just not real.
ROSSAnd the other question is, you know, when does our personal religious law becomes civil law. I mean, I grew up in a culture -- I'm Jewish. And I grew up in a culture in which we were taught that we couldn't eat any pork products or pig products. Same is true for my daughter-in-law who's Hindu and my friends who are Muslim. And in fact, about half the planet, and yet, you know, that doesn't mean we should make it against the law.
ROSSSo I think that the real question is how do we separate what is policy from people's personal religious beliefs. And chaplains in the military have long been confronted with the fact that they often have to tend to the needs not just of people who are from their own belief system, but also people who are from others. I have a very good friend who's been a chaplain in the military for 30 years who's a rabbi, but he also does pastoral counseling for people who are Christian, for people of any faith. And that's part of their training. So I actually think that over time it would be easier on the chaplains than it will be for some people who just have very stringent and narrow views of what this is about.
NNAMDIWe're discussing the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with our regular, Howard Ross. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you think the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will have an impact on American society beyond the military? 800-433-8850. Here is Gene in Aspen Hill, Md.
GENEHi, Kojo. I'd like to ask your guests how they foresee that the love relationships in combat units will be managed?
FREEDHow I would see love relationships in combat units?
GENEYes. Many organizations throughout society have policies governing -- usually separating the lovers, you know, it doesn't have to be sexual, just close relationship.
FREEDI've served in flying squadrons which had combat roles at one time or the other. And I did serve with couples, married couples, who are both pilots in the same squadrons or in separate squadrons. Sometimes there were rules. It had to be invoked that they couldn't be deployed together, they couldn't fly in the same mission together because it would undermine cockpit resource management. So those sort of procedures and policies are already in place for heterosexual couples. They're probably not going to be extended to homosexual couples because the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is not a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, so homosexuals will still be construed as single individuals.
FREEDSo that's probably not something that will be addressed in the short term, but something certainly for the long term. And when and if homosexual couples are countenance in the same way heterosexual couples are, yes, those same rules around deploying them together in combat, much as we do the same consideration for parents, you don't want to send two parents if they have a child into combat will be extended to homosexual couples.
NNAMDIIn addition to which, Howard, unless you wanted to add something before I...
ROSSNo, I just think -- I think Aaron's point is well taken, which is that every situation like this that we need to deal with relative to the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is already being dealt with relative to having men and women together in the service.
NNAMDIThere are apparently a number of service men and women who have asked for the possibility of separate bathrooms and living quarters if gays and lesbians are allowed to openly serve. The Pentagon study on the issue essentially shoots down that option. How would you address this issue if you were a military officer charged with dealing with those concerns, Howard?
ROSSWell, I think that what we say -- first of all, we can talk about the reality about the fact that they've been sharing bathrooms with people for the entire time they've been in the military who are gay and that the only thing that's changed is their awareness of it. So to the degree that they felt any danger before that should have been dealt with and to the degree that they would expect to sense any more danger in the future, it's all -- this is all the mind. It's not the reality of what's happening, it's all fear. And I think it speaks to what Aaron talked about in his report, which is that there does need to be a level of education that needs to occur to help people to understand where these biases come from.
ROSSThere's really no difference in dealing with this relative to the biases that we saw when race equality was introduced into the military, the notion of, you know, how can I take orders from a commanding officer who is African-American if I'm white and is raised to believe that they were less than I am. The same thing has happened for women in the military over time. We're still, of course, going through that transition but nonetheless, the same thing has happened.
ROSSBut I think that having to do that training doesn't mean we have to wait until that training is completely done through the military to institute new policies and procedures and new codes of conduct that people need to be accountable for. And that can happen very rapidly and should happen very rapidly. And then the training can evolve over time. I'm looking at the various ways that can be done to get people to understand better their biases and how much of this stuff they're really just making up.
NNAMDIThe Pentagon study says, "The creation of a third and possibly fourth category of bathroom facilities and living quarters whether at bases or forward deployed areas will be a logistical nightmare, expensive and impossible to administer. And even if it could be achieved and administered, separate facilities would, in our view, stigmatize gay and lesbian service members in a manner reminiscent of separate but equal facilities for blacks prior to the 1960s." Any comment, Aaron Freed?
FREEDI think I couldn't put it better than that.
NNAMDIIn that case, let me go to Stewart in Arlington, Va. Stewart, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEWARTHi, Kojo, thanks for having me on. My name is Stewart (word?). I actually had the privilege and the honor to serve and fly with Aaron Freed back in the Air Force where he got out.
STEWARTAnd how's it going, man?
FREEDIt's good to hear your voice.
STEWARTGood to hear you, too. I turned on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" coming home from classes and I'm like, there's my friend. Aaron Freed talking about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". But I just wanted to say to sort of piggyback on his comment that as someone who watched him operate in his own squadron in the military, I was always very impressed with him as a pilot and as an officer. And everything that he said about -- he's definitely on the fast track and he decided to kind of put the policy to the test and say, hey, I'm going to put my cards on the table and get out. I mean, I think you were going to get out anyway, right?
FREEDI was, yes.
STEWARTWell, he kind of said it, I'm going to do this to demonstrate that this policy is -- it's past its prime. However, here's the part that actually, as much as I respected him as a pilot and I enjoyed his company and we were friends for years, I don't see how it relates, you know, someone can be a great pilot or a great submarine driver or a great infantry officer and be gay. That's fine. You know, your sexual orientation has no bearing on your ability to perform all the different functions in the military.
STEWARTAnd that's sort of what we decided in 1993. And now 2011 that they repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and now we're saying, okay, now it's not that big a deal, we can talk about these things openly now. So I just -- I'm a little confused as far as -- it's difficult -- Aaron, let me ask you this, how do you see this specific -- I'm losing my train of thought here, I'm sorry -- as far as the barracks are concerned, like when we were, let's see...
NNAMDIWell, how do you see -- do you see the barracks arrangement as being any different, Aaron?
STEWARTSay that again, Kojo.
NNAMDIDoes Aaron see the barracks arrangements being affected in any way at all by the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Stewart?
STEWARTYeah, I mean, I know it will be a logistical nightmare and I agree with that. But what's the alternative? I mean, we don't have men and women together for obvious reasons because a woman has a legitimate right to privacy. If there are men who react to other men that way, I mean, don't the men have a reasonable right to privacy as well? There's my question.
NNAMDIWhat do you think about that, Aaron?
FREEDWell, Stewart, you and I deployed to the Gulf region more than on one occasion if memory serves, and we shared tents, if not with you than with other guys. And there were those in the squadron that presumed that I was gay and that we couldn't talk about it, but we got the mission done, and I can expect that will continue to be the case. Somewhere your question I think you're wondering what will materially change.
FREEDThere are standards of conduct not allowing sexual conduct of any sort on duty or in uniform. That goes for heterosexuals presently, and not homosexuals. Well, it's always been the case for them as well. Marrying isn't going to happen while on duty. So the only difference is the very subtle and yet very profound opportunity for me to casually say something like, my boyfriend, or to have a picture of my boyfriend, or to say that I went on a date with someone.
FREED"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is still in full effect, unfortunately, in my family, and they think it's a completely reasonable policy that I don't discuss these issues. But it undermines my ability to connect with people that I love. And "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" undermined my ability to connect with the people that I would serve and possibly die with, to just make a casual comment that I love someone and nothing else.
STEWARTWell, I can understand that, but I guess being in the military it's like they tell us where to go, they tell us where to dress, they tell us what missions to fly. I mean, everything we do in the military is taking an order in some sense. So the freedom to say I have sexual orientation XYZ, or I want to do XYZ sexually, I just don't -- it's hard for me to understand how that has gone from appropriate -- or inappropriate to appropriate.
STEWARTI mean, if it has no bearing on your ability to do the mission, I mean, I can't put on my uniform and say all sorts of things. I can't put on my uniform and go all sorts of places, and this is -- it's just one of those things that we weren't allowed to do, you know. I do agree...
STEWART...with the findings that, you know, this is going to have little to no effect on the mission, because people in military are going to do the mission. We're going to get it done no matter what.
NNAMDIOkay, Stewart. Here is both -- first Howard Ross and then Aaron Freed again.
ROSSI think that there's, you know, and first of all, I appreciate that there's a certain honesty in Stewart's inquiry that I appreciate. And one of the challenges of dealing with these issues as you I have talked about so many times Kojo, is that we can't have discourse for fear that we're not going to say the politically correct right thing to say. So I really appreciate that.
ROSSI think at the heart of understanding this, and I can say this as a straight who's worked on this issues for many, many years, both with myself and with folks in the LGBT community, is that it's very difficult for us to understand having the privilege of being straight in a predominantly society. What it actually feels like not to be able to talk about your sexual orientation.
ROSSAnd we do this exercise sometimes when we're doing training where we ask people to take a period of time, take a couple days, and live your life as if you couldn't talk about this for fear of losing your job. You know, go around and every time somebody says to you what did you do this weekend, who did you do it with, are you married, do you have family.
ROSSAnd whenever you meet somebody new, consciously act as if revealing your heterosexuality would potentially threaten your job, or even worse, as we know because of hate crimes and the like. And it's profound for people at times to understand how many times this enters your consciousness when you have to pay attention to it. But that's something -- because we have the privilege of our heterosexuality in a predominantly heterosexual society.
ROSSWe have no sense of the weight that that carries for people. And so when people say, you know, sort of like, what's the big deal, so you don't have to talk about the fact that your gay, you know, who cares, what's the big deal, a lot of comes from our ignorance in not realizing the weight that that carries.
NNAMDIAaron, allow me to ask another question that may be running around in Stewart's mind, and that is, if there is no longer "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", if your colleagues in your unit happen to know that individuals in the unit are gay, I suspect Stewart feels that it could change the nature of the relationship because members of your unit may feel that either you can be attracted to them, or they can be attracted to you, and that could change the internal dynamic of the unit.
FREEDWell, I often lamented the fact that I didn't have the ability to say, yeah, I'm gay, but that doesn't make you hot. (laugh)
NNAMDIWhich is exactly what I was thinking.
ROSSGet over yourself, right?
NNAMDIBut Stewart, thank you very much for making your call. We do have to move on. We've got to take a short break. Again, Stewart, thank you for calling.
STEWARTThanks for having me. It's good to talk to you, Aaron.
FREEDI'll talk to you later, Stu, thanks.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, you can call 800 -- or you can call right now, 800-433-8850. Do you think the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will have an impact on society beyond the military? Has a family member been directly impacted by "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? 800-433-8850. Go to our website kojoshow.org. Send an e-mail to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with Aaron Freed. He's a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and a 12-year veteran of the Air Force. He joins us from studios in Seattle, Washington. Howard Ross is in Washington D.C. studio with us. He is a work place consultant and principal with the firm, Cook Ross.
NNAMDIWhat sort of basic training do you think the end of a policy like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will require? How do you make a change like this in an organization as huge as the military? First you, Aaron Freed.
FREEDWell, the short answer is, I don't know. And I think that there's -- it's tempting to opine on what is necessary, and you could -- like the British military just issued a seven-page memorandum when they revoked their policy against homosexuals, and distributed as talking points to commanders. That was very quick and easy. Other times the U.S. military has implemented, like in sexual assault training, extensive facilitator programs and computer-based training.
FREEDBut the bottom line is, it's not our business. The military is in the business of organizing, training, and equipping troops, and I'd really like to suggest that we all, to invoke General Patton's quote, never tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their ingenuity. I'm a big advocate of let's just set a date by which this policy has to be enforced and then let the military decide how elaborate or how simple the training they want to implement.
NNAMDIHoward, let's go back to 1993 when "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was first put into place. At the time, the policy was seen as a compromise, the only option seemingly available after President Clinton was unable to reverse a military ban on gays and lesbians. What has changed since then in terms of society and in terms of our attitudes about this?
ROSSWell, I think we've seen an enormous shift in what's considered to be quote "normal" relative to this issue. I mean, it's really quite astonishing when you think about how much of a change there's been in a 20-year period. And, you know, there have been a lot of factors in that. You know, sadly one of the factors was the AIDS epidemic, which of course in the early days hit mostly gay men.
ROSSAnd all of a sudden there were people all around the country and turned around and found that only public figures like Rock Hudson for example, and others, but also their nephews, their cousins, their brothers, sisters, mother -- or parents, you know, whatever were of sexual orientation then they had always assumed. And getting back to the point that Aaron made before, which was all of a sudden there's a face to this thing.
ROSSIt's not just those people, it's now, you know, John or Sally or whoever. And I think that that's a big piece. And clearly the media has contributed a lot to that shift. We know have TV shows and, you know, not only do we have stars who people know are gay or lesbian, but we also have shows that call attention to it, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and all of this kind of thing. And again, if I could just for a moment touch on your question about training though, Kojo.
ROSSFor me, in my experience, the three major parts of effective training around these kinds -- these diversity related issues, the first is informational. And that is making sure people have foundational sound information about the issues that they're dealing with. What does it really mean, what does it not mean, who are the numbers, what are the people, etc. etc., so that they can have good information to fill in all of the misinformation people have, particularly in the Internet age.
ROSSThe second is what we might call transformational. And that is getting people to take a look at -- I call it shining a flashlight on ourselves. Why do I believe the things that I believe? You know, why is it that I decided to buy into this as we were talking about earlier, this particular passage in the Bible but not the hundreds of others that I ignore, for example.
ROSSWhat is it about this that I'm attached to? Where's my fear coming from and how does that affect the way I'm going to deal with people? And then the third is situational, and that is, what do you do in this particular case? What are the behaviors consistent with this policy? And I think any effective change has to have some combination of those three.
NNAMDIWe got this from David in Arlington, Va. "Sorry, but if you guys cannot see how being forced to disrobe in front of people who you explicitly know find your gender sexually attractive does not cross boundaries, we have nothing to talk about. There is nothing different about this than there would be if the military were to mandate unisex bathrooms. I predict recruitment will drop sharply as it becomes clear what this policy changes, practical implications will mean." Care to comment on that, Aaron Freed?
FREEDI think if we were to look at how this has unfolded in other countries that implemented that a repeal of their homosexual ban, they found that it was really much ado about nothing. That there were a lot of people that were concerned that claimed that they would leave service early or it would affect recruitment, and in fact, those things never came to be. So I think the emotional argument, the fear, will be removed once you have the ability to put a face to that name, and find that it's really not a big deal.
NNAMDIHere's Ty at Fort Drum in New York. Ty, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi Ty, are you there?
TYYeah. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
TYOkay. I just wanted to commend Aaron as far as what he did in being able to come out in the military. I'm in the military myself, in the Army. Been there for seven years, and I have a boyfriend and, you know, it's hard to be yourself as Aaron said earlier -- it's hard to be yourself and be in the military. It's like people don't understand who you are, and they judge you for it. So I just wanted to say, I commend you Aaron, and keep up the good work.
NNAMDIHang in there, Ty.
ROSSYeah. Thanks you for your service, Ty.
ROSSYou know, one of the things about this, Kojo, that gets lost in this whole conversation, is striking to me how infrequently we hear it talked about is the level of patriotism, and commitment to our country, that has people like Aaron, like Ty, like all the people we're talking about, put themselves in harm's way, put their lives on the line knowing that they're going to an institution that up to this point has legally discriminated against them.
ROSSAnd it's shocking to me how few people actually see that, that depth of commitment to our country and patriotism that's underneath this issue.
NNAMDIAaron, I got to tell you, Howard's getting emotional. I better go to Steven in Alexandria, Va. Steven, you are on air. Go ahead, please.
STEVENKojo, great show, great topic. I served 22 years in the military, and listening to some of the comments people are making, it's the way it always has been. Some people don't like it, some people do. Listen, you can't chase it out of society, you can't chase anything out of society. If people want to be a certain way, they're going to be, whether you're heterosexual or you're going to be homosexual. It doesn't make any difference.
STEVENIn 22 years, I enjoyed everybody that I worked with whether they were -- whatever they're persuasion was. I wish some of these people that are having difficulties now, and have for the last few years worked for me when I was active duty, because I didn't care. You do what you're going to do. If you come to work and you do your job, do your job and do it well and we appreciate it. And I'll send you away with the same awards that I sent the other people away with. It was great.
STEVENWe had a good time no matter what they were. Some of my best friends were gay in the military. I didn't care. They did what they had to do. They knew what I was doing. I knew what they were doing. The comment about a guy down south there who was commenting about the Bible. You know what, if he wants to read the greatest story ever sold, let him. That's his choice. But to me, that's just another view of things. People do what they want to do.
STEVENCongratulations on what you guys are doing, and I appreciate it, and keep doing it. And this thing's going to blow over, and before long people won't even remember. There was a thing, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? You got to be kidding me. Fifty years from now, people aren't going to care.
NNAMDISteven, I'm very glad you brought that up, because Aaron, one of the things that made Howard emotional, that makes all of us emotional, is that this is not just a job. These are people who have chosen to serve their country in the most dangerous and life-threatening way possible, and that's not a very easy decision to make when, as Howard pointed out, you know that you are serving your country, but the particular institution through which you are serving your country doesn't have an official acceptance of you. Care to comment on that, Aaron?
FREEDWell, to echo what Steven said, I served with some incredible people, and some of my fondest memories are of my time in the military. And I only regret that it could have been that much better had I been able to be myself and have people know my truth. Not that I wished to parade, and I want to be clear that the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by no means is this license to change the social norms.
FREEDWe are still going to be the same organization that we've always been, but we're going to be better because we're going to have a more cohesive force because we're all going to know and be that much closer to each other as brothers and sisters in arms.
NNAMDISteven, thank you for your call. Here is Kay in Germantown, Md. Kay, your turn.
KAYThank you, Kojo. I love this show and I am so grateful that you are doing this topic. I have two comments. I'm currently active duty Navy, and I really want to say that at the end of the day, we have forgotten history. And the same excuses and arguments that were used against having African-Americans, having integrated armed forces, having women in the armed forces, is being used now, and it's absolutely come to nothing.
KAYThis is about a shift that's being threatened by -- people are being threatened by their own desire of power, and they're scared of change because they feel if change happens, then the people that I abuse, the people that I oppress, the people that I said nasty things to on the video camera about when they're empowered they're going to do something to me.
NNAMDIHey, Kay, thank you so much for your call. We're running out of time, but since you mentioned the video, I do have to read this e-mail we got from Keith in Silver Spring who says, "Don't confuse the juvenile stunted behavior of the USS Enterprise's commanding officer with the behavior of the services in general. As an eight-year Navy vet, I know for a fact that the services are ready for this change. Keep in mind, these videos were made well before serious thought was given to ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".
ROSSYeah. Kojo, if I could just -- piggybacking both on what Steven and Kay said, and Kay by the way, thank you for your service as well. This is an inevitable flow of history that we're a part of here. You know, for the last 900 years since the Magna Carta, history has inexorably moved towards greater equality. I mean, there's stops and starts, we have two steps forward and one step back sometimes. But it's inexorably the direction we're going. And I couldn't agree more with what Steven said.
ROSSThere's going to be a time and it won't be that far into the future when we're going to look back at this just like we do in 1960 in Mississippi and say, what were we thinking?
NNAMDIHoward Ross is a workplace consultant and principal with the firm, Cook Ross. Aaron Freed is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a 12-year veteran of the Air Force. Aaron Freed, thank you so much for joining us.
FREEDThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAaron Freed was discharged in 2005 under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. He recently wrote a study for the Palm Center at U.C. Santa Barbara on training the military to adapt to the repeal of Don't Ask. Aaron Freed now lives in Seattle, and is the founder of the web company, divvy.com. Howard Ross, always a pleasure.
ROSSGood to see you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Oh, happy birthday, Howard.
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