'Don't ask, don't tell' policy a thing of the past, but still plenty of work left to do

Memorial Day, which we just observed, is a day when the nation collectively pays its respects to all of our fallen soldiers of war. The military has a certain value in this country, and American culture puts an emphasis on respecting our troops and all that they do to keep our country safe. But it wasn't too long ago that all of the members of our military did not get the respect that they deserved. 

Back in the '90s, the military employed a strict policy of “don't ask, don't tell” (DADT) in regards to LGBTQI soldiers and staff, which prevented them from serving openly and out. The policy was put in place by the Clinton administration in February 1994, intended as a means to keep every ranking member of our armed services comfortable. It ended up backfiring, causing myriad problems by keeping queer soldiers quiet, fearful they could be discharged if their sexual orientation was ever discovered, as it was illegal at the time to be gay and serve in any branch of the military.

There were also other issues that came along with this policy. Consider the case involving Capt. Devery L. Taylor, who was charged and convicted of drugging and raping multiple servicemen while in the Air Force. Because of complications caused by DADT, including the real possibility that gay assault victims could be kicked out of the military for coming forward to testify, the case was nearly dismissed.

We have come a long way since those days. DADT was repealed in 2010, and queer soldiers have served openly in the years since. But we still have work to do. In March, a policy was issued by the White House barring transgender men and women from actively serving. The policy states, “Transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery — are disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances."

According to CNN, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that the policy was put in place to "enable the military to apply well-established mental and physical health standards — including those regarding the use of medical drugs — equally to all individuals who want to join and fight for the best military force the world has ever seen.”

Stripping away the jargon, the reasoning behind this new policy suggests that transgendered persons are somehow mentally or physically deficient, which is wrong on so many levels. As we reflect back on Memorial Day, let us also look forward and keep in mind that we still have work to do to make sure every single American is represented in our armed forces.