'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Ripe for Change?

ByABC News
August 31, 2006, 10:42 AM

MADISON, Wis., Aug. 31, 2006 — -- The price of freedom has never been lost on Justin Hager.

His father served in Vietnam, and his grandfather spent time in a concentration camp during World War II.

For the last five years, the 20-year-old University of Wisconsin-Madison student has dreamed about a life in the armed forces.

On Wednesday, Hager met with military recruiters.

After disclosing that he was gay, however, he said he was shown the door.

"The recruiters were very nice, respectful and courteous," said Hager, a 6-foot, 230-pound former high school powerlifter.

"But it's really frustrating. It's painful to deal with the acceptance that this is the end of the road for my military service."

Before his meeting, Hager was well aware of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that bars openly gay men and women from serving in the armed forces.

Hager's failed enlistment was just one of several coordinated trips to recruiting offices in recent weeks by gay rights activists who hope to change the 13-year-old policy.

"We're not here as a publicity stunt," Hager said. "I want to serve alongside my fellow Americans. That's why we're here."

A compromise measure introduced by the Clinton administration in 1993, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" allows gays and lesbians to serve in the armed forces as long as they abstain from homosexual activity and do not disclose their sexual orientation.

Before it was enacted in 1994, there had been a blanket ban on all homosexuals in the military.

For years, the policy has drawn the ire of both conservatives and liberals.

Even supporters have acknowledged its shortcomings.

"It's like what [Winston] Churchill said about democracy: 'It's the worst system possible, except for all the other ones,'" said Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University who helped draft the policy and coined the phrase "Don't ask, don't tell."

Since then, the federal government estimates that more than 10,000 soldiers, sailors and Marines have been discharged because of their sexual orientation.

The Pentagon reports there were 726 service members discharged in 2005, up 11 percent from the year before.