‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Ends: Ban on Gays Serving Openly in Military Is Repealed

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is no more.

When the clock struck midnight today, the nearly 18-year-old policy that barred gay and lesbian service members from serving openly in the military was fully repealed.

As part of the repeal, the Defense Department plans to issue new guidelines and regulations to the military services informing them that the ban is no longer in effect.  They will be posted on the Pentagon’s website, along with a quick reference guide that includes the most frequently asked questions about what will change with repeal.

Aside from the guidelines, the Pentagon is taking a low-key approach to the end of the policy that led to the discharge of almost 14,000 service members over its lifetime.   Aside from a news conference where Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen will  discuss the change in policy, no other official DOD events are planned.

While the Pentagon is planning a low-key transition, some gay advocacy groups are timing events to celebrate the repeal.

OutServe Magazine planned to release a photo spread of more than 100 active duty gay and lesbian troops that would be posted on its website right at midnight as the law banning homosexuals from the military was repealed.

The magazine represents the organization of the same name that has created networking opportunities for closeted gay and lesbian service members working to end the policy. The organization announced earlier this month that free copies of its magazine would be available at select Army and Air Force bases.

Tuesday night the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is planning to hold 100 “Repeal Day” celebrations throughout all 50 states.  In a statement, SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis called the repeal “a monumental day for our service members and our nation” and said the events would “pay tribute to their service and sacrifice as we look forward to this new era of military service — an era that honors the contributions of all qualified Americans who have served and wish to serve.”

A first-of-its-kind event will be held in Tulsa to commemorate the first day of repeal as a gay community center will host recruiters from all the military services.

According to Toby Jenkins, executive director of Oklahomans for Equality, the recruiters will set up booths much as they would at a job fair or a college campus.

“We’ve encouraged people to show their support for what’s going on and for young people to come for available job opportunities,” Jenkins said.

Among those invited to attend will be some gay World War II veterans in their 80s, Jenkins said.

“It’s very emotional to them, they never believed they’d live long enough to see this,” he said. “Perhaps our young people are not as aware of the cost and sacrifice that they went through for this day.”

Jenkins said he believes his community center, which describes itself as the fifth-largest in the nation, is the only one in the country hosting such an event on Tuesday.

President Obama signed the law repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” in December, but that law called for a slow rollout of a repeal.

To that end the military undertook a long training process of its 2.3 million active and reserve service members.  As of last week 97 percent of that force had been trained to prepare for the change in military regulations.

In July, even before that training had been completed, Obama, Gates and Mullen certified that military readiness would not be affected by repealing the ban. At that point the law required another 60 days before full repeal could take place. That 60-day clock expired at midnight.

The glide path to the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was also muddled in July when a federal court of appeals issued an injunction that halted enforcement of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and prevented any discharges from taking place.

The injunction also lifted restrictions on military recruiters from taking applications from gays and lesbians.  Military recruiters have been taking applications from potential gay recruits, but had not acted on them waiting for repeal to occur. Applicants will now be asked whether they want their applications to be processed.

With repeal in place, Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez says, “Openly gay or lesbian applicants will be evaluated according to the same criteria and requirements applicable to all others seeking entry into the military.”