By Lt. j.g. Joshua M. Won, Region Legal Service Office Naval District Washington
Region Legal Service Office Naval District Washington (RLSO NDW) Inclusion & Diversity Heritage Committee held a LGBT Pride professional development event in observance of LGBT Pride Month on June 19. The event, held in the RLSO NDW courtroom, drew several dozen JAG Community members from across the National Capital Region, including Navy Judge Advocate General Vice Adm. John Hannink and colleagues from RLSO NDW, Defense Service Office North and the Office of the Navy Judge Advocate General.
The event featured excerpts from the HBO documentary, “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)” and afforded attendees the chance to deepen understanding and share perspectives on DADT’s impacts on the military and its service members. Enacted by Congress in 1993, DADT barred openly homosexual persons from uniformed military service. Under DADT, disclosures and discoveries of homosexual behavior resulted in the administrative separation of thousands of Navy Sailors, and the exclusion of many others from military service until its legislative repeal was signed in late December 2010 by President Obama.
Between excerpts, officers and enlisted Sailors shared their personal perspectives on LGBT, whether as members or allies of the LGBT community. For some, the screening was a harrowing experience reminding them of a time, not all too long ago, when they had to live their lives in secret.
“We have to give up some of our constitutional rights; we have to give up a degree of privacy.
If you feel that intensely and that patriotic that you want to serve, then give up a little something […] is it too much to ask that you serve honorably, quietly, and efficiently?”
This rhetorical question, posed in the early 1990’s by Senator and former Secretary of the Navy John Warner, was answered in the affirmative that day by Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Walker, RLSO NDW’s Command Services Department Head: No, it wasn’t too much. Walker shared how his commitment to serve drove him to join the JAG Corps in spite of the looming threat of DADT. It was a reminder of the sacrifices made by many LGBT service members who answered their country’s call to serve despite the knowledge they would live in constant fear of exposure and the adverse consequences that would follow.
Capt. Rock DeTolve, RLSO’s Commanding Officer, recalled a jolt of inspiration and pride in early 2010 watching Admiral Michael Mullen’s memorable statement during televised testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee: “No matter how I look at [DADT], I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens . . . “for me, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”
During a discussion break, Hannink stood and commended the critical contributions of our JAG Corps’ LGBT Shipmates and emphasized the importance of an inclusive, diverse – and therefore more capable – JAG Corps and Navy.
Guest speaker Master Chief Dwayne Beebe-Franqui of Commander, Navy Installations Command spoke last. Sharing his poignant story of enlisting in the Navy in the late 1980’s and enduring decades of slights and personal turmoil under DADT, he candidly admitted that watching the HBO documentary brought back painful memories. However, as he looked up at the string of rainbow pennants festooning the RLSO NDW courtroom gallery, he thanked those in attendance, shook his head and smiled proudly.
* No DoD endorsement of HBO or any other non-federal entity is intended.