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Hinckley panelists decry Don?t Ask, Don?t Tell

By Chris Mumford

Opponents of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy say their patience has run out: They’ve been forced to lie about who they are for too long.

“At the end of the four years, I said, “I just can’t do it anymore, I can’t keep lying,’ ” said Sarah Hjalmarson, who served as a medic in Afghanistan for 13 months and is studying health promotion and education at the U. “And so I got out of the Army for the girl, in that sense.”

Hjalmarson appeared along with several fellow gay former members of the military at the Hinckley Institute of Politics forum “ ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Turns 15: LGBT in the Military today,” on Wednesday.

Hjalmarson said she had planned on becoming a career medic for the military but left after deciding that she couldn’t accept being forced to suppress her identity indefinitely.

Since the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was passed in 1993, at least 12,500 soldiers have been discharged for being gay as of 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

“My saying three words truthfully is somehow illegal,” said panelist Lt. Dan Choi, who was recently discharged from the military for revealing that he’s gay on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC. “And those three words weren’t the ones you might have heard on Rachel Maddow; the three words that I told were to my boyfriend. I told him “I love you,’ and how can that be illegal?”

Choi, a West Point graduate and a veteran of the Iraq war, described the contradictions raised by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, saying that he was ordered never to lie as a cadet, even though being honest about his sexuality would result in his expulsion from the military.

“(The West Point code of honor) doesn’t say that straight cadets will not lie, but gay cadets, it’s OK if you do8212;because under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell code, we’re ordered to lie about who we are,” he said.

Cliff Rosky, a U law professor, said asking someone to choose to be straight made no more sense, and was no more justifiable, than telling a Jewish soldier to convert to a different religion or asking people to change their race in order to remain in the military.

Although significant numbers of lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have expressed the desire to repeal the policy, President Barack Obama’s administration has indicated that the issue isn’t likely to come up until 2010, when the economy is in better shape and health care reform isn’t in focus.

The panelists said their patience has run out.

“I fully disagree with the fact that if we should be patient, we should get our way because silence is our best hope,” Choi said.

In the meantime, gay and lesbian soldiers will have to refer to their partner by vague pronouns or fake names, as Choi and Hjalmarson said they were forced to do.

“I took it very personally last November when, after fighting for four years, and (spending) 13 months overseas, in this war, to have it slapped in my face that I really am, according to this nation, a second-class citizen,” Hjalmarson said.

[email protected]

Tyler Cobb

Ken Verdoia leads a forum on gay rights in the military Wednesday at the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

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