Two Sequim residents, both retired members of the U.S. Coast Guard, are celebrating the repeal this week of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the 17-year-old federal law under which the two served. President Obama is expected to sign the repeal this week.
Judy (“JP”) Persall and Diana J. Wickman both served for more than 20 years, with each finishing her career holding the rank of lieutenant commander. They recently told the Gazette they retired early due to the onerous impact of DADT.
After retiring, they were free to criticize the program and did so, joining “We are Family Too,” a letter-writing campaign to the Comprehensive Review Working Group, the committee appointed earlier this year by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to study the issues surrounding the repeal.
While they’re very pleased with the repeal, Persall noted the military now must take further action to ensure the change is properly implemented.
“There are three steps,” she said. “First, you have to decriminialize homosexuality.” That means specific changes in the law, including amendments to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The many regulations that govern the various branches of military must also be rewritten to reflect the change. Second, the various branches must expand their existing “human relations” training programs to include proper conduct toward homosexuals. Third, the military leadership must take up the cause, ensuring the laws and the lessons received in training are enforced.
The changes in law will include revising the definition of sex crime.
“They won’t remove all sex crimes but they will have to clarify the law,” Persall said.
The definitions of sodomy and rape will likely require rewriting, she said.
Persall said the various services also must provide proper and thorough training on meeting the new standard. While serving in the Coast Guard, Persall and her fellow crew members received regular training on topics such as sexual discrimination and sexual harassment. Coast Guard members also are trained in identifying and avoiding prejudice against women, and against those of another race or religion.
“Now it will have to include sexual orientation,” Persall said.
Persall said today’s circumstance is analogous to the training that was required when the races were first integrated in the military after World War II. Similar training was required when women were introduced into the various branches.
“Once you get the regulations fixed and get the training, you have to get the leaders involved,” Persall said. Persall, who was one of the first women to serve aboard Coast Guard vessels, recalled an event that occurred early in her first assignment. She said the women onboard weren’t necessarily mistreated but weren’t seen as an integral part of the crew. The issue came to a head when one of her male colleagues wrote a piece in which he disparaged the women crew members. “We went to the commanding officer,” Persall said. He quickly put his foot down, saying the women were to be supported and mentored, just like the other crew members.
That, says Persall, was pretty much that.
Bearing the burden
Before the U.S. Senate voted this week to repeal DADT, Wickman penned a piece on the Sequim Gazette website explaining why she had chosen to publicly call for the repeal of DADT. “I am choosing to speak out now for those active duty members who can not speak for themselves for fear of losing their jobs. Not just being fired, but being fired publicly, in humiliation, with their private lives made very public.”
For Persall and Wickman, the change was too late in coming. But they are celebrating for their friends who still serve and for those who will follow.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.
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