Repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Sitting in section 101 at the Oracle Arena on Saturday night, I was struck by something rock star Tom Petty said during his song “Mystic Eyes.” He came to the microphone and said “wouldn’t it be great if, for one moment, everything was all right.” I shouted in agreement then.

Twelve hours later, however, I found myself wondering what that statement would really mean to most baby-boomers filling that sold-out concert. I am certain we would not get unanimity on any issue, but the subject of this column might have the most agreement.

Our American plate is pretty full. We have wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, oil fouling the gulf, a painfully slow economic recovery from the sub-prime crisis, gridlock in the government between the two-party system, global food and water shortages — not to mention, cities and states without the necessary revenue to keep basic services whole. Then there is one of the most important things to make all things right: ensuring civil rights for all Americans.

During his January 2010 state of the union address to Congress, President Barack Obama said “we find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we are created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it…We must continually renew this promise.” American public schools and their teachers, in tandem with the federal government, have done more to keep this promise alive than any other institution.

Let me explain. Today we are cleaning up the policy left over by President Bill Clinton about gays in the military and “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That policy was an unmitigated disaster for so many American soldiers. More than 13,000 patriotic men and women were discharged since 1993’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” executive order.

Public schools have been at the center of educating the American public conscience about the inherent issues of sexual orientation. In the last two decades, gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in public schools have proliferated. GSAs are student-organized clubs that support gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual students to attain equal treatment and rights.

Even if school boards and principals disagree with their creation, the school can lose all federal funding under the Equal Access Act.  In this weekly blog I have advocated for GSAs to begin in middle school, with bold and courageous principal and school board leadership. I do so again. It is the right thing to do.

Admiral Mike Mullen testifying to Congress in 2009 said repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is “the right thing to do…no matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are.”

Too bad Mullen was not on the school board in Mississippi to argue for Constance McMillen’s right to attend her high school prom last May with her girlfriend. McMillen, who has been openly gay since eighth grade, was told that she would have to attend the prom alone or with a male date. They also told her she could not wear a tuxedo, but had to wear a dress. Forcing Constance McMillen to be someone she is not is wrong.

A federal judge appointed by Ronald Reagan ruled that her First Amendment constitutional rights were violated under the right of self-expression. Schools have been at the center of the storm over civil rights going back to schools and racial integration over a half century ago.

How far we have come in a short amount of time. School leaders, teachers, and students must continue to fight for civil rights for all. It will help make things all right — not just for a moment, but forever.

The late Senator Barry Goldwater said it best, “You don’t have to be straight in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.” Today a friend of mine asked me if I thought the Women’s French Open champion Francesca Schiavone was gay. I told him I could care less, for I thought her tennis was a thing of beauty to watch.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. This is a non-issue, which makes it great to fill our political dialogue without actually doing or fixing anything.

    When I was in the Army, their was a great deal of camaraderie in the all male infantry.  Sexual orientation was assumed to be straight, but no one really cared that much.  Amazingly its the people who don’t serve in the military and would never let their children enlist that want to fix things.

    The United Kingdom removed all barriers to homosexuals serving openly in its military and has had no real problems.

    Since this has nothing to do with San Jose politics I’m guessing its just a sign that people are tired of all the political muck-racking around the election and the budget meltdown.  We’re in wait and see mode and rather than have a moment of calm silence, we’ll take up another cause.

    How about a citywide day of service this summer to clean up creeks, fix playgrounds, paint over graffiti and tend to neglected civic property!  Tie it in with neighborhood block parties and meet neighbors and build social capital.  Have a free curbside rubbish removal tied to this even and let’s help everyone clean and improve our communities.

  2. Math, literature, science in schools?  Not so much.

    Gay Straight Alliances in schools?  Hell yes!

    To the average lunchbucket type it appears that with this GSA social justice engineering lunacy that Cali educational apparatchiks have dropped any pretense re schools being about education.

    But in all fairness it’s easy for me to say.

    I don’t think anyone can fathom the incredible pressures our educational dear leaders must be under trying to stay ahead of Mississippi every year.

  3. There has never been a better column to show exactly why the public school system is so bad.

    Anyone reading this should now have a clear understanding of how the DiSalvo’s of the world see themselves and their role in your children’s “education”.

  4. > Today a friend of mine asked me if I thought the Women’s French Open champion Francesca Schiavone was gay. I told him I could care less, for I thought her tennis was a thing of beauty to watch.

    Oh, baloney.

    If you could care less, then why did you bring it up?

    To the “progressive left”, race, class, and gender are permanent obsessions.  Likewise, correcting the attitudes and beliefs of those without the correct race, class, and gender obsessions are a permanent crusade.

  5. “Today a friend of mine asked me if I thought the Women’s French Open champion Francesca Schiavone was gay. I told him I could care less…”

    Yeah, Joe. You cared so little you just wrote a whole column about the issue.

  6. My military experience doesn’t extend beyond some university ROTC experience, and a training mission to Camp Pendleton, so while I would not claim to be an expert by any means, unlike most people, I have actually taken courses in Military Science, and been required to think & write about the meaning and significance of what the U.S. Army calls “unit cohesion.”  And irrespective of what one thinks about the socio-political and/or moral significance of homosexuality, I think its pretty clear that A) “unit cohesion” is of immense, even extraordinary value with respect to military effectiveness, and that B) openly homosexual soldiers would be damaging to “unit cohesion.”  Most of our volunteers don’t come from the Bay Area, or Manhattan, after all, but from places like Oklahoma, Montana, Tennessee, and various other locales where a lot of people still feel about homosexuals, well, pretty much the same way we did when we were in school, 25-30 years ago (for those guys in my age range, anyway).

    Now, if serving in the Armed Forces were a privilege, or a demonstrable right, then we’d probably just have to suck up and deal with the inconvenience.  But the last time I checked, the military is considered service, not a privilege or benefit.  While we tend to treat the notion of military service as if it were a right, with respect to the racial issue, President Truman and others simply took the initiative on that themselves; there has never been any U.S. Supreme Court decision establishing a right to serve in the military.  So since we’re not Constitutionally obligated to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military, I frankly see no reason what-so-ever to do it.  In the very few instances where some gay guy has special skills the military must have, well, hire him as a civilian contractor then.

    • Good points.

      The charter and purpose of the armed forces are, in a nutshell, to be “effective”.

      The founding fathers recognized this when they provided for the military to have it’s own rules and governance, which are, today, embodied in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

      The military can, interestingly, practice racial discrimination.  During the Viet Nam era, the anti-war crowd was making a lot of noise about the war being fought overwhelmingly by poor blacks while the sons of rich white people got deferments.

      So, the armed forces were subjected to racial quotas where no more than about eighteen percent of the troops in Viet Nam could be black.

      If the military can discriminate on the basis of race, there’s no reason why they can’t discriminate on the basis of “homosexuality”.  And “unit cohesion” is a perfectly valid, effective-ness related reason.

  7. “They also told her (Constance McMillen) that she could not wear a tuxedo, but had to wear a dress. Forcing Constance McMillen to be something she is not is wrong.”

    Mr. DiSalvo,
    So poor dear Constance should have been allowed to “be the man” and wear a tux? You’d have been OK with it if she’d have had the choice of either a dress OR a tux? Isn’t that a little restrictive? Let’s say poor little eighth-grade Constance had decided that she was truly an S&M queen? Shouldn’t she have been allowed to “be who she is” and wear black lace stockings, high-heeled leather boots, and a pushup bra to enhance her 13 year old bosom?
    Why are you advocating limiting these public school children to a measly 2 choices?

    Gee, it’s sure good to know that we’ve got you on the job, spending your taxpayed time ensuring that the really important details of our education system are being attended to.

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