No Reward, Therefore Not Worth the Risk: Why LGBTQ in the Military Are Still Not Coming Out
Prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in 2011, an estimated 48,500 lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals were serving on active duty or in the ready reserve in the US military, and an additional 22,000 were in the standby and retired reserve forces, accounting for approximately 2.2 percent of military personnel. But have these numbers changed since the repeal? A Military Times poll found that just one of the soldiers surveyed had come out to his unit since the repeal of the policy. Although some reports put this number higher, most of those surveyed had not come out to more than just a few key trusted co-workers. While the repeal of the DADT policy has been a major positive step indicating more acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ in society, there is no indication that it has increased the number of people coming out to superiors. Why not?
Even with the repeal, gays in the military are not willing to come out because there is no tangible reason to do so. There are still widespread fears that they will be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. In other words, there is no reward for the amount of risk they feel they would undertake in order to come out to superiors. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a major barrier that remains a powerful psychological and financial deterrent to being fully open. DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. LGBTQ members of the military may legally marry in a state that allows for same-sex marriage, but their spouses are not eligible for medical insurance through the military and couples don't have the chance to be stationed together.
As one soldier put it: "I come out the closet, I cause all this drama with my unit, there's going to be people that say things. There's an impact on my career, and then I still can't give benefits to the person I love. Why? Why would I put myself through all that when I'm not going to get anything out of it?" DOMA is up for repeal and will most likely be facing the U.S. Supreme Court very soon. While the future of federally recognized same-sex marriage is currently unknown, what remains clear is the impact that unequal benefits have on LGTBQ service men and women.