Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) Repeal

Image from The Brookings Institution

As explained by the National Archives Foundation:

During World War II, the U.S. Armed Forces established a policy that discharged homosexuals regardless of their behavior. In 1981, the Defense Department prohibited gay and lesbian military members from serving in its ranks with a policy that stated, “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” In the decade following, 17,000 service members were discharged from their duties for being homosexual.

This spurred a new policy called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the Clinton Administration. In November 1993, the Defense Authorization Act put “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into effect, allowing gay and lesbian citizens to serve in the military as long as they did not make their sexual orientation public. Commanders were prohibited from inquiring about a service member’s orientation provided that they adhered to this condition. Additionally, the policy forbid military personal from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual service members and applicants.

By 2008, more than 12,000 officers had been discharged from the military for publicizing their homosexuality. On December 18, 2010, the Senate overturned the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy by a 65-31 vote, which President Barack Obama signed a few days later. The repeal allows gay and lesbian military members to serve openly in the armed forces.

National Archives Founation, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010
Photo for Windy City Times by Patsy Lynch

On December 22, 2010, at the Department of the Interior, Rabbi Resnicoff was honored to offer the following invocation at the repeal signing ceremony:

Rabbi Resnicoff was a longstanding vocal opponent of the DADT policy.

In 1992, a few weeks after President Clinton was elected, Rabbi Resnicoff — one of hundreds of senior Navy leaders — attended a panel discussion at the Naval War College regarding diversity in the military. Afterward, he met one of the panelists: now-Professor Tanya Domi, then an Army officer representing the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She has since described their meeting and future relationship as follows:

On this auspicious occasion I met Navy Chaplain Rabbi Arnie Resnicoff, whom I would come to know as a strong supporter and advocate for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. He has been morally brave over the course of many years by directly confronting the opinions of many of his peers and superiors and by challenging the military’s chaplain corps to always serve the troops first, without regard to a service member’s sexual orientation.

During the nearly three hours of “discussion,” I was personally attacked and relentlessly harangued by the Navy’s finest senior leaders, until its conclusion, when I mustered enough strength to push myself away from the table and walk to the back of the stage where I cried my heart out. Rabbi Resnicoff comforted me, as he put his arms around me and said, “You were so brave. I am so sorry this happened to you.”

In this awful moment, Rabbi Resnicoff, Arnie by this point, conveyed the compassion and generosity of a stranger, and affirmed the dignity of my personhood during an experience of profound cruelty and humiliation. It was a connection of a lifetime.

Arnie has always felt guilty about the way his fellow Naval officers treated me that day. On the eve of this week’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal act signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., which we would both attend, he wrote to me once more about this incident 18 years ago:

“I have been thinking about the conference at the the Naval War College where I first met you: the shabby way you were personally treated, and the way the ugly face of discrimination and prejudice showed itself in the words and actions of so many people around me…

“And, just as I believe that changes in the military had an impact on the larger issues of race relations in our nation, I feel that same can happen now…I think back at how hard it must have been for you to participate in that conference. There are combat zones away from the battlegrounds overseas, and that was one of them, back then.”

As I said, there is a synchronicity to the rhythm of life when justice finally arrives. In his beautiful prayer, Rabbi Resnicoff applies a healing salve to the psychic wounds we have sustained as second-class citizens, and reminds us of the greatness of America in believing that life can improve, as he calls upon divine wisdom to lead us into an unknown future of change.

Excerpt from Tanya Domi, Navy Chaplain Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff: A Trumpet for Justice, published by the New Civil Rights Movement as On The Eve Of Christmas, A Navy Rabbi And Lesbian Army Captain Reunite To Bear Witness to DADT’s End (April 29, 2014)

As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gene Weingarten wrote in a book that featured Rabbi Resnicoff’s brother, Joel:

Joel’s life and death had a profound impact on his brother. As a military rabbi, he risked censure by railing against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that compelled gay service members to hide their sexual identity. Resnicoff called it “immoral,” saying that it “forced people to hide who they were while at the same time we were promoting core values that included honesty.” Resnicoff had been so outspoken and passionate on the subject that he was asked to deliver the invocation at the 2010 ceremony where Barack Obama signed the repeal of the policy. Resnicoff says today, “I think Joel was watching. I could feel his pride in me.”

Excerpt from One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten (Penguin 2020)

Rabbi Resnicoff also told the story himself recently in an interview:

When President Obama repealed the policy that forced anyone gay to keep it a secret, I was very proud that because of the work I had been fighting for regarding the rights of all people, I was asked to give the prayer. I should say, it was very personal for me because I’m the oldest of three boys. My middle brother, whose name was Joel, was gay, and he was one of the very early victims of AIDS. So, whenever I fought for the rights of people who were gay, I always hoped he was looking with pride on what I was trying to do.

Excerpt from interview with Braden Hamelin, Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff: Impacting Others Through Military Service and Chaplaincy, Washington Jewish Week (November 21, 2023)