Don't Ask, Don't Be

A Houston-area man leads the fight against the ban on gays in the military

"At that point, it was kind of like [a] 'keep your mouth shut, you don't want to die' kind of deal," Cook says from Lake Jackson.

He stayed silent for a while but ultimately felt compelled to tell his commanding officer. Cook hoped for a transfer to another unit. Instead, he found himself telling his mother over the phone that he was gay and had now been discharged for it. He says his family stands beside him.

"My mother was proud of the reason why I was discharged and proud that I was willing to stand up and fight for it," he says. "My father was more worried that -- I live in a very, very conservative Southern Baptist environment down here in Lake Jackson -- and [he] was worried more for my safety."

Cook was discharged one month before he was to 
serve in Iraq.
Daniel Kramer
Cook was discharged one month before he was to serve in Iraq.
Moskos: DADT protects the right to privacy.
Courtesy of Northwestern University
Moskos: DADT protects the right to privacy.

Cook's parents, brother and sister declined interview requests.

"I think I gave them a whole new notion of what a gay person is," he says of his family. "They've always had this idea in their head of what a gay person is. I think that goes with a lot of Southern families."

Cook v. Rumsfeld offers a chance to continue the Cook family's military tradition. The chance is slim, however.

The outcome depends on whether the Boston district court feels the Lawrence decision applies to military life. According to the May 2005 Congressional Research Service, courts have almost always deferred to military policy. Moreover, a host of DADT cases have already failed on a variety of constitutional grounds.

Sharon Alexander, an attorney with SLDN, is cautiously optimistic. Mark Quinlivan, the assistant U.S. attorney defending the case, said he was not permitted to discuss pending cases but referred the Press to relevant transcripts and filings.

In a hearing July 8 on a motion to dismiss, Quinlivan argued that Lawrence was not applicable to military life and rattled off a list of court decisions upholding the military's policy. He also cited the unit-cohesion argument.

"When military service members are in battle, they do not fight necessarily because of love for country; they fight because after the cohesion of the unit has been built, they are standing there for the man or woman next to them, and fighting for that person, and they're not willing to leave them in battle," he said, according to the transcript.

There is no indication the Department of Defense will revisit the policy on its own. In his response to the GAO report on loss of critical skills since DADT, Under Secretary of Defense David S.C. Chu pointed out that far more service members have been separated from service for pregnancy, weight standards, serious offenses, parenthood and drug offenses.

Chu wrote: "The Department of Defense seeks to implement the federal statute concerning homosexual conduct in the military in a fair manner, treating every service member with dignity and respect."

In order to clarify that concept, copies of the "Dignity & Respect" comic book are available from the U.S. Department of the Army.

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