More to Ask, More to Tell

I got an email from President Obama on Saturday; it was one of the periodic updates he sends out to his mailing list of campaign supporters.  In announcing the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which had prohibited discussion of sexual orientation in the military, President Obama wrote:

“Gay and lesbian service members—brave Americans who enable our freedoms—will no longer have to hide who they are.  The fight for civil rights, a struggle that continues, will no longer include this one.”

Mr. President, I applaud your courage and persistence in standing up for the civil rights of gay and lesbian service members—but I have more to ask.  Do you know, Mr. President, that there are other brave Americans in our armed forces who will still be compelled to hide who they are?  According to Department of Defense Instruction No. 6130.03, Enclosure 4, Section 28c (April 28, 2010), all American citizens on the autism spectrum are categorically excluded from military service—regardless of their individual talents, their skills and accomplishments, their love for their country, their bravery, their endurance, their honesty, their willingness to serve with heart and soul—or, to put it in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the content of their character.

Contrary to the popular prejudices, Mr. President, being autistic is not incompatible with military service.  We have now, and always have had, Americans on the autism spectrum serving honorably and capably in our armed forces.  Some of them are career service members who joined up before the broadening of the diagnostic criteria to cover a much larger swath of the population in the 1990s—coincidentally, at about the same time when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell went into effect.

Now they are being forced to make a choice which—as you stated so well, Mr. President—ought never to be demanded of the brave Americans who enable our freedoms.  As a result of the autism-awareness efforts of the past decade, many of them have become aware of their own autistic traits; yet they dare not even speak the word because it could lead to their discharge, no matter how excellent their record of service.  Their superior officers may notice, but say nothing about it, knowing that any mention of the scarlet “A” might destroy the military career of a faithful subordinate.

Don’t ask.  Don’t tell.

These autistic service members are not to blame, Mr. President.  Their only crime, just as with their gay and lesbian counterparts, was having been born into a stigmatized minority group.  Through no fault of their own, they have been forced into an untenable situation where any acknowledgment of who they are would mean the end of a long and proud career.  As you so correctly declared, Mr. President, no one—and surely not those who defend our nation at great personal sacrifice—should ever have to live like that.

When will it be their turn for justice?

on 12/22/10 in featured, Politics | 3 Comments | Read More

Comments (3)


  1. Alaras says:

    Actually, since that exclusion is a “medical” one, if you’re already in, you won’t get kicked out if you’re on the spectrum. Also, there are waivers, so if you really want in and are autistic, the recruiter will probably find a way to get you past that if you’re enough of a fit.

  2. Gwen McKay says:

    Alaras, there have been some cases where people who were already in the service got discharged for being autistic. Others have been luckier and found ways around it, as you said; but even a small number of discharges is enough to create a “don’t ask, don’t tell” chilling effect.

  3. Clay says:

    Boot Camp is a cultural shock for practically everyone, but about 100 times worse for me. I didn’t have many problems after that, as forms of bullying, “skylarking”, and “grab-assing” is discouraged in the military. They know of the morale problems caused by adversarial personal relationships, and when a problem is recognized, they deal with it. They may not always dispense justice fairly, but much better than in most civilian places of business.

    I didn’t know of this DOD instruction, promulgated only this year. Two steps forward, one step back.

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