Black women and other people of color have been disproportionately affected by the policy — and as one woman’s story illustrates, just the threat of discovery can take a terrible toll.
During the recent heated debates on Capitol Hill about repealing “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” former Army Sgt. Tracey L. Cooper-Harris sent a poignant letter to President Barack Obama urging him to “do the right thing.”
Cooper-Harris, who is black, wrote in the May 10 letter that her male compatriots sexually blackmailed her as a teenager to guard her secret of being gay. “The signal from command was clear: being gay was a far more serious offense in the military than sexually harassing a fellow service member,” she wrote. “I ultimately chose what I believed was the best decision for me at the time. I let these men have their way with me in exchange for their silence.”
African-American Women Most at Risk
Cooper-Harris is not alone in her desire to see the law repealed. But as an African American woman in the military, she had particular reason for concern. Since “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) was passed in 1993 under the Clinton administration, the law has proved to be most damaging to black women and other people of color serving in the military, according to a study released in 2003 by the Washington, D.C.-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN).
African-American women were discharged under DADT at almost three times the rate at which they serve in the military, according to the report, which looked at discharge numbers for 2001, the most recent ones available for black service women. Although black women made up less than 1 percent of service members, they represented 3.3 percent of those discharged under the policy, the report says.
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