Gay troops advised to wait before coming out

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Advocates are advising military gays to stay in the closet for now, as the Pentagon begins months of scene-setting to make sure removing the ban does not hurt combat readiness.

Once President Obama signs the gay-ban repeal, passed by Congress last week, it will trigger a new phase that will see the Pentagon dictate to commanders how to prepare troops for the historic social change.

During that time, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban will remain in effect.

“The bottom line, for now, gay, lesbian and bisexual service members must remain cautiously closeted,” said Trevor Thomas, spokesman for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a leader in the campaign to end the ban. “Even with this historic vote, service members must continue to serve in silence until repeal is final.”

The organization has a hot line for gay troops to speak confidentially with staff attorneys.

It also has asked Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to suspend don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT) investigations during the phase-in.

Aaron Belkin, who directs the Palm Center, which does pro-gay research, said, “I tell them that DADT is still the law of the land, and that if they come out, they could be discharged.”

Mr. Gates made no mention of investigations when he issued a statement outlining the next steps.

“It is therefore important that our men and women in uniform understand that while today’s historic vote means that this policy will change, the implementation and certification process will take an additional period of time,” he said. “In the meantime, the current law and policy will remain in effect.”

None of the chiefs of the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps or Navy supported repeal outright, with Gen. James Amos, the Marine commandant, openly opposing it. He said integration of open gays in a time of war would create distractions for his Marines that might lead to battlefield casualties.

But the chiefs saluted after the Senate’s vote over the weekend.

“Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps,” Gen. Amos said. “Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our commander in chief, Congress, our chain of command and the American people.

“As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines.”

A Pentagon survey released last month showed more than 60 percent of Marines believe open gays will hurt combat effectiveness. A large percentage of Marines said they would leave the Corps sooner than planned or think about exiting if the ban was lifted.

After the repeal is signed into law, three stages begin:

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