Category: News


Imagine packing the contents of your desk into a cardboard box. In goes the picture of you and your wife on holiday followed by the jokey old coffee mug your colleagues gave you and lastly some battered chewed up old pens. Imagine going home and telling your wife you were fired. You weren’t stealing office supplies; you weren’t slacking on the job. No you were fired for loving her. Absurd? Not so absurd for the United States Forces who fired 13,389 of its soldiers, sailors and air crew based on who they fell in love with.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was introduced in the United States on the 21st of December 1993. This legislation banned military recruiters from asking the sexuality of applicants and anyone in the Armed Forces from trying to find out. It also stated that any member of the Armed Forces would be discharged if they revealed they were homosexual or made any statement indicating a tendency towards homosexuality. President Bill Clinton considered this to be a suitable compromise after the previous legislation which denied anyone identifying as homosexual the ability to serve in the Armed Forces. When DADT was first introduced the government stated that it would promote unit cohesion and military readiness.

Officer Rice is an officer in the US Army, studying medicine while in the forces, she is 24 years old and has been serving for three years. She has noted that there is pressure to act heterosexual to keep her job safe: ‘When I first joined the military I was hardly out to anyone so there were more than a few times when people would ask me about boyfriends and things like that and I’d make something up. It’s always in the back of my mind, just going in one day and finding out that I’m going to be kicked out.” Officer Rice then added that there is a high level of suspicion in regards to senior unmarried female officers. ‘On the enlisted side there are more suspicions and you don’t tell the senior people there.’

DADT has received much criticism over the 17 years since its inception. However it was upheld in four of the federal courts of appeal and also in a Supreme Court case. In 2004 a federal lawsuit was filed by the Log Cabin Republicans – America’s largest gay Republican organization. It was bought to trial in 2010 when the judge ruled that DADT was unconstitutional as it violated both the First and Fifth Amendments.

President Barack Obama had repeatedly expressed his intent to repeal DADT, both in his presidential campaign and since his election. However, it wasn’t until 2010 that he set a timeline to discuss the repeal with Congress and the military.

The repeal was making good progress in America under an amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act which stated the DADT would be repealed 60 days after a study by the US Department of Defence was completed and the US Defence Secretary, the chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff and the US President had all certified that the repeal would not negatively impact on military readiness. However, this amendment came to a grinding halt when Senator John McCain led a successful filibuster against it. This sudden blow left supporters of the repeal devastated, “I’ve followed DADT for the past several years, and I’ve gotten my hopes up SO many times only to have them crushed (usually by John McCain).”

In December, a stand-alone bill rather than an amendment to an existing Act was bought forward to repeal DADT. On December the 15th the bill passed through the House of Representatives with 250 members voting for and 175 voting against. On December the 18th the bill passed through Senate with 65 senators voting for and 31 voting against. The repeal was signed into law by President Barack Obama
on the 22nd of December who said:

“This law I’m about to sign will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend. No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who were forced to leave the military – regardless of their skills, no matter their bravery or their zeal, no matter their years of exemplary performance – because they happen to be gay. No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniforms be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder, in order to serve the country they love.”

However, DADT has not been immediately repealed. First the President, Secretary of Defence and Chairman of the Joints of Staff must certify that the repeal “is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces”. Once this has been done there will be a 60 day period until the repeal is official. Rice said: “Since it isn’t certified and completely repealed yet there hasn’t been much of a difference. I’ve heard one or two comments, in the sense of people making gay jokes and saying, “Well Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed, so you can come out now”.

DADT was not only discriminatory legislation that cost thousands of people the jobs that they loved but it also cost America millions of dollars to implement. The Williams Institute if the University of California carried on from research done by the University of California Blue Ribbon Commission in 2006 which had found that since its inception until 2003, DADT had cost $363.8 million to implement. The Williams Institute updated the research and found that from 1993 until 2008, DADT had cost $555.2 million. These costs are made up from various different factors; the cost of travel home for discharged service members, recruiting new service members to replace those lost and training the enlistees. It has been reported that at least 800 of the discharged service men and women had vitally important jobs such as pilots, combat engineers and linguists. The Armed Forces has discharged 59 fluent Arabic speakers, this is a skill that is in short supply and vital to current military operations. It can cost anywhere between $20,000 and $45,000 to replace a single discharged person of the Armed Forces, depending on the job they had and they skill set they possessed.

A study by a historian, Anne Loveland, shows that those who created DADT knew that they could not use their own personal morals as a reason to form law so used the unit cohesion argument instead. She also found that chaplains and evangelical groups wanted to present a case in support of DADT on the basis that gays and lesbians are an abomination but polls of public opinion showed that people did not share this view and they would have more chance if they had a military related argument. Rice said: “ It probably took so long because the military tended to be more conservative on the whole, and it took 10 years of older guys retiring and newer 20-somethings joining in who didn’t care. Kind of like the attitude which is reflected for gay marriage here; the younger generations don’t care as much and it’ll continue to be that way until in about 30 or so years when the most anti-gay folks have died off.”

DADT has ruined people’s lives for 17 years, denying them the jobs they wanted and serving the country they loved. Its repeal was long overdue but finally the estimated 65,000 homosexual people currently serving in the US Armed Forces can live their lives without the daily fear of their sexuality being revealed and used against them. Unfortunately it has come 13,389 people too late.

UPDATE: On July 22 2011 President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen signed and submitted a one-page written certification that the military is ready to repeal DADT fully. On September 20th DADT will end and people will finally be able to serve openly in the US military, a move that is long overdue. However, due to the Defence of the Marriage Act they will unable to get any federal benefits for their partners.

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8. 30 am. The alarm pierces the foggy hangover. Turning over the student grunts; lecture at 9am, essay deadline at 5pm, bus to London to change the world at 11pm. This isn’t necessarily the image that will spring to mind when most people think of a stereotypical student, this is a new species that has evolved from their 1970s predecessors: the student activist.

The DEMOLITION demonstration in London last November, organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) and University and College Union (UCU), has thrown student activism into the media and not in a particularly favourable light. 50,000 students took to the streets to protest against the proposed changes that would see the cap on university tuition fees in England and Wales climbing to £9,000 and a 40% cut to education funding. It showed us that a student campaign can have the capability to influence governmental resignations, mass mobilisation, occupations and unprecedented violence in the world of politics. With so many students taking part can this campaign be called a success or does the vandalism and violence condemned by David Cameron as ‘unacceptable’ make it a failure?

Liam Burns, the President of NUS Scotland and President-elect of NUS UK, has been at the front of many student campaigns for a few years and understands where this campaign both succeeded and failed: “This campaign meant that the rise in the cap on tuition fees dominated the political agenda for three months but it also hindered the campaign. It lost public sympathy.” It is not however just the campaign itself that failed, “We should have had the foresight to see that when the coalition government was formed we had lost already. May the 6th should have been the day for a national demo to make sure that the tuition fees were a part of the coalition agreement.”

There are student activists that condone the violence seen at Millbank tower; Vicki Baars is one of the officers for the NUS LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) campaign. She was also one of the members of NUS that signed a statement in support of the direct action used at Millbank. “The November 10th Demonstration “Demolition” saw 50,000 students turn out on the streets of London instead of an expected 15,000. A break-off happened and around 5,000 students and allies occupied the courtyard of Millbank with 100 or so people making their way up to the roof. The press took to this event like vultures to a carcass,” Vicki explains.

“There were a number of acts of vandalism such as the breaking of windows, graffiti inside and out of the building and the infamous throwing of a fire extinguisher. Whether or not you agree that this was a good tactic to use captured the attention of the press for weeks. Most newspapers used images from Millbank on their front page the next day. This event undeniably drew attention to the cause. Millbank changed the atmosphere of the campaign, breaking a seal, letting the lid of anger of thousands come loose.” She said.

Stevie Wise, the Vice-President of Academic Affairs at Edinburgh University was one of the EUSA sabbatical officers who were at the very front of the successful Write to Mike campaign. The day the Browne review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance came out Liz Rawlings, EUSA President, phoned all the local MPs to ask how they would vote. Liberal Democrat Mike Crockart said he would abstain or vote with the government. This then sparked the idea for the Write to Mike campaign.

“We put pictures of him making the pledge against a rise in tuition fees on the EUSA website and template letters for students to use to write to him urging him to vote against.” Stevie said. “We went out on campus with letters to get students to sign, we managed to get 1000 letters signed in two days and took them to his office the following Monday.”

Crockart told EUSA that he would come out publicly about voting against the rise in fees at the beginning of the vote, on the Monday he was impersonated on a radio phone-in. “When we told him this would be a perfect time to come out publicly he refused. He kept refusing and eventually we used contacts we had at the Guardian to make his stance public.”

Stevie explains why she thinks this campaign was so successful: “Campaigns can be successful being reactive; they don’t all have to be proactive. We played it really well gaining his trust and not telling the press straight away. We learnt that you have to have a degree of trust when working with politicians.”

As well as successfully getting Crockart to vote against the rise in tuition fees the campaign also saw him step down from his role as parliamentary private secretary to Scottish Secretary Michael Moore.

The Budget for Bursaries campaign, an NUS Scotland coordinated campaign that was launched to lobby the government to save college bursaries, was created when the Draft Scottish Budget was released that cut the student support available in colleges by £1.7m. The campaign wanted to ensure that the Scottish government would commit to finding the £14m shortfall in funding needed to protect college students rather than cut the funding further. This success saw over 32,000 e-mails sent in just two and half weeks – and the Scottish Government agreed to put an extra £15 million towards college bursaries over the next two years, and an extra £8 million towards creating new college places.

An interview with the then education shadow secretary for the Labour party, Des McNulty and his Liberal Democrat equivalent Margaret Smith showed that campaigns such as Budget for Bursaries can impact MSPs.

Did the Budget for Bursaries campaign make a difference to MSPs and the way they voted?

MS: It definitely made a difference to us. The timing was right, it was achievable and there was a consensus that all parties would support it if we could find the money. This campaign built on successful NUS Scotland campaigns and past wins, for instance the Parent Trap that won more money for student parents.

DM: I think it did. What’s probably true is NUS over years has had successful lobbying on bursaries and has built up a system of principles and awareness of practicals which laid the foundation which it would not have been successful without.

Was the campaign handled well? Was it seen to be professional?

MS: On top of the fees campaign this made sense, this brought human beings in. Parents came in to highlight the anomalies of the bursary system. It was a very human way to ignore numbers and make it about individuals. We’ve had disagreements with NUS Scotland before but the way it argues its case and lobbies is professional.

DM: Yeah I think so. NUS Scotland has a good degree of experience in making its case.

We’ve seen lots of different student campaigns this year – most notably down south – was this campaign handled differently? If so did this mean it was received better on the political side?

MS: It was embraced due to the respect for NUS Scotland. They asked for the right thing at the right time. And nobody threw a fire extinguisher at anybody else.

DM: The campaign down south was based on rage and not controlled by NUS. In Scotland it has managed the campaign. Had specific asks and got track record on them. It got the outcome it wanted.

The Save EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) campaign was created when the Comprehensive Spending Review was released it said that EMA would be reformed. “Which we found out meant abolish.” Said Shane Chowen, the NUS Vice-President FE (Further Education).

EMA is a means-tested allowance of between £10 and £30 a week, paid to 16- to 19-year-olds who stay on in education, available to those who come from households where the net pay is below £30,000 pa.

The Save EMA campaign was set up in partnership with several trade unions. “We thought it was important to get the perspective of people who weren’t just students but also who could see the benefits of more students aged 16, 17 and 18 in education.” Said Shane.

A system called EMAiling was set up which allowed students to use template emails to use to send to their local MPs and the campaign gave out the email address of Michael Gove. “We decided it was really important to make it a political issue.”

A day of action was set up on the 13th of December using contacts created from EMAiling and previous NUS campaigns. “We managed to get the issue out to people from the halls of Westminster to local sixth forms and colleges.”

Despite all of the positivity throughout the campaign EMA was still abolished but Shane says this doesn’t make the campaign a failure. “We didn’t win the vote but we did the absolute best we could, they used out-dated statistics to abolish EMA. It was our campaign that convinced them to come up with a replacement when they didn’t previously have one. Our action managed to get the replacement budget from £75million to £180million and people that are already getting EMA will still get it. It is still an important issue to us and we are not willing to let it go.”

EMA has now been scrapped in England under the current government’s new budget however it has been saved in Scotland and Wales. “The EMA argument was easier for students in Scotland and Wales because their governments are more left-wing. At the time they were also both leading up to elections and because of this politicians were willing to make promises to win the election. The devolved nations must do everything they can to ensure that those who got into power keep their promises to students.” Said Shane.

Student activism has been splashed across the front pages frequently over the past few months and often in a very negative light. But that is because students are once again discovering their voices and discovering that sometimes, when they shout loud enough, someone might actually listen to them and hear the issues that affect them. It does not always matter that the campaign is necessarily a success or failure it matters that their voice is heard.