Columnists » The Right View

At Long Last, Military Is ’MAPping’ Out DADT’s End

by Shaun Knittel
Sunday May 29, 2011

Serving in silence is bullshit. But for nearly 15 years, under the nearly defunct "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy it was necessary. Communication between gay and lesbian service members was a bit of an art form. It was all very "secret handshake" and whispers in the dark. Oh, you'd better hope against hope that your gaydar wasn't rusty.

These days, however, the lines of communication are about as open as the closet door. Seek and you shall find. One such resource for LGB (no T; not yet) servicemembers is a new program called the Military Acceptance Program, otherwise known as MAP. What a great acronym for an organization that does exactly that: Maps out the repeal process - from beginning to end - for each respective service.

MAP is a bit of a wet dream for gay veterans. A project like this is something that seemed as difficult as landing on Mars. Sure, we have the capability and know how to do it.

But would it ever happen? Well, it has happened and it will have a lasting impact for many years to come. Military talking to military, through resource and fact, packs a bigger punch than any bomb or gun in existence. MAP is about taking care of our own.

MAP, as it stands, is an infant. The project is just two-months old.

Former Marine Corps officer Kristen Kavanaugh co-founded MAP with colleagues and faculty from the University of Southern California's School of Social Work, San Diego Academic Center.

"At first, all we knew is that we wanted to support servicemembers through the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell," states Kavanaugh, "After talking with military leaders about the implementation process it became clear that the services had no way to directly learn and address the questions and concerns of the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) servicemembers most impacted by the repeal."

The MAP team quickly held a focus group with 15 local LGB servicemembers. The team used this forum to gain a better understanding of the groups' questions, concerns and ideas of how best to support them before, during and after the repeal. Their input formed the foundation of the new website and the organization's mission.

"MAP fills a unique and important space, specifically in the DADT repeal world," Jasper Kump, co-founder and director of communications for MAP, said. "There are already several strong organizations focused on various aspects of the repeal of DADT and beyond. From lobbying and political forces to legal and family-based organizations, they have all blazed a trail for the repeal and continue to forge our way to equality for LBG service members."

"In our interviews with various military leaders as well as focus groups with LGB active duty and veteran servicemembers, we quickly learned that until the repeal training and process was over, there was no safe way for these two groups to communicate without risking retaliation to the service member," he said. "As a result, LGB servicemembers - who the repeal affects most - had no voice and were getting generalized information that didn't address their basic questions."

Kump says MAP's focus is squarely on providing information, resources and support to servicemembers related to any form of marginalization. "This includes serving as a conduit of communication to and from marginalized servicemembers themselves and the services," he said. "Currently, with the repeal of DADT, this means LGB service members specifically."

Kump says MAP is "very careful not to have any political or partisan agendas or affiliations."

That is a very good call on MAP's behalf. For a lot of you that may wonder, "Who are these Log cabin Republicans and where do they live?" The answer is: The U.S. military.

Now I would be wrong in saying that all the conservative gays have flocked to the front line - trust me, I knew a fair share of screaming queens in the ranks - but the truth is, most of my gay pals in uniform went to church, voted Republican, and actually enjoyed sports like hunting and fishing.

For MAP's leadership to recognize that they may ostracize someone based on political affiliations is a smart move. In other words, if their mission is to help all LGBT service members then they are living up to that by welcoming them as they are.

The MAP website includes articles, training materials and other information about the Department of Defense and each branch of the military's implementation plans and progress. An anonymous research poll, a blog, and personal stories allow service members to actively be heard and participate. According to MAP officials, "It's a resource designed by servicemembers, for servicemembers."

MAP officials say they want visitors to walk away with simple, direct and current information on the repeal of DADT; resources for additional support or information; many opportunities to ask questions and share their stories safely and anonymously; the understanding that their service is deeply appreciated; and the knowledge that they are not alone.

And that is the key: knowing that you are not alone. It's a big military and out there on the ocean, dug in the desert, or flying night missions far above land, it is comforting to know that there are others who are fighting for freedom alongside you who are LGB.

I applaud MAP and the work that they are doing. No longer will adam4adam and the like be the "meeting" place for LGB service men and women looking for answers, friends and comfort. MAP, along with social networking sites like, an online network for LGBT service members and their supporters, are bringing the gay military family together in ways we only dreamed of a few short years ago. When DADT is finally dead, we will be more alive than ever before.

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist and public affairs specialist living in Seattle. His work as a photographer, columnist, and reporter has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the Pacific Northwest. In addition to writing for EDGE, Knittel is the current Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News.


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