Major Margaret Witt
A federal court has reinstated a decorated Air Force flight nurse who had been dismissed under the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy because she is a lesbian.
After six days of trial, Judge Robert Leighton found that Major Margaret Witt’s sexual orientation does not negatively impact unit morale or cohesion.
“Today we heard the hammer of justice strike for Major Margaret Witt,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington, which represented Witt.
“We look forward to the day when all members of our military can serve our country without invidious discrimination. To discharge Major Witt simply because of her sexual orientation was entirely unfair to her and unwise for the military, which needs her significant skills.”
Although the ruling left in place the military’s DADT policy, if challenged in court the military must prove that an individual’s conduct actually hurts morale and unit cohesion. This requirement is now known as the “Witt Standard.”
“I want to serve my country. I have loved being in the military – my fellow airmen have been my family. I am proud of my career and want to continue doing my job,” said Major Witt. “Wounded people never asked me about my sexual orientation. They were just glad to see me.”
During her 19-year career in the Air Force, Major Witt served in the Persian Gulf, received many medals and commendations, and always had superb evaluations from her superiors. In 1993, she was even featured on an Air Force Nurse Corps recruitment flyer.
Witt also received a medal from President Bush, who noted that she had delivered “outstanding medical care” to injured service members and that her “outstanding aerial accomplishments…reflect great credit upon herself and the United States Air Force.”
“Major Witt’s case exemplifies the baseless nature of the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, which wrongly assumes that gay or lesbian soldiers detract from morale,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.
In 2004, Major Witt was notified that the Air Force had begun an investigation into an allegation that she had engaged in a same-sex relationship. In November 2004, Major Witt was placed on unpaid leave and told she could no longer participate in any military duties, pending formal separation proceedings.
In March 2006, the Air Force informed Major Witt that she was being administratively discharged on grounds of “homosexual conduct.”