Aaron Belkin, director of an advocacy think tank, was one of the masterminds behind the dismantling of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Using a strategic combination of counter-narrative and iteration, Belkin and his partners got rid of what he called the 10,000 pound boulder in the middle of the road to repeal: entrenched belief.
Belkin realized that the “gays as victims of oppression” narrative was not working to reverse the public opinion that “gays in the military compromised unit cohesion” or hurt the military – a narrative that showed up repeatedly despite countless research articles supporting the contrary. Belkin and his team decided to use a direct counter-narrative: “Gays don’t hurt the military, discrimination does.”
Belkin says they watched the news cycle closely for opportunities to insert their narrative along with existing research in order to obtain media coverage (like this New York Times article about a shortage of Arabic linguists compromising military intelligence after a round of discharges under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell). By doing this over and over, the steady drip of timely examples of government waste and blatant hypocrisy ultimately reversed public opinion on gays in the military.
Another key part to their strategy? Patience.
Belkin and his team reiterated their counter-narrative for 10 years before the policy was repealed in 2011, allowing openly gay members to serve side by side with their comrades to protect and defend their country as one.
Belkin, A., & Gibbons, S. (2016, April 6). Dismantling “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (SSIR). Retrieved November 28, 2016, from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/dismantling_dont_ask_dont_tell
Frank, N. (2009). ‘Unfriendly Fire’. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/books/chapters/chapter-unfriendly-fire.html