On my recent trip to the city, I passed a car with a bumpersticker which said “I don’t care if you’re straight, as long as you act gay in public,” and it got me thinking about the ongoing debate over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). A lot of people are calling for a repeal of DADT, and all sorts of people are weighing in on the issue. So far, things look promising; I think it’s highly likely that we are going to see a repeal, and I think that’s fantastic.
For those of you living under a rock, the short story of DADT is that it’s supposed to be a way to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military without offending the delicate sensibilities of their fellow soldiers. Basically, as long as you don’t mention the fact that you are gay, or “act gay,” you can serve in the armed forces.
The policy was promoted by Clinton, who cannily realized that although you can make a campaign promise to let gays and lesbians serve in the military, it’s not as simple as that. Under the policy, people are not supposed to ask each other about their sexual orientation, and gays and lesbians aren’t supposed to disclose the details of their sexual orientation. (Don’t ask, don’t tell, geddit?)
The thing is, it’s stupid. For a number of reasons, all of which are very sound.
Numerous gays and lesbians have been expulsed from the military, even after following the policy to the letter. Some have appealed, arguing that the grounds for their separation were shaky, at best. A lesbian member of the National Guard was separated because she went to a store with her partner, someone else saw them, and that person decided to report it. No one asked her, she didn’t tell, she was just going about her business in the civilian world, and that was enough to merit separation.
The gays and lesbians I know in the service have told me that DADT isn’t as simple as not asking and not telling. It’s about totally hiding your life, because you are completely vulnerable at any time. Some have even gone as far as to pretend to be straight in order to fly under the radar, after seeing what happens when sexual orientations are revealed. A constant cloud of anxiety hangs over the heads of gays and lesbians in the service, and that emotional strain takes an inevitable toll.
The argument against allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military is that they will somehow be distracting, or prone to inappropriate behaviour, or a drag on the moral fiber of the military. These same arguments were used to keep women out of the military very successfully, and we now see women performing at a very high, honorable, and valorous level all over the place. (Despite the ban on women serving in “combat positions,” the nature of war has changed such that many women do end up in combat, but they often are not eligible for military decorations because they weren’t supposed to be there, but that’s a rant for another day.)
The military needs warm bodies. It also needs smart people with integrity and the drive to get the job done. Sexual orientation doesn’t really seem to be relevant in this situation, and yet it’s become a serious bone of contention. Evidently, just being gay is enough to make you an unfit soldier. I think many people can agree that there’s a bit of a logical flaw going on there. It’s the same logical flaw which allows discrimination on all levels every day, the idea that people who differ from the expected norm are somehow suspect.
And the idea that the military, which is supposed to embody integrity, would have a policy in place which encourages people to lie about their lives…this seems questionable, at best.
Over 12,000 people have been discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation, and in many of those cases, the soldiers involved complied with DADT. They were outed by other people, or separated on the basis of activities which occurred off base and out of uniform. That’s 12,000 people who might have been able to do a great service for their country. Arabic translators, good marksmen and women, fantastic leaders.
We have an all-volunteer military force, at least currently, which means that everyone who wants to join makes a conscious choice to be there, and really wants to be a part of the armed services. How insulting that the Pentagon should still cling to antiquated notions about sexual orientation, and thereby prevent fabulous Americans from serving.