When Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, he made the mistake of assuming that this meant the country, and it’s elected officials, had endorsed the gay positive position upon which he ran. This was not the case.
Upon beginning his term in 1993, Clinton began the discussion of lifting the ban of gay and lesbian servicepersons – only to find that he was almost alone in that position. The discussion quickly became one of “compromise” wherein deeply closeted gay people could theoretically serve in the military without harassment. The compromise soon came to be know by half of it’s promise: Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell (or DADT) – and don’t harass, don’t pursue dropped from the public conscience.
In recent months there has been increasing criticisms of this policy. Even those initially responsible for establishing it now say they find the restrictions to no longer be necessary.
On January 2 of this year the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993, John Shalikashvili, wrote, “I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces.” He was joined later that day by William Cohen who served as Defense Secretary from 1997 to 2001.
This newer criticism is hardly controversial. The anti-gay military policies have been criticized from Dick Cheney to “Mr. Conservative”, Barry Goldwater, who wrote this criticism when DADT was being proposed:
It’s no great secret that military studies have proved again and again that there’s no valid reason for keeping the ban on gays…
Some in congress think I’m wrong. They say we absolutely must continue to discriminate, or all hell will break loose. Who knows, they say, perhaps our soldiers may even take up arms against each other.
Well, that’s just stupid.
The argument that won the day and justified banishing gay soldiers to secrecy was “unit cohesion”, a theory that heterosexual soldiers would be incapable of serving with gay soldiers – especially during the stresses of combat. Time has proven that notion to be ridiculous.
Not only is bigotry a morally indefensible reason to discriminate, gay-panic no longer is a significant factor in the military, if indeed it ever was. A December 2006 poll reported that 73% of active servicemen are personally comfortable around gay people with an additional 15% who are “somewhat” uncomfortable. Racial integration received far higher resistance and now stands as one of the military’s shining social accomplishments.
And, of course, there is the example of those allies of ours serving in the Middle East, many of whom have open gay soldiers and none of whom have problems with unit cohesion.
But more telling than the statistics are the many gay people who serve in the military and are fortunate enough not to have unsympathetic superiors. Many gay men and women serve their country in peace and in war and make contributions that deserve commendation. One such young man is Sgt. Eric Alva, the first soldier wounded in Iraq. Alva was courageous, loyal, and fit enough to receive a visit from the President, but not fit enough to serve.
For me, the anecdotal evidence comes from a young friend who was perhaps one of the most – shall we say – effervescent young men I knew. He enlisted in the Navy and would call me periodically to update me on his life. First he was made second in command of his platoon in boot camp, then he worked his way up his unit until he was responsible for his Admiral’s ship. And never did he lose that “spark” that told all who knew him that he was unique. It was an open secret that he was gay but it was no secret that he worked his butt off and was a credit to his fellow soldiers.
And from Alva, my friend, and many others we hear the same thing. There was no problem with unit cohesion. And this is made further evident by the actions of the military during times of war. Then, for some reason, gay men and women seem to be a bit less dispensable to the miliatary. This became very obvious in reports of a military announcement just this week.
The Pentagon said it dismissed 612 people for homosexuality in its most recent fiscal year, fewer than half the 1,227 dismissed in fiscal 2001.
But the problem with DADT is not just that it is based on a faulty premise. The policy does actual harm to our military performance. Although dismissals are down, the policy enforcers have conducted purges resulting in the dismissal of some whom we desperately need and cannot replace. We see the best and brightest, those in critical services – such as Arabic linguists – driven from providing the services that might well save my life or yours. As former Republican Senator from Wyoming, Alan Simpson, wrote today:
My thinking shifted when I read that the military was firing translators because they are gay. According to the Government Accountability Office, more than 300 language experts have been fired under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. This when even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently acknowledged the nation’s “foreign language deficit” and how much our government needs Farsi and Arabic speakers. Is there a “straight” way to translate Arabic? Is there a “gay” Farsi? My God, we’d better start talking sense before it is too late. We need every able-bodied, smart patriot to help us win this war.
And why? What is the motivation that keeps these well qualified Americans from serving? What is it that is more important than the protection of our Nation?
Perhaps the answer can be found in the “personal” reasons that current Joint Chiefs Chairman, Peter Pace, gave to the Chicago Tribune:
“I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts,” Pace said in a wide-ranging discussion with Tribune editors and reporters in Chicago. “I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.
“As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else’s wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior,” Pace said.
All that is left to justify the discrimination that our Nation waves in the face of the world, is the religious beliefs of certain leaders. Having lost the “morale” argument, all that remains is the “moral” one.
And as moral arguments go, this one is very faulty. Unlike adultery, which truly does hurt morale, the military does not prosecute fornication, a “moral failure” much more akin to homosexuality than adultery.
Pace’s comments were met with a wall of raised eyebrows and disassociation from his views from all sides of the aisle. While Democrats in general expressed their concern, John Warner, the ranking Republican of the Senate Armed Services Committee had this to say:
Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a former Secretary of the Navy, said, “I respectfully but strongly disagree with the chairman’s view that homosexuality is immoral. In keeping with my longstanding respect for the Armed Services committee hearing process, I will decline to comment on the current policy until after such hearings are held.”
But one voice has been raised in his support. Alan Chamber, president of Exodus International, had this to say:
General Peter Pace’s personal beliefs about homosexual behavior as stated in an interview with the Chicago Tribune this week need no qualification or apology… General Pace’s comments were true and firmly rooted in his upbringing and faith.
Why did Chambers rush to praise Pace? I think the answer is twofold.
First, the military shares Chambers’ definition of “behavior”. They view “behavior” as including not only actions but also as identity. As Nathanial Frank points out in a Slate article:
Indeed, the law makes clear that it is not only conduct but same-sex desire itself that is considered a danger to the armed forces. That’s why it bars “persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage” in homosexual conduct, even if they don’t do so, and why it includes a notorious “queen for a day” exception exempting from discharge those who engage in homosexual acts if the behavior is considered “a departure from the member’s usual and customary behavior,” i.e., people who are straight!
Just as ex-gay ministries do, the military punishes identity. Those who “slip” or have “a departure” are deemed acceptable. “Reformed” prostitute and porn star Matt Sanchez can serve for years without anyone “noticing”. But the celibate – or even virginal – gay person who acknowledges their orientation is a threat and “immoral”.
It takes a peculiar mindset to think this way, one that seems only present in those who seek to justify discrimination.
The second reason I think that Alan jumps to laud Pace is because Pace supports a position of anti-pay political policy. And Alan, and Exodus, has yet to see a single anti-gay policy decision that they did not endorse, champion, and lobby in favor of.
As this debate prepares to reenter the halls of Congress, there is no doubt in my mind that we can look forward to Alan testifying against overturning this indefensible policy in the months to come. But as he does, this time his championing of bigotry may fall on deaf ears.