Friday, August 25, 2006

Gays in the Military

It’s time for another Philosophy Discussion Group meeting. For those who don’t know, the PDG meets monthly for pizza, drinks, and philosophical discussion. Everyone is always invited. Join us on Thursday, August 31st at 7p in the James Lounge to discuss “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Many Americans are proud to serve in our military. The military not only enhances a career, but also can rebuild a person, achieve a meaningful goal, and bestow her with honor and integrity. One group, however, cannot serve: gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women. The ban caused the discharge of over 10,000 openly gay service members, and the silence of at least 65,000 more. Should openly gay service members be lifted or is it necessary to keep soldiers focused on the job? Why allow “closeted” service members to remain while discharging those who are “out”? Does anyone have a right to serve in the military?

Ask a friend, tell a neighbor, and rsvp to Chris Ciocchetti (cciocche@centenary.edu) for pizza and drinks. Check out some short readings to prime your mind:

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A Feb 2006 Washington Post article that includes both the pros and cons of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/13/AR2006021302373_pf.html

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Reasons to keep the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban

1. Unit cohesion (what Congress bases DADT on). Unit cohesion, or the trusting of fellow servicemembers and the ability to work well with them, is imperative to the military for obvious reasons. Especially in a time of war, soldiers should be focused on a job and feel comfortable fighting alongside their peers. If gay men and women are allowed to be “out” and then mixed with straight soldiers, unit cohesion will fall apart because sexual orientation and trust will become the main focus instead of the job. No man should ever have to fight a battle while wondering if he is going to be seduced by a fellow soldier. Having gay people be open today while at war would be most dangerous, and the military should not lift the ban and risk putting our soldiers in danger.

2. DADT is not discrimination in the first place. A soldier can be gay; he or she just can't talk about it. Why should gay people be allowed to flaunt their homosexuality? Their sexual orientation is not relevant to their military service. We should not lift the ban and create special nondiscrimination laws just so gay men and women can talk about their lovers.

3. If the ban was lifted, harassment would increase. People would know who is gay, and thus, gay men and women would become easy targets for harassment. DADT actually protects them.

4. Showers. Should straight men have to shower with gay men? Of course not. It would be a violation of privacy and could potentially lead to embarrassment and threats. If gay men were allowed to be open about their sexuality, the military would have to invest in separate living quarters, a physical and financial burden in an already pressing time.

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Reasons to do away with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

1. Since its inception in 1993, over 10,000 soldiers have been discharged on the basis of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (Government Accountability Office; Servicemembers Legal Defense Network). At a time when military recruiters are not meeting quotas and when our troops are falling short in other countries, we have ended the careers of over 10,000 talented soldiers.

2. The discharge of gay soldiers has cost United States taxpayers $364 million over the last 13 years (Government Accountability Office). This cost includes the expulsion of gay members and the training of new members to replace the old. With a national debt as large as ours, your money could be used to decrease the debt, fund education, or fund scientific research.

3. We are the only NATO country besides Turkey who bans openly gay men and women from the military. In addition to falling behind as a “developed nation,” we are actually serving with openly gay soldiers of other countries who are our allies on the battlefield.

4. In a time when the United States is as war with Afghanistan and Iraq, we have discharged hundreds of Arabic-speaking soldiers for being gay. Could former gay soldiers have stopped the attacks on the World Trade Centers? What information could they be acquiring and translating now?

5. In a 2006 Gallup poll, researchers found that over 80% of Americans favor lifting the ban on gay soldiers. With the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would lift the ban, sitting in Congress right now, and with overwhelming support from the public, there is no reason Congress shouldn’t end government-sanctioned discrimination.

6. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 65,000 gay men and women are currently serving in the U.S. military. Each day these soldiers serve in silence under oppression, unable to mention their families or speak openly about their lives. Should they die while invoking their 2nd Amendment right to serve in the military, their spouses will never know firsthand (with a military officer at their door) but will be reduced to finding out from the soldier’s other family members, who may or may not ever tell the partner.

7. Lastly, forcing a soldier to keep hidden his or her sexual orientation could be a threat to national security. If an insurgent from another country finds out the American soldier is gay, the soldier could be blackmailed: “you give us information or we will tell that you are gay.”

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Letters About LGBT Military Service

I’ve been at [West Point Military Academy] for three years now. I would like to give more specifics of my service, my accomplishments and my past, but I can’t. Even the most basic details of my life can be turned against me and used to fill in the pieces of a puzzle that could eventually get me kicked out. I chose to come here for numerous reasons, no different from the other cadets—opportunity, service, family history—but who I am could very well take all those things from me. The life of a cadet is stressful for anyone at the academy. Balancing the military, physical and academic portions of our lives is not easy for any cadet. The difference for me is that for the last three years, I’ve had a bag packed and a foot out the door. I worry every day that someone may have heard something, read something or seen something that could get me kicked out. I can’t meet with an officer without worrying that this is the time…that I read the wrong blog, or got sent a postcard from a friend that was read in the mailroom, and this is the moment I’ve been dreading.

I’m not alone, although I didn’t find others until about a year ago. There are, in fact, more than I’d expected. We’ve found each other at all the academies, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and even some of the civilian and state military schools…Norwich, North Georgia College, VMI, and the Citadel. Other than our uniforms, the other common thread we share is our common fear of loosing our ability to serve—our desire to sacrifice our time, our energy and our lives could be taken from us (and that, to us, is a fear), and our daily work within an environment where homophobia is omnipresent. You can speak out against homophobia to an extent, but once you speak out against it, you automatically draw to yourself the magnifying glass of “is he?”

I’ve told friends, quite a few, and the most shocking thing is the level of support I’ve gotten from them. Many have apologized for if they had ever said anything that could have offended me in the past. These friends are not liberals from California either. Home schooled southerners, Texans and others (again, I wish I could share specific stories, moments I’ve had with friends, but I cannot), all of whom have told me they support me, and that their proud of me for being here, or that they respect me more now than they did before.

Once a year, we have the Sandhurst competition here, which is an international military race with military tasks. Schools come from all over, including Australia, Britain, Canada. At the end, the Superintendents of Sandhurst Military Academy in Britain, the Royal Military Academy in Canada and the USMA gather together to present the award in front of the assembled student body and competitors. Last year, my roommate leaned over to me and said, “You know what’s ironic? We can serve with their gays, just not you.” I looked up and realized he was right. There, standing before us, were General Officers representing the forces of two of our close allies in the War on Terror…both of which allowed open homosexuals to serve in their militaries. It was a sad moment to realize that at this point, I would have more rights were I to leave my own country and fight for another than I do here.

I wish I could be more eloquent…that I could put into words what it’s like to be perched on a precipice with no control over my own life. To know that those people with whom I work most closely support me, but this policy says they won’t. If I could pass along what it feels like, this pervasive culture of fear, tension, pain, and lonliness, I would. But I can’t, so know simply that it’s up to people who are out there to speak for us, and to help change the mind of the electorate who will be the ones to change the law.

-from a gay cadet at West Point, spring 2006

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I have been honorably serving this country's Navy for the past 10 years.
I haven't even so much as come to work late -- not even once. I am a journalist, and to my credit are Best AFN DJ of the Pacific, 6 broadcasting awards, an Air Force Commendation medal, 3 good conduct awards, and Best AFN news anchor.

Recently, I transferred to a military billet in New York (Long Island) where I am the Public Affairs Officer for the Navy. In the past, I have been able to be fairly open about who I am and who I'm dating -- due to the liberal nature of the broadcasting field -- but coming to this assignment, I found it to be much more restrictive. I am working almost exclusively with high ranking officers and military officials. Never before has the "don't ask, don't tell" policy so severely impacted my day to day life as it does now.

Adding insult to injury, my girlfriend of 4 years recently had to leave this country because she's a foreigner here and was unable to find an employer to sponsor her for a work visa. Because we aren't able to marry -- as a heterosexual couple would -- she had to return to Japan.

I decided recently I couldn't take this anymore. I had to speak out. I decided to join a march for marriage equality in Manhattan ... and what better way to ensure being heard than to show up in uniform? The news cameras were on me like ticks on a dog, and I made the statement to 1010WINS in New York that marriage equality is important to me because I want the right to marry my girlfriend. The following Monday, I was served with administrative discharge papers from my commanding officer. He says "I'm sorry, but this is a mandatory separation." Funny ... if I had had an adulteress affair with my husband, I would have only been reprimanded ... but my loving, monogamous relationship with a woman has found me suddenly unemployed and soon to be homeless (as I am living in military housing).

I am frustrated, angry, hurt, confused, and determined. So many people aren't even fully aware of what "don't ask, don't tell" involves. They think we aren't allowed to go to work and give the details of our sex lives ... but no, it's more than that. It's simply stating who you went to the movies with last night. A phrase as seemingly harmless as "my girlfriend and I saw the new Tom Hanks movie" violates the policy and is grounds for discharge.

I have checked out numerous blogs about myself lately, and public opinion seems to say "hang the dyke!" People want me to be kicked out with a dishonorable discharge and perhaps given the death penalty. No one seems to understand why I chose to sacrifice EVERYTHING I have to speak out about this issue. I don't hate the military. I have enjoyed the travel, the free education, and the incredible experience -- but I could no longer continue to be an empty, unfulfilled work horse for the Navy -- keeping my mouth shut because I might make someone uncomfortable
-- regardless of how uncomfortable that makes me, keeping my personal life a secret and hanging out with no one at work because they might find out I'm gay, yet having to continually answer questions about why I never hang out with anyone. I may have sacrificed my job, my benefits, my house, my paycheck, and the 10 years I've worked towards retirement... but I have not sacrificed my self-respect -- and that's what the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was asking me to do.

In Long Island, I work with a gay and lesbian youth group -- kids who are the perfect military recruiting age, yet they don't even consider joining the military because of its ban on gays. These are kids with a lot to offer, yet in order to join our Armed Forces, they would have to deny their own sense of pride and self -- not to mention their honesty and integrity (the very qualities that make them so valuable). This country denies kids like this -- and people like me -- the right to join the very organization that was supposedly created to ensure freedom. The military teaches us "honor, courage, and commitment," yet expects its gay service members to live a lie. It's definitely time to lift the ban on gays in the military, and I applaud your organization for stepping up to the challenge.

-- JO1 Rhonda K. Davis (lesbian, USN)