BETWEEN THE LINES: Fifty-three weeks ago, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, which denied homosexuals from serving openly in the armed forces without the anxiety of expulsion, was repealed. The struggle to end it lasted twice as long as the war in Iraq and was, to some extent, overturned due to the urgency for fresh and specialized recruits. Nevertheless, despite fears of dire consequences and a blow to morale, it has not had a negative impact.
The basis for DADT was, for all intents and purposes, a charade that sanctioned deception by gays and lesbians because military tradition ignored homophobia in the ranks. Consequently, the guideline forced many, who faithfully executed their duties, to mask their sexual preference or be discharged.
From the time the directive was adopted in 1993, when President Clinton yielded to Pentagon opposition to reverse the ban on gay service members, until it was revoked on September 20, 2011, more than 13,000 American service members were discharged. Those expulsions, which included hundreds of men and women with specialized skills, were detrimental to military missions because, among them, were hard-to-find linguists, who specialized in Arabic and Farsi (the latter is the official language of Iran), languages that have become indispensable to our Middle East presence during the last decade. Others discharged included pilots, engineers, doctors, nurses, and combat medics, key positions in which the military has had a shortage of in recent years. Those daring Americans, willing to put their lives on the front lines of combat, were, regrettably, not discharged because of poor performance or misconduct, but simply because of their sexual orientation.
Consequently, capable, dedicated individuals were dismissed because of a lifestyle some consider objectionable on personal, religious or moral grounds. Nevertheless, it has gradually become more widely accepted, particularly in the last 20 years, as gays and lesbians have become more visible — i.e. Ellen Degeneres, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”) and “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon, to name a few of the more well-known illustrations. Of course, like any prejudice, bigots and hypocrites will never accept what they don’t understand.
Discrimination based upon sexual preference is a violation of most civilian law, but it was permitted in our armed forces largely due to outdated logic that operates under a singular principle: There are three ways of doing things — the right way, the wrong way and the military way. The latter argument tends to be the most absurd, self-serving crap.
DADT was necessary because most military leaders likely held that, without it, there would be an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, which are the essence of the military capability. However, before it was abolished, some top echelon brass, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, favored the end of the 18-year rule that cost the country quality service members.
Before DADT, when a soldier was found to be gay or lesbian, he/she might be harassed, beaten or possibly killed, which was tolerated as much by military brass as it was by a society with a deep-rooted, irrational fear of homosexuals.
“Don’t Ask” implied that anyone of superior rank cannot initiate an inquiry into an individual’s sexual orientation, while “Don’t Tell” meant soldiers were strongly advised not to admit they were homosexual. If someone’s behavior was deemed improper — from suggestive e-mails to same-sex activity — an individual likely ended up discharged.
Before DADT was abolished, Gates ordered the Pentagon to study the effects on the front lines and at home “to minimize disruption and polarization within the ranks.” This seemed reasonable since the prevailing macho atmosphere of the armed forces had to be moderated in order to educate and weed out service members who were inherently intolerant of what many regard as an alternate lifestyle.
While morale, order and discipline may be the holy trinity of the armed forces, DADT has been ineffective because it led to the staggering loss of thousands of indispensable service members, plus excessive costs to a budget that needs every cent to equip our armies and adequately battle our enemies.
A similar bigotry once existed for black Americans, who only served in segregated units during World War II. When President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948, he may have been motivated by politics more than ending racial discrimination, but it was a seed that helped spur the civil rights movement more than a decade later.
Over the years, thousands of men and women had to sacrifice a piece of their pride when they enlisted. With the abolition of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” gays and lesbians can not only serve without limitations or lies, but do so with renewed self-respect and dignity. Furthermore, as the general public broadened its attitudes about homosexuals and the expansion of same-sex marriage, ending “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” opened the barrack’s closet.
On the other hand, while there haven’t been publicized problems or confrontations with straight and gay soldiers since DADT was repealed, the Associated Press reported last week that an Army brigadier general faces a possible court martial over charges that include forcible sodomy, multiple counts of adultery and having inappropriate relationships with female subordinates.
So, while this one-star heterosexual apparently found it difficult to keep it in his pants, homosexuals seem to be adhering to the military’s code of conduct since they came out of the closet.
Now, a year after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and unease about thousands quitting in protest notwithstanding, gay and straight soldiers serve together and obey the military codes of conduct.
Perhaps civilians, who are still intolerant towards gays and lesbians and see them as a detriment to our society and our morals, will rethink their archaic prejudice and allow same-sex marriage to become part of the inexorable national trend.
After years of anxiety, proud gay and lesbian members of the armed forces can finally hold their heads high as they march, perform duties and carry out missions as they serve their country with honor.
Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.
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