Via Andrew Sullivan:
More than 100 retired generals and admirals called Monday for repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays so they can serve openly.I knew a good number of gay servicemembers and veterans both when I served and afterward when I worked with the military in Iraq and at Ft. Huachuca; and counted many as friends. I saw no difference in their abilities, and saw very little threat to "unit cohesion" by their presence.
Among those I have known was one of the 12 female victims of a "witch hunt" at the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in 1999--she was a friend of my then-wife, who was also at DLI at the time. She came over to the house several times, once so that we could show her The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I used to lamely joke was what pushed her over the edge (she had not come out yet, bet we had our suspicions). She was, of course, no different than any of the other servicemembers we knew in terms of ability, professionalism, dedication and esprit des corps, but she was gay, so her services were not needed, not even after September 11.
The fundamental injustice of her discharge, of a policy that demands servicemembers remain in the closet, was only too obvious to me then as it is now. There is no good reason gays cannot be allowed to serve openly in the military. Any "unit cohesion" problems can easily be addressed by the military's current sexual harrassment regulations. Most of the people I knew in Iraq, especially the grunts, had no problem serving with homosexuals and almost everyone it seemed knew one personally who was relatively open about his or her sexual orientation.
Sure, the faggot and cocksucker comments flew unfettered through many a conversation, but never in my presence were they directed at gays. This does raise the sticky issue of widespread homophobia, at least in talk, in our military, but fortunately the military has an almost ideal system for rooting out prejudice.
In Basic Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO in 1995, I was forced to meet and work alongside people whose subcultures I had never known. In my 8-person (we were among the first gender-integrated Basic Training cycles at Leonard Wood) squad were a stereotypical white redneck from the Georgia hills, an black soldier from Detroit and a Puerto Rican female from, well, Puerto Rico, alongside myself, a white boy from an agricultural town in California. Would we have ever come into contact with all of those people in one place had the military not forced us to work together? Likely not. But I remember having a private conversation toward the end of the 8-week cycle with that stereotypical redneck about race. He brought it up, because he just had to tell someone how strange it was to him that he could have so much in common with a black man. I told him I was astonished to discover how much he and I shared.
This epiphany can happen, and has happened, for those who believe they could never work with a homosexual. All it requires is for the military to tell its recruits, "shut up, put your differences aside, and learn to work together." They might also add, "keep your hands off each other," as they already do in gender-integrated units.
If you're at all concerned about the results of Prop 8 in California or the grossly unequal treatment of homosexuals in our society, you should be hopeful about this development. Just as racial integration of the military 60 years ago was a watershed event in the struggle for equality, lifting the ban on gays in the military will serve a similar purpose.
Twenty years from now, we may look upon this as the canary in the coalmine of legal anti-gay discrimination in America. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has made it easy foryou to write your representatives about this issue. Please do so.
(Cross-posted at Decline and Fall.)