Gays Serving Our Country

Thu. May 19, 2005 12:00 AM
by Tim McCanless

"Homosexuals have privately served well in the past and are continuing to serve well today." General Colin Powell, at a Senate hearing in 1993.

"Sexual orientation is considered a personal and private matter, and homosexual orientation is not a bar to continued service unless manifested by homosexual conduct." Department of Defense Directive 1332.14 (1994)

The conservative movement, to which I subscribe, has as one of its basic tenets the belief that government should stay out of people's private lives. Government governs best when it governs least - and stays out of the impossible task of legislating morality. But legislating someone's version of morality is exactly what we do by perpetuating discrimination against gays [in the military]." Barry M Goldwater, former senator, AZ

The U.S. Armed Forces have, to their credit, often led the rest of the country in the field of human rights. They eliminated the racial bar against African-Americans at a time when many organizations in the rest of the country heavily discriminated against blacks. They accept women as equals to men in all but certain hazardous classifications at a time when women are heavily discriminated against, particularly within some religious institutions, but also in commerce, education and industry. However, the Armed Forces are dragging their heels over the matter of sexual orientation. At a time when the vast majority of American adults favor an end to discrimination for gays and lesbians, the Armed Forces do not allow a sexually active, openly gay, service member to remain in the services.

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy is the only law in America that authorizes the firing of an American for simply being gay. Researchers estimate tens of thousands of gay and lesbian Americans currently serve in our nations military-on the front lines of freedom. We commend their sacrifice, along with the sacrifices of all the other Americans who protect our nation. No man or woman in uniform should have to worry about being thrown out of the military for being gay. One's sexual orientation is no reflection of their courage. Those who fight for freedom shouldn't face discrimination from the government they protect. Furthermore, the military should be promoting honesty among its service members, not secrecy.

There are many reasons why Don't Ask, Don't Tell should be changed. Here are some of them:

1. With our nation at war, it is imperative to have the best and brightest fighting for freedom. We need the most qualified and competent people defending us, regardless of their sexual orientation. Don't Ask, Don't Tell keeps many talented Americans from serving this nation. As recruiting an all-volunteer force becomes more challenging, the military should not jeopardize its effectiveness by closing the door to qualified Americans interested in serving. In November 2002, seven linguists fluent in Arabic got kicked out of the military's Defense Language Institute for being gay. This happened even as intelligence agencies complained about a shortage of linguists fluent in Arabic. Winning the war on terror depends on having such people serving our nation.

2. Allowing openly gay service members will not hurt unit cohesion or competence. Our closest allies allow openly gay service members, including every member of NATO except Turkey. Research shows none of the countries with openly gay service members have been hurt by their non-discrimination policy. England, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Israel are just some of the 24 nations that allow openly gay members in the military. Even South Africa allows openly gay service members.
Even though many opponents predicted problems in these countries before their bans were lifted, time proved them wrong. Researchers say not a single country with openly gay service members has reported any decrease in morale, recruitment, retention or cohesion.

3. U.S. soldiers already serve with openly gay service members from other countries. This joint service has created no problems for American personnel. The British military, our strongest ally in Iraq, has openly gay service members working alongside American forces. This has not caused any problems. Since the Persian Gulf War, United States forces have joined 20 joint military campaigns with other nations who have openly gay service members.

4. Supporters of the current policy often argue that allowing gay and lesbian's service members would violate the privacy of heterosexual members. Again we can see what has happened in other countries that changed their anti-gay policies. Studies in England and Canada show very few complaints of sexual harassment involving homosexual members. For argument's sake, even if we concede this point, the U.S. military, by decade's end, will have private rooms for all sailors, Marines, soldiers, and airmen. The so-called privacy problem will be gone.

5. Even if some heterosexual members of the United States military have moral objections to homosexuals, that won't impact unit effectiveness. A Harvard research report examined hundreds of studies that showed a unit's effectiveness has nothing to do with whether or not members of the team liked each other.

6. The FBI, CIA, and Secret Service, along with most police and fire departments around the United States, now allow openly gay Americans to serve in their ranks. These non-discrimination policies have not hurt performance, professionalism, or morale.

7. There is strong sentiment to change this policy among both the public and the military. A recent Gallup poll of the American public shows 72% support the right of gays and lesbians to serve in uniform. A poll during the 2000 campaign showed 65% of Republicans in favor of gays and lesbians serving in uniform.

8. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy is corrupted by some people as a way of avoiding military service. Research shows, and even the military admits, that a sizable percentage of those kicked out of the armed forces for being homosexual are actually heterosexual. They use the policy like a get out of jail free card. Eliminating the policy would close this loophole.

9. The military wastes millions of dollars each year investigating "violations" of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. With a huge budget deficit, this money could be better spent on projects that actually improve national defense.

More than 55 years ago, President Harry Truman desegregated the military. His courageous act received a hostile reaction from some Americans. Many of the same arguments made against President Truman's decision can be heard again today as a way of keeping openly gay Americans from serving this nation. Since World War II, 110,000 Americans have been discharged from the military for being gay or lesbian. Tens of thousands of others have served in secrecy, with distinction. Some have given their lives in defense of freedom. The Don't Ask Don't Tell policy tramples the principles they died protecting. It rips at the fabric of liberty that so many thousands have died defending. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy must be transformed into Don't Discriminate, Don't Surrender!

The following is a list of people that have served the United stated in active duty or in the system. I am sure that there are many more whose names I could not find, but to these people we salute you.

Sgt. Perry Watkins retired, won Supreme Court case for reinstatement to Army after expulsion for being gay.

Lt. Tracy Thorne U.S. Navy officer who came out on Nightline, now fighting expulsion

Gerry E. Studds. U.S. politician

Tom Stoddard gay-rights lawyer

Joe Steffan, top Naval Academy cadet expelled for being gay, now suing for reinstatement

Allan Spear, Minnesota state senator

Steve Schulte, U.S. politician

Dusty Pruitt, sued military for reinstatement after expulsion for being gay

Elaine Noble, first openly lesbian or gay person elected to a state legislature

Joseph McCarthy, U.S. congressman

Glen Maxey, Texas state legislator

Frank Kameny, longtime activist; first openly gay person to run for Congress

Hinson, Jon [m] (1942- ) U.S. congressman

Harry Hay, founder of the modern gay-rights movement

Michael Hardwicke, challenged Georgia's sodomy law; the U.S. Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, upheld the law in 1986

Barney Frank, U.S. congressman

Miriam Ben-Shalom, sued military for reinstatement after expulsion for being lesbian

Robert Bauman, U.S. politician

Related: Poll Shows Overwhelming Support for Allowing Gays to Serve

On The Web: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network