'Don't ask, don't tell' rules don't make sense

By null, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 27, 2003

Our nation needs to get its priorities straight. Which is more important, defeating terrorism or enforcing discriminatory rules against gays and lesbians?

Our fighting forces have apparently made their decision. In the last year and a half the military has discharged 22 linguists due to their sexual orientation, including nine Arabic speakers and two who speak Farsi.

Do I really have to point out how insane this is? Are there really no rational adults within the military brass, Defense Department or White House willing to stand up and question this value?

President Clinton's political compromise on gays in the military, his "don't ask, don't tell" policy, has never been workable; and now we no longer have the luxury to fuss with such foolishness. Since its inception in 1994, more than 8,500 men and women have been removed from military service, wasting an estimated $218-million in recruiting and training costs.

Cathleen Glover is part of those statistics. In March 2002, she graduated as an Arabic speaker from the Defense Language Institute, the military's language training school in Monterey, Calif. About three weeks ago, she was discharged for being a lesbian. She "outed" herself back in November when she published an article in the Monterey Herald expressing the constant fear she felt of being found out. Around that time a number of her colleagues at the institute had been drummed out of the service for their sexual orientation.

Glover told me the pressure to keep her real life a secret was unbearable: "The military preaches integrity, integrity, integrity but asks you to lie to everyone around you."

Whether the Pentagon admits it or not, it is a statistical probability that we have just deployed hundreds if not thousands of homosexual soldiers overseas to face mortal battle in Iraq. They have done this country proud, but we continue to treat them as pariahs, forcing them to live a deception. When they communicate with their partners they have to write in code, stripped of gender references. Phone calls must be cryptic and self-censored.

Unlike their heterosexual counterparts, no one was able to see them off. Their tearful goodbyes with loved ones had to be done behind closed doors. And the partners they left behind have been provided none of the services or benefits of other military families, such as access to the base store or briefings that offer updates on family member deployments.

Gay and lesbian soldiers constitute our own community of Marranos, the Jews of 15th century Spain who pretended to convert to Catholicism in order to avoid persecution and expulsion but who secretly continued to practice their faith.

Banning openly gay service members in the military is a vestige of our own religiously grounded prejudice. Just as we consider King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella's 1492 expulsion order a backward, ignorant act, future generations will reflect on today's gay military ban with disgust.

The primary rationale put forth for maintaining "don't ask, don't tell" is that known homosexuals in military ranks will undermine unit cohesion. It is the same tired argument once made against integrating African-Americans into the military, essentially saying that the personal prejudices of military personnel should dictate who will make up the ranks.

The evidence, though, suggests that openly gay service members do not impact military readiness. Twenty-four nations currently allow homosexuals to serve openly, including Canada, Israel, Britain and Australia. The Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, studied the experience of those four nations and found "no serious disruptions and no impairment of unit cohesion." If that think tank sounds a little lefty, it turns out those same conclusions were arrived at in 1993 by the General Accounting Office and the Rand Corporation. Both groups reported finding that openly gay service members in foreign militaries did not adversely affect discipline, effectiveness or unit cohesion.

Despite American hegemony, U.S. military campaigns have become coalition affairs. Whether it be a NATO operation in the Balkans or the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, our military has been and will continue to fight alongside nations that welcome openly gay service members. Our own military preparedness depends on American troops accepting these soldiers.

From every point of view except one narrow, hate-twisted one, wiping away barriers to gays in the military would be a boon to U.S. interests. It is time for the adults in leadership to say so.