If there is one group of people I admire more than any other, it is the men and women who volunteer to defend our rights and freedoms in the United States military services. While most of us (myself included) spend our time talking about rights and freedom, these folks, and their families, are putting their lives on the line to make sure we have the freedom to do so.
I think this, more than anything, is why the debate over the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy is a loaded one. On the one hand if equality under the law cannot be had in the United States of America, what right do we have trying to bring it to other countries? On the other hand, one of the most important things we should be doing for our military is giving them defined goals and removing the barriers to achieving those goals so that our service men and women can come home safe.
The real question, I believe, is whether the two are mutually exclusive.
I don’t dare speak for our men and women in uniform, but as I try to do with all my posts, I try to offer a new perspective that, perhaps, you may not have considered previously.
To my conservative friends and family, put yourself in this situation: You have volunteered to serve in any given branch of the U.S. military. Whether it is to earn assistance with academic tuition, find a way out of a bad situation (neighborhood, upbringing, etc.) or an underlying drive to give back to the country you live in, the decision to serve is rarely seen with anything but awe or gratitude from your countrymen. Serving in the military, I imagine, isn’t simply a matter of choosing a “job.” It is called military life for a reason. Once you have enlisted you eat, live, sleep and breathe being a soldier. Arguably, even on “leave” you are never really on “vacation” from being a soldier. A sacrifice both you and your family makes.
Now imagine further as a soldier, as you listen to your friends and comrades discuss the time they spend with their friends, their girlfriends/boyfriends, fiancées, wives/husbands, and children, you are required, by law to remain silent. You are not allowed to discuss some of your antics as a teenager. You must remain silent about your girlfriend/boyfriend, fiancée or wife/husband. These are topics that are basic levels of exchange between friends and colleagues. Even your family needs to be guarded in their conversation with other military families.
If you, or your family, slip up just once and make mention of any of these things, you can be immediately thrown out of the military. The life and work you’ve known, the ranks you’ve worked so hard to earn, can all be stripped away from you because of one slip in casual conversation.
This to me is the crux of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell issue. As someone who didn’t come out until he was 28, I know all too well what a burden it can be to not participate in these basic topics of conversation because of the fear that you will be “outed.” In my case, it was fear of losing my family, not my livelihood.
Many of the talk show hosts today have been focused on how the repeal of DADT somehow gives “extra” rights to gay people by allowing them to go around shouting “I’m gay, I’m gay, I’m gay” when sexuality isn’t supposed to part of the professional discussion. I don’t know if it’s an intentional misrepresentation or simple ignorance. The repeal is about a gay man or woman to be able to participate in the simple discussion of significant others or fiancées without fear that their entire life will be taken from them.
Twenty years ago, a case may have been able to be made for the unknowns that repealing DADT might lead to. In the intervening time, however, well-respected military forces have managed integration without measurable impact on military effectiveness. Some of our greatest military allies, including Britain, Israel, and Australia all have eliminated their bans on openly gay soldiers.
Decades ago I once heard someone on the radio have the revelation that straight men fear gay men because they (the straights) are afraid of being looked at the same way they (the straights) look at women. I was almost floored when I heard a caller quite seriously make this exact point about serving alongside a gay man.
There is one thing I think those with little or no exposure to gay men or women don’t realize. Just as a straight man isn’t attracted to every woman he lays eyes on, neither is a gay man attracted to every man he sees.
One other thing these same talk show hosts seemed to continue to mention was that DADT wasn’t a goal in and of itself, but a single step in the direction of marriage equality. To this, I couldn’t agree more. But that’s a topic for another (much longer) post.
As always your thoughts and perspectives on the topic are welcome, here, on Facebook or via email. Only through discussion can we truly achieve understanding.