Military should recognize gays

by Sam Glover

Soon, it appears, U.S. military forces will spring into action in Iraq. When they do, there will be gays and lesbians in the ranks. There have always been, and probably always will be, gays in the military. Under the military’s current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, however, homosexuals can be discharged if their sexual orientation is revealed.

Gays and lesbians are valuable members of the armed forces. Just recently, the Army dismissed nine linguists because they are gay. Seven revealed their homosexuality, and two others were caught together. Six were trained by the military to speak Arabic, a language in high demand these days for obvious reasons.

The situation illustrates the problem with the military’s functional ban on gays serving in the military. To be effective, the military needs every able body willing to serve. Excluding a segment of the population that is as qualified for service as any other goes against this compelling interest.

There are some strong arguments in favor of maintaining the status quo, however. While virtually no one argues that gays and lesbians are less capable of service (after all, gay soldiers have made an impressive mark on military history, from the Theban Sacred Band to Alexander the Great’s companions and numerous Romans), many argue strenuously that to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly would undermine the morale and discipline that the Army cannot do without.

Morale and discipline are multifaceted. They encompass the social compatibility of service members, the respect between service members and within the chain of command, privacy concerns of individuals and ultimately, the ability to complete a task with the efficiency characteristic of the military.

The argument is not about whether to admit homosexuals. Currently, the military allows service by gays and lesbians so long as they keep their mouths shut about their sexual orientation. So the argument is about whether to allow homosexuals to serve openly. As it is, gays and lesbians must suppress their sexuality in order to serve their country.

The argument from moral and discipline against open service by homosexuals stems from three main concerns: fraternization, privacy and respect. Because gays share the same barracks, the same showers, they have more opportunity to engage in prohibited fraternization. In other words, sneaking off to the showers for a quickie.

The argument is that convenience breeds a greater frequency of violations. There are reasons for rules against fraternization, applied equally to gay and straight service members. There is no reason, however, for worry if the rules are enforced. Either commanding officers enforce the rules against fraternization against gays and heterosexuals alike, or they don’t. Further, the highest estimate of homosexuals present in the military places the percentage at 5 percent. More heterosexual men probably sneak out to meet up with women.

Another concern is that morale would suffer if they knew gays were able to see heterosexual service members in compromising situations – the bathroom, showers or locker room, for example. Of course, heterosexual service members are seen by gay service members in exactly this situation every day, but nobody knows who is who, so everyone can remain blissfully ignorant. If all knew the sexual orientation of service members, however, everyone could be uncomfortable.

Simple solutions to these problems abound. Already women in the field must wear a swimsuit to the showers if they want privacy. Men should do the same if they are concerned. In barracks, shower stalls and changing rooms should keep privates out of view. This is a purely logistical problem, and the military excels at logistics. It had to solve the same problem with women, and should also be able to find workable solutions for homosexuals.

Finally, opponents of open service argue that a homosexual officer is less likely to be respected and obeyed by his or her subordinates. This is probably true on the social level. But it is important to note the distinction between a group’s ability to get along and a group’s ability to effectively complete a task. For example, black and white service members rarely socialize with one another. But in the field, those groups are highly effective nevertheless. All that is necessary is a basic recognition of competence.

Certainly there will be those who seek to undermine discipline themselves by placing a fellow service member in danger or making him look bad. But those who would do so are not good soldiers themselves. When the armed forces were integrated, the same problems presented themselves. Since that time, strong enforcement of the rules and standards by the chain of command has minimized the problem. The same strict enforcement could allow gays and lesbians to openly serve their country in the armed forces.

Other countries have allowed homosexuals to serve in their militaries. There has been the predictable turmoil at first, followed by normalcy. It is too great a price to pay to keep out any willing soldier. It is an even greater price to pay to discharge an already proven service member who is exposed or who discovers his or her sexual orientation after the military has trained and cared for him or her.

Sam Glover is an editorial writer. He welcomes comments at [email protected]