Discrimination on the front lines

The United States military needs troops, regardless of whether they ask or tell.

by Jennifer Bissell

âÄúAre we a nation that can transcend old attitudes and worn divides? Can we embrace our differences and look to the hopes and dreams we share? Will we uphold the ideals on which this nation was founded, that all of us are equal, that all of us deserve the same opportunity to live our lives freely and pursue our chance at happiness? I believe we can; I believe we will.âÄù Last week, President Barack Obama spoke at the Human Rights Campaign 13th annual national dinner. There, he gave his unwavering support to the LBGT community and addressed the progress being made in Washington to ensure equal rights for all U.S. citizens. He also asserted that his administration was moving ahead on overturning the highly contested âÄúDonâÄôt Ask, DonâÄôt TellâÄù policy. âÄúWe should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country,âÄù he said. âÄúWe should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when weâÄôre fighting two wars.âÄù âÄúDonâÄôt Ask, DonâÄôt TellâÄù was originally enacted by President Bill Clinton as an attempt to lift the ban on homosexuals serving in the military. Under this law, homosexuals could serve in the military, but only if they did not admit their orientation; if they did, they would be discharged. According to an April 2009 Newsweek article, âÄúshame and second-class status were therefore built into the deal.âÄù This, according to the article, âÄúled to a reality in which exemplary soldiers were harassed, investigated and expelled based on âÄòevidenceâÄô as negligible as friendly banter or thoughtless gossip.âÄù Also according to the article, women especially have beared the brunt of this policy. While they already âÄúface a hostile work environment in the armed forces,âÄù women have been discharged at a much higher rate than their male counterparts. Some have even been discharged simply because they resisted the advances of straight men and were therefore thought to be lesbians. It has been estimated by University of California Los AngelesâÄô Williams Institute that approximately 4,000 LBG military personnel would have been retained each year since 1994, tallying to a grand total of 60,000 recruits by 2009. This is a number comparable to the amount of U.S. troops already in Afghanistan, and also the median of the Afghanistan surge request by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. In addition, âÄúDonâÄôt Ask, DonâÄôt TellâÄù has cost the United States millions of dollars through the costs of discharging and replacing service members fired for homosexuality. According to a 2006 Blue Ribbon Commission Report, the total cost of implementing âÄúDonâÄôt Ask, DonâÄôt TellâÄù has been at least $363.8 million between the years 1994 and 2003. Proponents of âÄúDonâÄôt Ask, DonâÄôt TellâÄù argue that allowing homosexuals into the military defies the necessity of âÄúunit cohesion.âÄù This is an argument that states troops do not want to serve with out-homosexuals and therefore will not perform properly if forced to do so. This argument seems to be making a major assumption about the tolerance of our soldiers. If true, consider what that argument says about our troops. If they are the strongest force in the world, then why are they afraid of homosexuals? These men and women are supposed to be living up to a higher standard. ShouldnâÄôt that higher standard include acceptance and honesty? Luckily, the proponents of the unit cohesion argument are just making assumptions. Col. Om Prakash, who works in the office of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, stated that âÄúafter a careful examination, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly.âÄôâÄô This lack of proof is comforting; it allows me to conclude that while some politicians and leaders may perceive gays as a problem, our soldiers are more accepting. In addition, having a policy that is based on lying isnâÄôt any better than banning homosexuals in the first place. I believe that asking people to deny their sexuality is asking them to lie. The military is asking its personnel to lie to themselves, lie to their fellow soldiers and lie to their superiors. That is certainly a faulty relationship within an Army of One. Perhaps for some gay, lesbian or even homophobic troops, the transition away from âÄúDonâÄôt Ask, DonâÄôt TellâÄù could be difficult, but some cultural or diversity education could be incorporated into training. The military should make discrimination among fellow troops, at the very least, unacceptable behavior. Fortunately, it seems the public is also beginning to see the negative side of âÄúDonâÄôt Ask, DonâÄôt Tell.âÄù According to a 1993 NBC poll, 40 percent of Americans favored allowing openly gay men and lesbians to serve in the military. In 2004, according to a Gallup/CNN poll, 63 percent favored it. Even with the publicâÄôs support, it will not be easy for Obama to reverse this policy of an institution as socially conservative as the military. His executive leadership will no doubt help the process, but it will also take new legislation and a filibuster-proof supermajority in the U.S. Senate. But this is an issue of equal rights, and it falls outside of the military and into the everyday lives of millions of people. The LBGT community deserves equal rights and they deserve the opportunity to fight for them as well. Jennifer Bissell welcomes comments at [email protected].