Sunday, March 21
Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
One of the most controversial topics has been the move to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy regarding the military service of gays and bisexual persons. Adoption of the DADT followed a long history of banning gays from the military. For a good part of the 20th century gays were discharged as “undesirables” once their orientation became known. However if they had committed homosexual acts while in service the discharge usually became “dishonorable.”
Then we had the brutal murder of the gay U.S. Navy petty officer Allen R. Schindler, Jr. Schindler had often reported anti-gay harassment to his chain of command citing comments from shipmates such as "There's a faggot on this ship and he should die". While en route to Japan, Schindler made a personal prank announcement "2-Q-T-2-B-S-T-R-8” (too cute to be straight) on secured lines and was put on restrictive leave. Once in Nagasaki, Terry M. Helvey, a member of the ship's weather department, stomped Schindler to death in a toilet, crushing his head, breaking his ribs and cutting off his penis. The brutality of the murder prompted President Clinton to adopt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” under which a gay person may serve as long as he does not reveal his sexual orientation. What happens however if others find out? You were still discharged. The bottom line was that gays were undesirable in the US military. Since 1994, 13,500 service members have been fired under the DADT policy.
Fast-forward to 2009, in the midst of the war on terror. Stephen Benjamin wrote a column in the NYT reporting on the lack of qualified translators (from Arabic to English) in the Armed Forces. He stated that cables went untranslated on Sept. 10, 2001, a crucial date in our history. And in 2007, the American Embassy in Baghdad had nearly 1,000 personnel, but only a handful of fluent Arabic speakers. In March of that year, Benjamin, who had graduated in the top 10% of the Defense Language Institute, was let go after his sexual orientation was revealed. He was not the first. In 2006, a decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was also dismissed from the U.S. Army under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Although the number of those competent gay translators who were fired is not fully disclosed, one thing remains indisputable. The military is spending millions in training new translators, hoping that they will all turn out to be heterosexual.
Recently the DADT policy has come under attack. The arguments from both sides are interesting. Those supporting the DADT policy say that the situation is not that black or white. They point to certain elements of significant risk. When you are called to defend your country while living and rooming in close quarters with others, overall effectiveness depends on mutual trust and uncomplicated camaraderie that should not be disturbed. Moreover, allowing gays in the military, -the pro DADT side asserts- may encourage enlistment of gays that hope to find partners easier, something that might provoke even higher levels of homophobia among heterosexuals. Furthermore, when people are sent into combat, we make sure that men and women do not fight next to each other in order to avoid complicating emotional situations. When we allow gays to serve, we endanger the overall effectiveness, if indeed there is a sexual/emotional bond between the soldiers.
Those who support the repeal of DADT counter-assert that many emergency occupations require their members to live in close proximity (emergency services, oil rig workers) and gays are not barred from those. They also add that opposition to gays in the military is based on the problems caused by homophobia, which is perpetuated by the ban. Once gays are allowed to serve and demonstrate their effectiveness, the homophobia will diminish. Finally, they claim, emotional bonds (both heterosexual and homosexual) may strengthen moral and not weaken it.
Both sides continue to exchange heated arguments as we speak. Needless to say no argument from either side can be upheld or dismissed by scientific research on the matter. The Congress is called to make a decision to repeal DADT or maintain it. The verdict is still out.
How would you advise them on the matter?