Two generals and an admiral, all retired, are now the highest-ranking members of the US military to state publicly that they are gay. Army Brigadier Gens. Keith Kerr and Virgil A. Richard, along with Rear Admiral Alan M. Steinman of the Coast Guard came out Dec. 9, on the 10th anniversary of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that forces GLBT soldiers to serve only if they lie about themselves.
The former officers said they had been forced to lie to their friends, family and colleagues to serve their country. In doing so, they said, they had to remain secreted and be dishonest about a natural part of their identity.
“Because gays and lesbians are required to serve in silence and in celibacy,” Admiral Steinman told the New York Times, “the policy is almost impossible to follow. It has been effectively a ban.” Although the Coast Guard is not under the authority of the Pentagon, it follows the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“I was denied the opportunity to share my life with a loved one, to have a family, to do all the things that heterosexual Americans take for granted,” the retired admiral said. “That’s the sacrifice I made to serve my country. … I didn’t even tell my family I was gay until after I retired from the military.”
The ex-officers made some important points in their calls against bigotry in the armed forces: They pointed to the ongoing harrassment of GLBT servicepeople and noted that the discriminatory policy in place damages military readiness and the recruitment and retention of service members. Bottom line, they insist, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell needs to go the way of the dinosaurs.
From the Times:
Ten years after the Clinton administration instituted the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” it remains contentious and has fallen far short of President Bill Clinton’s vow to allow gays to serve openly. The officers hope to spur a dialogue, in Washington and in the military, about changing the policy.
Nearly 10,000 service members have been discharged for being gay under the policy, which was signed into law by Mr. Clinton on Nov. 30, 1993, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights group that monitors military justice. The group made the officers available to The New York Times as part of a campaign to mark the anniversary of the policy’s official inception.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a compromise to permit gay men and lesbians to serve without fear of harassment or expulsion as long as they kept their sexual orientation to themselves. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said the Bush administration will not revisit the policy.
C. Dixon Osburn, SLDN’s executive director, praised BG Kerr, BG Richard and RADM Steinman for their courage. “This is a significant occasion for the military community,” Osburn said. “As COL Margarethe Cammermeyer, USA (Ret.), Ellen DeGeneres and Martina Navratilova tore down barriers in their respective fields, BG Kerr, BG Richard and Admiral Steinman provide similar inspiration for lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans serving our country. They provide irrefutable evidence that our community makes important, lasting contributions to our armed forces. Our nation should salute them for their service, their honesty and their courage.”
Now, as a pacifist, I do not and can not support the military. Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would want to join the Death Brigade. But if openly heterosexual people have the right to make such a decision, all people should have that right and option. And the Times‘ Nathaniel Frank argues that the US needs gays in its military:
In the decade since the policy was put into place, however, and particularly since 9/11, it has become clear that it is not the presence of gay soldiers that undermines security. It is the ban itself which does so. Indeed, the policy may be weakening what it was intended to protect: military readiness.
The ban was supposed to safeguard unit cohesion, the watchword of military analysts who oppose letting gays serve. The law states that the presence of openly gay people in the services would create an “unacceptable risk” to unit cohesion, which is generally defined as the bonds of trust among service members that make the combat effectiveness of a unit greater than the sum of its parts.
Yet soldiers I have interviewed about their experience serving in the Middle East say the policy has had the opposite effect. One soldier told me that when he was in a unit where he couldn’t tell people that he was gay, it was more difficult for him to form close personal relationships within his unit. Serving under the gay ban, he said, erodes the mutual trust that is essential not only to effective bonding but also to effective fighting.
The gay ban was also said to protect military readiness. Most Americans agree, especially after 9/11, that national security should be paramount in any debate over who can serve. That’s why the nation was dismayed to learn, last fall, that the Army fired nine gay Arabic-language translators at a time when national security experts were worrying about a dire shortage of intelligence personnel capable of translating Arabic.
Just last month, the Pentagon acknowledged that the military has hired many translators since 9/11 without full background checks. The result? At least three translators now face espionage charges, and the military faces yet another intelligence imbroglio. In short, the government is drastically lowering its standards for critical intelligence agents while throwing out highly competent ones just because they are gay.
The growing understanding that the gay ban is bad for national security may explain why even those who once supported the ban now support letting gays serve. The former judge advocate general for the Navy, Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, who was involved in the development and enforcement of the policy, recently said that the ban is a failed policy whose elimination would strengthen the military. A Fox News poll conducted in August shows that 64 percent of Americans now favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military, up from 56 percent in a similar poll taken in 2001.
And as Virginia-based AF&O correspondent, Ex-Gay Watch contributor, and attorney Michael Hamar notes, the vile DADT — along with the secular-law prohibitions against civil marriage for GLBT Americans — exists only to please the Religious Wrong:
In the Hampton Roads [VA] area, there are MANY gays in the military, and the policy merely encourages secrecy, sham marriages as cover, and a lack of cohesiveness. Meanwhile, as one enlisted member of the military commented to me, the troops know who the gays are and get along fine in most cases. The policy’s only real purpose is to pander to the homophobes in the “Christian” Right (and the closed-minded members of the senior officer ranks) that want gays to be viewed by the public as less than full citizens, indeed, less than fully human. If you doubt this later charge I make, read the outright falsehoods published daily on the “Christian” Right web sites.
…[T]he extremists of the “Christian” Right and their theocratic agenda are one of the biggest threats to the civil rights and religious freedoms of American citizens. A friend sent me the following draft “Federal Marriage Amendment” to illustrate how disingenuous the “Christian” Right is in its anti-gay marriage hysteria. A Federal Marriage Amendment that is more true to the Bible might read as follows. Why don’t I hear James Dobson, et al, Rick Santorum and George W. Bush all calling for a ban on divorce or some version of the following?
A proposed Constitutional Amendment codifying marriage entirely on biblical principles:
A. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women.(Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5.)
B. Marriage shall not impede a man’s right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)
C. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed (Deut 22:13-21)
D. Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden.(Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)
E. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)
F. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother’s widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be
otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen. 38:6- 10; Deut 25:5-10)
Obviously, most voters would see the ridiculous aspects of this literal application of the Bible in the civil laws. The use of the Bible to defend anti-gay bigotry in denying civil legal rights is really no different.
Isn’t it time for the hypocrisy, madness, and hatred to come to an end? Isn’t it?