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Capt. Joan Darrah (USN-ret.) was the Navy’s first female intelligence officer.
Lt. Col. William Winnewisser (USA-ret.) was a battalion commander, executive officer of the Army Operations Center at the Pentagon, and a White House social aide.
Lt. Col. Hank Thomas (USMC-ret.) was an infantry and intelligence officer who served two tours of duty in Vietnam; he later served as assistant secretary for international affairs in the Reagan administration.
Lt. Col. Steve Loomis, wounded in action in Vietnam, was awarded the Bronze Star with a “V” for valor.
Capt. Joe Lopez, a West Point graduate, and Blackhawk pilot, earned an Air Medal in Iraq.
Capt. Rebecca Kanis, a West Point graduate, was a company commander in Special Operations at the time she resigned her commission after nine years of service.
Capt. Phil Adams, a Naval Academy graduate, spent eight years as a Marine infantry officer.
1 Lt. Gina Foringer, during her four years of service, was a convoy commander in Somalia when she was wounded in action.
SSgt. Eric Alva, who lost a leg in Iraq, served 13 years in the Marines before receiving a medical discharge.
Each of them has a stack of medals and commendations; each of them is gay or lesbian. And every one of them is immoral, according the Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military “says that we, by policy, would be condoning what I believe is immoral activity,” Gen. Pace told the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune. When Pace’s comments went public, he was forced to issue a written statement, but never apologized for his opinion about gays: “In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct. I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views.”
That policy is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” established in 1993 during Bill Clinton’s first term as president, and later enhanced to include “don’t pursue, don’t harass.” It was a “compromise.” The military would accept gays, and not ask them their sexual preferences as long as they don’t speak out in favor of homosexuality, acknowledge their lives, or enter into any relationships with members of the same sex.
Harry Truman, by executive order, had dictated the end of segregation in the military. Clinton planned to do the same for those who are involved in same sex relationships. Opposing him were all of the military’s “big guns,” including Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. When Powell, a Black, was asked by gay-rights groups, and thousands of others, how he could support discrimination against gays while acknowledging that desegregation of the military allowed his own career to flourish, Powell merely said that the two were not the same. It was Powell, however, who crafted the revised policy.
Among the reasons the military claimed why gays couldn’t serve was because their presence would hurt troop morale and undermine combat effectiveness; gays could be security risks-they were likely to be blackmailed or compromised, said military commanders. The Navy’s Crittenden Report in 1957 discounted that reasoning. During the early 1980s, the Department of Defense issued an official declaration opposing gays in the military; the 124-word inflammatory new policy was designed to justify reasons why gays must not be allowed to serve. However, an independent RAND Corp. report in July 1993 found no logic to exclude gays from service, and concluded that military readiness would not be affected by having gays in service.
Congressional support to eliminate the ban came from several prominent Democrats, and one highly-respected Republican-Sen. Barry Goldwater (1909-1998). Goldwater, a pilot who retired as an Air Force major general, had numerous times had spoken out against the emerging dominance of the Religious Right in Republican politics. Although there is no clear-cut evidence that President Bush is homophobic, there is significant evidence that the continuation of the ban against gays in the military has been strengthened by the resurgence of the influence of the religious right wing during the BushCheney Administration.
Because the military is a hierarchy, with constant jockeying for duty stations and promotion, there is no question that the Chairman’s views about what he believes is the immorality of homosexual behavior will influence every person in his command.
About 65,000 gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgenders now serve in the military, all of them officially hiding their non-military lives, according to the Urban Institute and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). Almost 9,500 members of the military, including hundreds in critical combat specialties, including 50 Arabic language specialists, have been forced out of the military between 1993 and 2005, according to SLDN.
In 2003, on the 10th anniversary of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Brig. Gen. Keith Kerr (USA-ret.), RADM Alan Steinman (USCG-ret.), and Brig. Gen. Virgil Richard (USA-ret.), in a signed op-ed column in the New York Times, all stated they were gay. In an op-ed column for the New York Times, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believed “if gay men and lesbians served openly . . . they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces.”
State and federal laws prohibit discrimination against a person’s sexual orientation; the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Agency, and National Security Agency all have openly gay agents; The armed forces, says Gen. Wesley Clark, former NATO commander and Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, “are the last institution in America that discriminates against people; it should be the first that doesn’t.”
Israel, which unarguably has one of the world’s most elite and effective military operations, officially bans discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders. Israel “has more gay rights than all of the U.S.,” says Denny Meyer, a former Vietnam era Army sergeant first class who is also editor of the Gay Military Times. Almost 30 nations-including most countries of the European Union-have no problems with anyone’s sexual orientation. The United Kingdom, whose soldiers serve with Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, is even “actively recruiting” gays and lesbians, says Meyer. Of the 26 NATO nations, only the United States, Portugal, and Turkey don’t allow gays to openly serve in the military. And Turkey, says Meyer, “is close to allowing gays to serve.”
Almost three-fourths of all military personnel say they are “comfortable” with having gays and lesbians in their units, according to a Zogby poll in December. About one-fourth of all military persons say they know that a member of their unit is gay-and it has no effect upon them.
Former Sen. Chuck Robb, who served 34 years in active and reserve duty as a Marine officer, in 2002 said that “the threat to morale,” which some believe will occur if there is a policy to permit gays in the military, “comes not from the orientation of a few, but from the closed minds of many.”
About 79 percent of all Americans believe the military should allow gays to serve openly, according to a Boston Globe poll conducted in May 2005; a FOX News poll two years earlier revealed that 64 percent of all Americans had no problem with allowing gays to serve openly. About two-thirds of all Catholics and slightly more than half of all Protestants believe in the rights of gays to serve, according to a Pew Research Center study of March 2006.
Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.), with 114 cosponsors, including conservative Republicans, on Feb. 28 introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1246) that would end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and replace it with absolute nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. With most of the world’s best military units not worried about the presence of gays in their ranks, with large majorities of both military and civilian personnel believing gays should be allowed to serve openly, and with a Democratic Congress that claims it plans to make necessary social changes, now is the time strike down the hostility of an intolerant minority and to eliminate one more form of officially-sanctioned discrimination.
[Assisting on this column were the American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) and Servicemens Legal Defense Network (SLDN). For further information, contact the AVER, SLDN, Human Rights Campaign Foundation, and The Gay Military Times.]
WALTER BRASCH, professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, is an award-winning syndicated columnist and the author of 15 books, most of them about social issues, the First Amendment, and the media. His forthcoming book is America’s Unpatriotic Acts; The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Liberties (Peter Lang Publishing.) You may contact Brasch at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.walterbrasch.com