If we look at research reports, the U.S. military and larger society appear ready now to “allow” lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to serve openly in the armed forces.
A Pew Research Center poll released earlier this month found that 58% of U.S.-Americans favor repealing the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy imposed by the U.S. military seventeen years ago mandating that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals who join the ranks of the armed forces maintain complete silence regarding their sexual identities. Nevertheless, the military has discharged an estimated 14,000 servicemembers on the so-called “charge” of being “homosexual” under this policy.
A recent Pentagon study shows that 70% of current military personnel predicted that having a servicemember who identifies as lesbian, gay, or bisexual in their unit would have a positive, mixed, or no effect on morale, and that troop readiness would not be affected. Admiral Gates, Secretary of Defense, and Admiral Mullins, Head of the Joint Chiefs, are currently advocating a repeal of the policy.
On the other hand, a number of members of Congress and people within the larger society still cling to the belief that repeal would seriously weaken our military’s effectiveness or damage troop morale.
In actually, the policy itself has been a total disaster in discharging and preventing service by talented and committed people who would have joined the ranks, many who held or could have potentially held critical positions, for example, as language interpreters and other military specialists.
Though I personally find it objectionable to enter a military system that engages in unjustified incursions into Iraq, for example, as our troops are stretched thin throughout the world’s conflict areas, we do our country a great disservice by eliminating an entire class of people whose only desire is to contribute to the defense of their nation.
As I have followed the debates over the years, I have been constantly struck by the arguments favoring maintenance of the current exclusionary policy, ranging from fears over the “predatory nature of the homosexual” in bunks and showers, to homosexuals crumbling under the pressure of combat, to these servicemembers placing themselves in compromising situations in which they will be forced to divulge critical defense secrets to foreign governments.
While I give credit to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people for maintaining a willingness to join the military following such scurrilous depictions of us, I believe that permitting policymakers, the majority presumably heterosexual and largely male, to dictate policy over whether lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers are granted permission openly to serve our country makes about as much sense as allowing men to determine whether women get the vote or whether women maintain control over their reproductive freedoms.
The question for me is not whether THEY will “allow” us to serve openly. The more salient question is whether WE can forgive them for their dehumanizing, offensive, and downright prejudicial stereotypical characterizations.
Though eventually legislators will reverse “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” history will record and remember this indelible stain on the reputation of the United States. While I understand that the country needs to undergo its developmental process in gaining a greater awareness regarding the needs, concerns, and realities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, I also know that we will not forget, and for many of us, we will find it difficult to forgive.
Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author The What, The So What, and The Now What of Social Justice Education (Peter Lang Publishers), and Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author with Diane Raymond of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).