I’m not sure if you heard, but the USS Ronald Reagan docked in Santa Barbara this past weekend. Like its namesake, this newest and largest aircraft carrier is no shrinking violet, with a 1,092-foot hull housing more than 5,500 sailors and 80 aircraft.
And, also like its namesake, it brings to mind how a complicated issue-gays in the military-can be oversimplified into four words: Don’t ask, don’t tell.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military policy that doesn’t allow openly gay people to serve in the armed forces, was crafted in 1993 by Colin Powell under then-president Bill Clinton who, despite campaign promises to repeal fully the military’s ban on homosexuals, was forced to compromise due to lack of public support. Although the policy was upheld in federal court five times, a March 2006 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 60 percent of Americans favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.
But the military is still largely opposed to the idea: According to an Army Times poll, only 25 percent of military members are in favor of allowing openly gay men and women to serve. And it doesn’t appear to be because of unit cohesion, the original impetus for the policy. It seems to be rooted in good old-fashioned bigotry.
In a 2000 interview, Charles Moskos, the primary author of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said gays should be banned from the military due to “modesty rights” as opposed to cohesion: “Fuck unit cohesion. I don’t care about that. : I should not be forced to shower with a woman. I should not be forced to shower with a gay [man].” In February 2006, Moskos-in response to reports that the approximately 9,500 servicemembers discharged from the military for homosexuality from 1994 to 2003 cost $364 million to replace-said the financial losses do not outweigh the cost of forcing people to live with open gays and lesbians. Call me crazy, but I think even the most homophobic person would quickly pocket that cash and happily bunk with the entire cast and crew of Queer as Folk.
Or there’s Marine General Peter Pace, who told the Chicago Tribune in March 2007, “I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts.” Again, call me crazy, but to me, the real immoral behavior is discharging servicemembers during wartime for something that has nothing to do with military service. Or, as Barry “Mr. Conservative” Goldwater famously said, “You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.”
There are 12 countries that ban homosexuals from serving in the military, and that list includes China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia. It’s nice to know that the U.S. joins such esteemed colleagues in its discrimination of gays and lesbians-heck, we even join two members of President Bush’s “axis of evil.” And, in an ironic twist of fate, the third member of that axis, Iraq, does allow openly gay and lesbian people to serve. No “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” there.
During a November 2007 CNN/YouTube debate for Republican presidential candidates, the subject was brought up by openly gay retired Brigadier General Keith Kerr. Each candidate who responded to Kerr’s question said the current policy is working. But evidence points to the contrary, with the most recent example being Sergeant Darren Manzella, who spoke on 60 Minutes in December 2007 about being gay and serving in the Army. Despite telling his commanders he was gay and providing pictures and video of him and his boyfriend kissing, the battalion commander said they “had found no proof of his homosexuality.”
Though Manzella seems happy to be telling, the Army pretends it still doesn’t know. Surely the land of the free should be able to face a little truth and realize that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” isn’t working for anyone-homosexuals, the military, or the American people.
This is all very important stuff that requires our attention. And even though I’m as ready as the next person for a protest or petition signing, my friend who works at a downtown movie theater put my political activism in perspective when she said: “Aren’t you excited for the sailors? I hope some of those buff ladies want to see a movie!”