Silence kills

By TONY GIAMPETRUZZI  |  May 25, 2006

And many commanders, civilians, lawmakers, and enlisted officers agree: at a time when retention and enlistment rates in the military are dropping, and as the need for soldiers throughout the world continues to increase, DADT is counterproductive if not downright discriminatory and unfounded. Sadly, when asked, many of those who favor the law can usually distill the theoretical need for it down to one thing: showering.

Essentially, straight guys can’t feel comfortable knowing that someone might be watching.

But, the offensive claim that gay men enter the military to act out a Tom of Finland fantasy of catching a glimpse of cock in the shower or “holing” up with a fellow soldier in a fox hole has long been debunked — discharges are often the result of a word-of-mouth investigation, an e-mail is intercepted, or someone is spotted in an online chat room or gay bar, not the stuff of porn films.

As Gundberg put it, if he wants to check out someone in the shower, he’ll join a gym, not an institution where he can be blown up, mentally bullied, and in constant fear of losing his job.

Osburn concedes, some in the military complex tacitly resist change as well — but the most fierce resistance is on Capitol Hill.

“Sentiment within the military has changed tremendously. Fifty percent of junior enlisted personnel now approve of gays serving openly in the military. Back in 1993, that number was 13 percent, so the shift within the military has been seismic. A lot of that change is being driven by young adults, 18 to 25 years old who come into the military in droves and their sentiment today is so strikingly different towards GLBT equality,” says Osburn.

“I think that America has changed a lot in the last decade since DADT was implemented. Back in 1993, 52 percent of voters supported gays in the military, now that number is 79 percent. Talking about gay issues is so much more commonplace than it was a decade ago, and a lot of members of Congress have been educated on this process so it’s not scary for them to see a bill that addresses gay people’s rights and for them to be fully behind it. Just as the culture in America has changed, so has the culture in Congress to make a compelling argument as to why DADT hurts military readiness and why it is a basic affront to human rights.” Especially in a time of war.

Everyone opposed to the law also knows an anti-discrimination replacement law could be adapted in short order — the military’s MO is leadership, and once those in power are on board, it boils down to “lead and follow.”

Leading the charge
So, why has the effort reached such a pitch with so many people now? Need.

The US military actually has a proud tradition of leading our society where conservatives fear to tread. Stretching back to the Revolutionary War, American military leaders recognized that a key element of effective warfare is having enough willing and skilled people available to serve, no matter the social stigma against them, whether black, Irish, female, or even a foreign citizen. Yet today, the military’s practical progressivism is hamstrung by the shortsighted and ignorant DADT, which remains one of the only laws restricting service, essentially making homosexuals akin to those with a debilitating handicap.

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Shrouded bliss
Those pushing for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell chose New England as their proving ground because it’s arguably the most liberal region of the nation. Yes, we have centrist Republican leaders, every single state has vast protections for gays and lesbians (Connecticut and Vermont will let same-sex couples register into a civil union), and, in Massachusetts gays can tie the knot.

But, if either member of the betrothed is serving in the military, they might want to think twice before making such a public record of their union: while Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut have laws against bias on the job, they most certainly do not apply to the US military or the National Guard. And that bumps right up against DADT.

“I don’t think we can give any individual a hard and fast rule when it comes to grounds for discharge. I think the best we can do is tell people there are lots of things to consider — finances, partner’s finances, long-term financial planning, kids,” says Gary Buseck, an attorney at Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders adding that, although there are other trips and traps (usually for non-citizens, those wishing to adopt) for people who wish to marry in Massachusetts, the military question is a big one.

“There are a lot of things you can do that don’t require ‘telling.’ But, each individual needs to make a series of choices: how long they have been in the military, is it your career, do you depend on the pension. Maybe you decide as much as you’d like to get married, you put it off because you don’t want to risk that pension.”

Not quite fair, now, is it?

Dixon Osburn doesn’t think so, and the growing number of states that allow for such unions is yet another reason for the urgency of a DADT repeal.

“When you have a public record that indicates your relationship, that could cause a problem. You [also] can’t get spousal benefits, which is one of the reasons why we want to get married [in the first place]. It is tricky and we do have an increasing number of cases that come to us with people who want to get married and want to know what the consequences are,” says Osburn, of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “Some of these couples have children and they want to figure out how their children can get proper health care ... they all involve risk ... it’s really a matter of what sort of risks they want to take.”

For most, though, it’s the pension, stupid — and those in the know would often suggest to just not pop the question.

“Anybody who does anything that leads to a public record risks being discharged. The question is whether the military would actually get a copy of that information,” says Osburn. “With the public record there, there is certainly a strong risk that the military could obtain that information.”


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