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'Out' gays in the military: What took so long?

Posted By Ellen Ratner On 09/25/2011 @ 9:00 pm In Commentary | Comments Disabled

This week, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy crafted by the Clinton administration to stop the witch hunts in the military, ended. It failed miserably as a policy. Thirteen-thousand service members were discharged while the policy was in effect, and many were in mission-critical positions.

Too many people who do not like homosexuals – or who think that they are sinful creatures needing to repent or be repaired – did not see these discharges as a problem. They want a military free from homosexuals and sexuality in general. Many are the same people who are not registering their utter horror and disgust toward the women who are preyed upon by men in the military and are often afraid to report on the abuse they suffer for fear of retribution. Although many in the military have tried their best to end any harassment of women, numerous people in positions of authority have looked the other way. Why hasn’t there been more outrage against males’ harassing behavior? Why hasn’t overall conduct been the defining factors in the military, instead of someone’s sexuality?

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” did not mean that you could have a private life as a gay American. It meant that if anyone found out about your life, even if you kept it quite, that you could be discharged. People were “reported” and harassed for listening to what others considered “gay music.” A soldier could not go to a gay bar or dance on their own time when not in uniform, as they could be reported.

Thirteen-thousand people were discharged by many more left because they did not want to be found out. Often these young soldiers enlisted to cope with their own demons regarding their sexuality, only to find out that they were who they were and no psychologist or minister could make them straight. Many of these people left the military so they could live their lives and not live in fear of being found out and kicked out.

I know several people who left. They are people who could have offered so much and served their country. One became a doctor. Two became lawyers. One heads a software department. No one wanted to leave, but facing hiding who they were on a daily basis was against everything they were taught about honesty in the military forces.

It has been less than one week since the ban was lifted. One officer got married in Vermont at the stroke of midnight. The organizer of OutServe, previous closeted organization of 4,000 active duty gay members of the military, gave the world his name and announced that its magazine was going to be sold on base. No one has freaked out serving with gay people. Like the experience in Canada’s military, most gay soldiers did not take the opportunity to “come out.” Most are just happy that they will be not be discharged.

However, the overall question is, why did it take so long to enact a policy and why are some people so determined that this policy is going to fail? What are people afraid of?

This issue will not be a factor in the 2011 presidential race, except where it will show some of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” promoters to be dinosaurs whose time has past. A new generation of voters, people who were young toddlers when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” went into effect, think the naysayers have old ideas. They do not want to vote for a candidate who is out of touch. This week’s Florida debate, where the gay solider who served in Iraq was booed, shows how out-of-touch some of these older voters are.

As we said in the 1960s: “The times, they are a changing.” I am glad they are, and so are the gay soldiers who serve our country.


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