Why The Ban Remains

A reader writes:

I am a US Army (82nd Airborne) veteran, I share an office with a Navy veteran (and ironically I am a Red Sox fan and he is a Yankee fan and despite this we get along excellently.) We've been following your anger at Obama for not repealing DADT immediately. Let me offer the following thoughts: Clearly you've never served in the military. You've never lived in a crowded barracks, cramped ship or bivouacked in the field or experienced the day-to-day military. That's not a dig, just an observation. My perspective comes as an enlisted person as does my officemates and strictly from that of a heterosexual male.

Our military is a cross section of society that tends to lean towards the lower and middle class segments. There is an illusion of best and brightest because everyone has a nice hair cut and though there are many in uniform who would qualify as that there are also those who are just one cut above being imprisoned and/or a Neanderthal. It is a sub society that runs on testosterone and machismo and oddly one which has made incredible strides, vis-à-vis civilian society, in regards to women and minorities, but still lags behind as far as acceptance of homosexuality.

Asking for the repeal of DADT so gay men and women can open declare their sexuality and not be kicked out of the military is inviting some eighteen year old kid to admit to something that might get him killed. In military parlance, they'll be fragged. It is not fair, it is wrong but it is the ugly truth. 

Gay men and women should be allowed to serve their country with pride and openness but that is just not the reality of the situation right now. I've seen the reports that indicated unit cohesion would not be affected and how the British Army is able to intricate troops but this is not Europe and I am suspicious of that report. The better route for change right now is in society at large and not in the petri dish of the military. All indications are that the most states will soon have same sex marriage on the books by 2020. When someone is accepted in society with no regards to their sexuality then it will be easier (and safer) for those serving in the warrior culture to express theirs.

I know this is seemingly like the geologic change of wind on rocks but considering where things stand today compared to forty years ago the end change will come much more rapidly. I understand your anger, empathise with it and admire your passion and dedication to your cause. I just think you need to redirect your energies and your anger.

I understand this cultural conflict and do not mean to minimize it. But I think my reader's judgment is too gloomy. Why? Because most gay people in the military will not be coming out in the barracks if DADT is ended. The experience of other countries is that it would be a massive non-event. Cultural forces may well keep military gays in the closet. But what ending the ban would do is remove the fear and burden of official discrimination as well as unofficial fragging. Right now, the military is full of gay people and some are indeed fragged. But they have nowhere to go to for help, since even admitting the fragging can get them fired. They are in a Catch-22; and they deserve better.

Some, of course, will come out and my bet is, as in the British and Israeli militaries, their comrades will take it in stride and get on with their common job. As for the petri dish, the military in the past has actually led on discrimination - military racial integration came long before marriage rights for inter-racial couples. And believing that working class men cannot deal with gay people seems to me to be wrong, even a little prejudiced. You'd be amazed who exhibits tolerance once the issue is humanized. It is only humanized when you know another human. I've heard from countless straight soldiers that they've long known good gay ones. It doesn't have to be a big issue. And it won't be if we do it right.

If the military needs time to think through the process, fine. If we need a commission to figure out how, fine. But what we have gotten from Obama so far is not even a time-line or a commission. And look, I agree: the military is special. It is not a right to serve in it; it's a privilege. But that's the point. Denying one group of citizens the privilege of serving their country is a statement that they are not fully citizens, since they can do the job as well as anyone else and yet are barred simply for who they are. The gay people in the military are often conservative and from the South or from very traditional families. They are the least likely to make trouble in an institution they love. We need to stop persecuting them and give them a fair shake.

That's all we're asking for. And it matters. The way troops are treated should always matter, if we are to adequately express our respect and gratitude. But I am extremely grateful for the candor and civility and honesty of this email. We need more of all of that if our dialogue is to grow and deepen.