A Breath Of Sane Air


Anyone who doubts the professionalism of today's military would do well to read the Pentagon Report on DADT. First, it's a massive undertaking, involving hundreds of thousands of responses, 95 face-to-face meetings, and a range of views from everyone who might be affected. It's one of the most impressive reports I've ever read from a government agency.

It's also extremely calm and fair. If you've been in the thick of this debate as long as I have, you'll know how rare that is. The tone is empirical, and judicious. It does not gloss over some serious objections - such as moral and religious ones - and grapples directly with some of the more emotive issues, such as sharing showers or sleeping quarters. It feels in no way skewed or prejudged.

And the report is absolutely clear that straight servicemembers by large majorities have few problems with openly gay servicemembers. 69 percent of them acknowledge they have fought or worked alongside gay men and women already. A staggering 92 percent of those were fine with lifting the ban. Again: when you know someone is gay, all the fears and stereotypes tend to evaporate. This is not a surprise. The men and women of the US military are among the finest in the land; they want to do the job at hand, not deepen social division or posture politically. They are not bigots. I note one colorful quote from a special ops fighter:

“We have a gay guy [in the unit]. He’s big, he’s mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay.”

And why would they? The other critical point is the inherent conservatism of many gay servicemembers. The last thing they would want to do is make a fuss about their orientation. The overwhelming majority will stay largely closeted in the workplace and battlefield - not out of fear but because it is irrelevant, and they are discreet kinds of people. Rand found that "even if Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell were repealed, only 15% of gay and lesbian Service members would like to have their sexual orientation known to everyone in their unit." Here are two very convincing quotes from my long acquaintance with countless gay servicemembers:

“Personally, I don’t feel that this is something I should have to ‘disclose.’ Straight people don’t have to disclose their orientation. I will just be me. I will bring my family to family events. I will put family pictures on my desk. I am not going to go up to people and say, hi thereI’m gay.”

“I think a lot of people think there is going to be this big ‘outing’ and people flaunting their gayness, but they forget that we’re in the military. That stuff isn’t supposed to be done during duty hours regardless if you’re gay or straight.”

Yes, there are higher fears among some combat troops and Marines. But here's one thing I didn't know: the British military showed far higher resistance to allowing openly gay servicemembers in advance, but realized after the change that it was a massive non-event. Now, the British military recruits at gay pride parades.

Many of these remarkable people are already risking or devoting their lives for the rest of us. This is about respecting them, in my view, and the professionalism and honor of those heterosexuals who serve alongside them and always have. One other passage rings very true to me:

In communications with gay and lesbian current and former Service members, we repeatedly heard a patriotic desire to serve and defend the Nation, subject to the same rules as everyone else. In the words of one gay Service member, repeal would simply “take a knife out of my back....You have no idea what it is like to have to serve in silence.” Most said they did not desire special treatment, to use the military for social experimentation, or to advance a social agenda... From them, we heard expressed many of the same values that we heard over and over again from Service members at largelove of country, honor, respect, integrity, and service over self. We simply cannot square the reality of these people with the perceptions about “open” service.

And as country we should not either. If we are to ask young men and women to fight for us in distant places against terrible enemies, we owe it to all of them to take the knife out of their back.

It is right; it is just; it is patriotic; and it is so overdue.

(Photo: Iraq War Army Veteran, Lt. Dan Choi, who was discharged from the military for being gay, cleans the gravestone of Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, at Congressional Cemetery on November 15, 2010 in Washington, DC. Sgt. Matlovich who died in 1988 was a Vietnam Veteran who a received both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star and was later discharged from the Air Force for being gay. An inscription on his tombstone reads 'When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.' Some 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal advocates consider Sgt. Matlovich's gravesite to be a memorial to all gay veterans. By Mark Wilson/Getty Images)