Comment: So much military trash

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Petty Officer Second Class Lewis Breland is waiting to be discharged from the US military after an investigation into his sexuality forced him to come out last year. He confessed his sexual orientation to civilian investigators after rumours began flying around his unit about an alleged sexual partner.

There is no clearer indication that the United States military is behind in the times, clinging desperately to religious and reactionary nonsense, than in the way we treat our homosexual service members as so much military trash.

I’ve been in the Navy since 2005. In that time, I’ve been advanced up to Petty Officer Second Class and my record is, to say the least, outstanding. My command is unhappy with having to discharge me, to lose a sailor, and having to tell a hard-working shipmate that they must quit the pursuit of their goals for relentless excellence in the Navy.

While deployed on shore last year, an investigation into my sexuality was launched after rumours began going around my unit. When the civilian investigators asked my sexual orientation (which they can do since they are not military members), I was honest. One would imagine that honesty is something the military would value.

As a matter of fact, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, made it clear that honesty is what is really at stake by asking service members to lie about their sexuality.

“No matter how I look at the issue,” to quote the Admiral directly, “I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens…For me, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

I soon thereafter received notification that I would be discharged from the military service for revealing my sexuality to interrogators. It’s been a booming five years since I decided to join the Navy, and in that time, I’ve excelled at every turn. What’s most grotesque about this situation is the history of the policy against LGBT people in the US military.

The religious right has always had a strangle on America’s military affairs, clearly expressed by their lobbying and testimonies in the 1990s concerning the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. It’s unfortunate that the military should lose so much taxpayer money which has gone into creating outstanding service members; wasted on us because we happen to be attracted to members of our own sex.

For the Navy to discharge decent sailors while we let thieves and drunkards slip through the cracks in times of manpower shortage is no way to keep discipline. My own sexuality has never been a discipline (or any other) issue. This is strictly political. And if you examine the facts; during the Clinton reign in the White House the DADT policy was put in place because of a compromise between the president’s desires and the conservative (religious) right who fought hard to keep gays out.

There is absolutely no proof that homosexuality is equal to a breakdown in military discipline or conduct. That there are gays in foxholes is of little doubt; but it seems that if we “know” who they are, it somehow changes the game.

One of the most ridiculous arguments made by the opposition to the current president is that straight service members should not have to live in close quarters with potentially attracted homosexual service members.

To be perfectly honest, serving in today’s military, there is no great homophobia within the ranks, no great call for fluxing homosexuals out, and no real fear that you’re being “watched in the showers”.

They question, “Don’t you think that might be uncomfortable for the heterosexual service members?” Oddly enough, in my four years of military service – during which time I have been pretty honest about my sexuality – I have never heard this argument from another active service member. I’m used to hearing it from the conservative media and from ex-military personnel who served a decade ago.

Against other claims that the military is strictly a dictatorship, I would argue that it is more like a business (especially the Navy). And if we can’t offer the same civil rights to the people who defend them, then the whole military loses its meaning as a defender of our rights. We are still American citizens and what we do in our homes is our business.

Still, it isn’t right to force people to lie to their comrades about their sexuality, their home-life. In the military, your superiors and your peers are very interested in your life. You can say, “No. Please don’t come over to my house,” and continue to be ridiculously discreet, but it has its own price. If you don’t allow yourself to be honest with the friends you make in the service, then how much more will you hate your job? Suppose we want to go the route that people should keep their sexuality a private matter. Objectively then, married people ought to never mention a spouse, wear a wedding ring, or post pictures of their husbands and wives in their racks or work spaces. I, of course, would never think of stepping on that person’s right to disclose the status of their family life because it’s unethical (and unreal).

Picture a working office on a ship at sea where four sailors are confined in close quarters for months on end. In their down time, the members joke with each other, share their worries, their dreams, and stories about their family lives. Only one member does not hang a picture of their significant other, does not talk about their love life, does not invite the others over to her house for gatherings. The other office members view her as being generally anti-social. She is a gay sailor under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. It’s wholly unrealistic and we should expect that gay service members are not anti-social and will out themselves to the appropriate people.

While the military surely is not a democracy, it is a conglomeration of nationalities, religions, races, and sexualities. None of these things are equal to breakdowns in military bearing the way that fraternisation is. Fraternisation really does threaten the authority of superiors over their juniors and generally undermines good order and discipline. “Ah, but homosexuality is a break down in authority because it threatens people who aren’t quite comfortable with gays in their work and living environments.” Well, some people still aren’t secure with serving around black people, or white people, or Muslims, or Jews. It’s all there. However, people who can’t discharge their duties or otherwise have a discrimination problem are promptly dealt with.

I’ve been accused of putting a religious slant on the issue of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. To be honest, the religious right and Clinton’s bungling are precisely the reason for the DADT policy. It’s perfectly clear to see who lobbied the politicians who fought hard against the bill (Focus on the Family, Christian Coalition, etc). It’s as plain as the day is long!

The objective should not be the changing of our core values, but examining them because at their root, they are integrity-bound. To deny members the right to serve because of their honesty is a serious contradiction which is usurping our core values. This behaviour has to stop right now.

I have always proudly served my country’s Navy combat team with honour, courage, and commitment. Perhaps, we should consider taking those core values for a spin around reality because integrity certainly is not one of them. Integrity, in the military, will have you fired.

With the president’s announced intention to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, there is no better time than now to speak out in support of this noble effort. It is amazing how those in opposition to the president’s intentions claim that they are “looking out” for the military. They want to “support the troops and their families (and their values). Are gay troops not troops, after all? Don’t we fight, kill, and die for our country the same as heterosexual soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen? Are we not part of the institution that you so claim to support?

It is, of course, not an issue of supporting the troops. It’s an issue of oppressing homosexuals. It is an issue of immense bigotry and ignorance which smacks of the opposition to allowing black troops to serve with whites. I am not daring to draw a comparison between gays and blacks in American society, but only their plight. The issues surrounding the two liberation movements are vastly different, however, the arguments and the forums of debate remain the same.

One spokesman in opposition to the president gave a talk on CNN, claiming that Mr Obama has chosen the “wrong time” for this action and is “distracting the US Armed Forces from the war on terrorism”.

How can anyone possibly think this is an argument? Integrating open gays into the military, gays who are already serving, will not be a distraction from the war on terror. What has been a distraction from the war on terror is the countless homosexual men and women discharged, wasting countless US taxpayer dollars and harming the integrity of our armed forces.

Finally, if this isn’t the right “timing” for this, then may I ask “When is?” because we were at peace in the Clinton era and we still could not get over what most of our global partners have long since put behind them: anti-gay discrimination. It’s evident that conservatives, no matter their language of ‘timing’, are religiously and dogmatically opposed to anything that might advance the freedoms that LGBT people might one day enjoy.