Monday, February 15, 2010

No Asking, No Telling, No Justice

The United States military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has been the subject of controversy for quite some time. It is easy to express a gut reaction to this policy – I believe it is an unjust policy. More difficult is attempting rational analysis - looking at why military personnel may like or dislike the policy, and where it stands in terms of equal rights. I cannot say I am the best person for the job (or that I have enough space to do so completely), but a friend prompted me to think the policy over and I have a fair amount to say.

A source who wishes to remain anonymous brought a few ideas in favor of the policy to my attention. The first was a housing issue – if the policy were eliminated would homosexuals sleep in the same area as heterosexuals? Shared quarters could make heterosexuals uncomfortable while separating would be unfair segregation. Since both of these solutions seem to be poor ones, the continuation of the current policy is the best choice, at least according to my source.

There are a multitude of things wrong with this argument. We could not eliminate the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and then segregate based on sexual orientation – that suggestion is absurd. It would result not only in another period of painful desegregation like that experienced during the Civil Rights Movement, but a continuation of underlying prejudices against homosexuals. We could, however, eliminate the policy in order to fight homophobia. It is far easier to be homophobic when you are not acquainted with a gay person (as it was far easier to be racist before desegregation). If service men and women discovered that another member whom they already like and respect was gay, perhaps they would realize that homosexuals are not lesser people than heterosexuals. I am not implying that all or even a majority of our military is homophobic; it simply seems that the problem with housing stems from those who are homophobic. Furthermore, it is my belief that any risk to gay people serving in the military would be minimal, and, in the long run, worth the gains.

The second point brought to my attention was that military service is not mandatory therefore anyone who signs the contract should abide by the terms. One is not forced to sign it, and one should know what they are getting into. The problems with this stance are the following: a person does not always know they are gay when they sign a military contract, and, more importantly, the policy itself is a violation of equal rights. As support for the first problem, I would like to point to an editorial piece by Joan E. Darrah called “My Secret Life Under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Darrah mentions that she was a rising member of the Navy and did not realize that she was gay until well into her career. The second problem requires more explanation.

Imagine yourself sitting at your desk ten years from today. Now picture the framed photo of your family sitting to your right, your calendar marked with your significant other’s birthday and your anniversary. Now imagine that your job, while still behind a desk, is in the military. Imagine that you are gay. The photo on your desk of your loved one? Gone. The dates on the calendar? Not there. Your commitment ceremony? You must act like it never happened. Most of your colleagues have these things, but they are heterosexual and allowed to admit to their existence. They can talk about their wife or husband and their anniversary. They can also name their significant other as an emergency contact, while you cannot. Now tell me, how is that equal? It is true, they sign a contract, but that contract is with the United States government, and in this case, the government is blatantly disregarding their duty to offer equal opportunity and equal rights.

If even one gay person has decided not to join the military because of this policy, then the government has failed to offer equal opportunity. I offer two choices. The first is to eliminate the policy. The second is to extend “don’t ask, don’t tell” to every member of the military. If a gay person cannot admit they are gay, then a straight person should not be allowed to admit they are straight. Either the military admits that gay people deserve equal and fair treatment, or the military becomes asexual.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Cruel Death of Clothing

Most people are familiar with the fantastic prices that can be found on clearance racks – whether it’s at Target, Macy’s or another store entirely – but have you ever wondered where the clothes on clearance racks go if they are not sold? After all, no matter how many times a store marks down that hideous t-shirt, sometimes everyone realizes just how awful it looks. Or perhaps the size of the clothing is simply not what anyone is looking for. For whatever reason, there is clothing that stores do not manage to sell. What happens to that clothing?

A month ago The New York Times published an article by Jim Dwyer entitled “A Clothing Clearance Where More Than Just the Prices Have Been Slashed.” In it, Dwyer calls the reader’s attention to two stores in New York City – H&M and Wal-Mart – outside of which partially destroyed clothing is frequently found in the trash. The clothing is intentionally destroyed before disposal; the items from the Wal-Mart mentioned had holes punched through them by a machine. The clothes outside H&M had been slashed to make them unsalvageable. The actions being taken by these two stores (and likely others) are atrocious. There are (at least) thousands of people who could benefit from the donation of this clothing. It is not only wasteful in the sense that it could benefit less fortunate people, it is environmentally irresponsible. There is no reason for the destruction of the garments when they could be donated.

It is understandable in one way that a store like H&M would not want their clothing to lose any amount of exclusivity that it has. However, this is not a good enough reason to destroy the clothing they are unable to sell. If no one wants to buy the clothing from H&M, then it will not matter to customers that poorer people who did not pay for it are wearing it. Basically, if the concern is that the sight of less fortunate people wearing clothing from H&M will lessen its value, the solution is not to destroy clothing, but rather to donate clothing when it is no longer wanted by paying customers. Wal-Mart does not even have the flimsy defense just offered for H&M.

The destruction of garments is not only a cold and heartless policy it is one that generates negative public opinion. For example, imagine you have two stores that are considered to be on par with each other in terms of quality, styles available, customer service, and any other factors you may consider before shopping at a store. Now imagine you have no particular preference for either, but one morning you read an article about how one of these stores destroys the merchandise they do not sell while the other donates it to a local charity. The latter store now has a better reputation than the former in the eyes of most people (I hope). As a result, the store that donates gains customers as people decide they no longer wish to shop at the store that destroys garments. Would it not make more sense for any store to adopt the policy of donating clothing, if not in order to be socially responsible, then at least to better their reputation in the eyes of customers?

Why do these stores destroy their clothing instead of donating it? I cannot seem to find a logical reason for it. I would postulate that the stores are lazy, but it would be easier to donate the clothing whole than to spend any effort or time destroying it. The store would not lose any more money by donating the clothing than it does by destroying it. It is entirely unreasonable, heartless, cold and plainly stupid that these stores ruin the garments instead of giving them away to charities.