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.