You Don't Say.

On Sunday, John McCain spoke out in favor of a policy that has meant the loss of thousands of qualified military personnel. Rightfully so, former Secretary of Army Clifford Alexander thinks this is deeply troubling:

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What’s so frustrating about this issue is that it seems unsophisticated for a civilized country. To me, government-sanctioned opposition to gays in the military seems far, far, beneath us. I can’t understand how, or why, we’re still having this debate.

Shouldn’t we, as a nation, be far beyond being weirded out by the thought of guys soul-kissing or thinking homosexuality is a contagious disease?

Beyond that, sustained discrimination against openly gay soldiers in the military denies all of us our humanity. We’ve essentially reduced the issue to a caricature, where gay soldiers are rigorously pursuing butt sex and straight soldiers are 9-year-olds afraid to take off their clothes in the locker room.

And then we need to consider the very real costs to our military, something that should be of paramount importance during a time of war.

Because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we’ve lost more than 13,000 military personnel, including 800 with skills considered “mission critical,” and cost ourselves nearly $200 million in the process. It all seems like quite a waste.

Yet somehow, McCain thinks the policy is working well. Which proves how fortunate we all are that he was defeated on Nov. 4.


Joel Anderson —blackink —  writes about sports, politics, crime, courts, and other issues far beyond his competence at BuzzFeed. He has worked at media outlets in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Atlanta and contributed to a number of publications, including The Root and The American Prospect, among many others.
  • Grump

    I think another problem with the failure to include Gays in the military is also the heavy concentration of evangelicals in the military. This doesn’t really get mentioned too much as a problem in regards this topic.

  • I was in the Air Force from 1980 through 1994, so the bulk of my time served was pre-DADT when gays and lesbians were prohibited from serving under any circumstances. DADT didn’t change much for the thousands of people who have always served. People seem to have the misconception that the only way someone could be outed was to confess, which is simply not true. I had quite a few gay friends (I’m straight) over the years, but it always took an incredible act of trust for someone to come out to a friend, because anyone who knows the truth can always turn a gay service member in and end his or her career. The fears voiced by those who oppose allowing gays to openly serve are simply archaic and unfounded. Showering comes up frequently, but is a silly non-issue. Straight people in the military have been showering with gay people for decades and somehow everyone has managed to control him or herself.

    Ironically, sexual acting out among heterosexuals and in particular, by married heterosexuals has always been a much bigger in your face issue.

    Unfortunately, I fear that the recent high level of attention that the discharge of outed gays has gotten may backfire. I truly believe that the Obama Administration fully intends to change the law and if they’re allowed some time to work this issue and make the change in a relatively low key fashion, things will be as they should be. What I can foresee is that if this becomes a high profile media circus, the shrinking minority of homophobes and bigots left in the military will also become focused on it and life in the short and the long term may become even more difficult for the gay men and women currently serving on active duty.

    The military is not a democracy and the organization thrives on order and discipline. It has to. What that means is that once the rules are changed, people have to accept the new rules and move on. Gays and lesbians in the military don’t have freedom of speech. As much as I can respect and appreciate what Lt. Choi (the West Point grad and Arabic translator who recently outed himself, therefore making himself subject to discharge) is trying to do, it’s not the right thing to do. The military has no choice but to discharge him now. Had he waited and worked the system through the proper channels, he would have eventually seen change. I think trying to demand the President’s attention through activism on this issue is a losing proposition.

    As citizens, we can and should urge Congress to change the law. I believe they were planning to work on it this summer. It’s not fair and it’s wrong, but it’s the current law. Everyone who signed on knew what the rules were when they did it and had to accept the terms.

    Believe me, it broke my heart to have friends who had to hide who they were, who had to literally get out of town in order to hang out with friends and who had to go through dramatic hoops to have secret relationships. Most didn’t want to risk it at all. I want to see this changed, and I don’t want more gays and lesbians to be hurt in the process.

    The best way to help them is to pressure the lawmakers.

  • Hilzoy just had a really good post about Don’t Ask, in which she pointed out that quite apart from the “omg the icky gays!” issue, it’s really quite insulting to the professionalism of the military to imply that soldiers can’t be expected to do their fucking jobs just because someone in the unit is a big ol’ fag.

  • Scott

    We are still having this debate because of the deep Judeo-Christian underpinnings of the country. The Colonies got the religious zealots and Australia got the convicts and sometimes I wonder who got the best deal. That being said, if Obama wants to change the policy, he should just go ahead and do it just as Truman did when he integrated the armed services. Not to mention, if Obama does this it might spark the integration of gays and lesbians into this country in the same why that Truman’s actions did for african americans.

  • Eh, disagreed re. “Judeo-Christian underpinnings.” Homophobia isn’t unique to America by a long shot (nor is it unique to (nominally) “Jewish” or “Christian” countries).

    I think our delay in recognizing equal rights for gays compared to *some* other nations is attributable to recent American politics, and even these aren’t unique. It’s just that the right-wing “morality” argument has been a little more successful here of late than it has in countries that have started legalizing gay marriage, etc.

  • Ron

    When I was in the Air Force, there were openly gay people in my unit and our commander wasn’t going to discharge them. They just went to work, did their jobs and no one really paid much attention to them one way or another.