|GAYS IN THE MILITARY|
|What should the U.S. military policy be toward homosexuals? Co-executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Michelle Benecke and Robert Maginnis, senior director of national security and foreign affairs at the Family Research Council, take your questions.|
Stein from Troy, Idaho asks:
My father, a navigator in the U.S. Air Force during WWII, was harassed for being Jewish. Black people have been harassed in the military. Women and gay people are still being harassed or forced out of a service that they feel duty-bound to perform.
My question is: Will the military ever lead the fight against prejudice, or will it always be the last bastion of hate?
It is only a matter of time before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue" is repealed and replaced with a rule of nondiscrimination. The question is whether our military leaders will enforce the new rules with commitment - more commitment than has been shown when it comes to stopping asking, pursuits and harassment under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue."
Leaders like the late Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, who as Chief of Naval Operations brought the Navy out of the Stone Age regarding its treatment of racial minorities and women of all races, give me hope. The situation today remains far from perfect, but Admiral Zumwalt's leadership made life better, and a career possible, for thousands of people in uniform. Our nation has reaped the benefits of their service. The late Barry Goldwater who, among others, was a retired Air Force General Officer, is another example. In later life, Goldwater publicly advocated the repeal of the military's exclusionary policy against gays, writing - if I may paraphrase - that a soldier does not have to be straight to shoot straight. Major General Vance Coleman's example gives me hope every day. He began his service in the Jim Crow Army and rose to become one of the Army's first, if not the first, African American General Officers.
The military is not a monolith. SLDN is aware of fair-minded officers and noncommissioned officers in the field today who support military service by known gay, lesbian and bisexual military members. These leaders recognize that the military cannot afford to waste human resources and value the contributions made by all service members. Hopefully, some of these leaders will make the military a career, and will find the strength to resist the powerful pressures that are brought to bear on leaders by the old school as they advance.
Change will come to the military, albeit slowly. Leadership is necessary. We need leaders who pay more than lip service to taking care of our soldiers - all of our soldiers. Of late, leadership has been sorely lacking. But I couldn't come to work everyday at SLDN, where in six years we have assisted more than 2,000 military members facing death threats, harassment and witch hunts, if I didn't have hope that the future will bring such courageous leaders to the fore.
The military led the nation in promoting equality and equal opportunity for African Americans. Although we made some mistakes, I believe the military has largely become a race-blind organization. Sexual preference is another matter, however.
The military exists to defend the country not to "lead the fight against prejudice." After all, the services are constitutionally prejudiced against a host of groups based on age, education, health and certain behaviors. In order to sustain a quality and cohesive force, the services discriminate against certain people not because it doesn't think fat, uneducated or old people are unpatriotic, but because based on more than 200 years of empirical experience with these and other groups, these cohorts don't best contribute to the service's demanding needs.
Also keep in mind that the services focus on the harsh battlefield and not the values of a liberal society. Even though society may have become more tolerant of homosexuals, that tolerance should not have bearing on the military, which must continue to be highly disciplined in order to operate in an environment marked by austere living conditions and minimal privacy. The same arguments for discriminating against homosexuals, used to convince the Democrat-dominated 1993 Congress, apply today.