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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Keep DADT -- But Apply it to Homophobes

Soldiers in IraqEarlier this week, I wrote that about 75% of the American public oppose the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy toward gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendereds, and transsexuals. And why not? The LGBT community has gone pretty much mainstream. In retrospect, the strategy of gays coming out of the closet worked. Normal people who were secretly gay became openly gay -- but still normal. I'd think that coming out would take a tremendous amount of personal courage, so I can only imagine how satisfying it must be to see that strategy paying off.

But what about the military; what do people serving or who have served think of repealing DADT? The pentagon is preparing to study the issue with a poll of their own, but we don't have to wait. A poll [PDF] commissioned by the Vet Voice Foundation asked that question and the answer is, frankly, complicated.

Polling exclusively Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, VVF put the question to former and current military personnel. Only 34% favor allowing gays to serve openly. Only 36% are opposed. 30% are on the fence. But the numbers are different when asked how they feel personally about gays; 73% said they're personally comfortable with gays and lesbians and 60% believe sexual orientation has no bearing on a person's ability to serve.

So why the disparity? If most are OK with gays and most think sexual orientation isn't a factor in being able to serve, why do so many oppose repealing DADT? Unfortunately, the poll doesn't answer this question. I think it's pretty clear that they're concerned -- incorrectly, it turns out -- about how their comrades would react to gays serving openly. That's just a guess, but it seems pretty obvious to me.

Part of the problem here is that, while 58% believe they've served alongside gays, there's no way for most of them to know. It's literally a crime to say it out loud. So the gains made by gays in the civilian world by coming out can't be reflected in the military. You can't come out of the closet -- it's illegal. Add to this that the respondent pool is 45% Republican, 25% Independent, and 20% Democrat, and you can imagine that many of these people see their doubts reinforced by their media of choice. If you watch FOX News, you start to think that's reality. If you listen to Rush Limbaugh, you start to think that's reality. When right wing blowhards start talking BS about gays "destroying unit cohesion," you think they're right -- even though it's not true for you personally. All those other people are homophobes and, despite how you feel, you believe that keeping DADT would just be avoiding a whole lot of trouble. In other words, if you live in right wing world, you may not be closed-minded, but you believe everyone else is.

Repealing DADT would remove this. The only way this perception can perpetuate itself is if being gay is a secret. You may suspect someone's gay, you may even know it, but -- assuming, as the poll shows, you have no problem with it -- you can't find out how other people feel about it. You can't out them. They can't out themselves. So the distorted perception that everyone else hates the gays can be sustained. If gays and lesbians served openly, then actual reality would take hold.

And what about that 30% who say they're uncomfortable in the presence of gays? Screw 'em. This is, after all, the military. No one joined up to be comfortable. When you're in the service, you obey. If you have a problem with gays and lesbians, then shut up about it. And that's an order.

And people who believe the "unit cohesion" argument have it bass-ackward; gays aren't the problem here, the bigoted minority is the problem. You don't blame women for sexism, you don't blame Jews for antisemitism, and you don't blame minorities for racism. So why are we blaming gays for homophobia? Even if homophobia destroyed unit cohesion, it wouldn't be gays dissolving that cohesion -- it'd be the homophobes. Impose DADT on them -- say one word against anyone in the LGBT community and you're out of this man's army.

Now stop flaunting your homophobic lifestyle choice, mister.


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1 comment:

Eric Lester said...

Several things come to mind, but uppermost is how much I hate polls. Every time somebody puts a survey under my nose I get angry. "How much do you fear homosexuals?" a. A lot b. greatly c. much d. a little

The other thing is how, ironically, the military is the most egalitarian part of our society. Yes, there are exceptions, but by and large people in the armed forces learn pretty quickly to disregard race, religion, gender and (lately) sexual orientation and just get on with the work in front of them.

We could do worse than to look up to these men and women for an example of how we can, in the words of Rodney King, all get along.