Gay Or Rapist?

12.16.2008

By Richard Morgan

Such absurdities are nothing new when 'don't ask, don't tell' is concerned. In September 2007, a week before his retirement, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a Senate hearing about the Pentagon's 2008 budget that gay soldiers are 'counter to God's law.' Immediate jeers in the Senate chamber prompted the committee chairman to abruptly adjourn the hearing and seal the doors. Five minutes later, the hearing resumed with General Pace tucking his tail between his legs, saying, 'I would be very willing and able and supportive' to changes in Pentagon policy 'to continue to allow the homosexual community to contribute to the nation without condoning what I believe to be activity -- whether it be heterosexual or homosexual -- that in my upbringing is not right.' Three months later 28 retired admirals and generals, including a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded to General Pace by submitting a petition to Congress urging the admission of openly gay soldiers.

In July of this year, the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee held hearings on 'don't ask, don't tell' in which Sgt. Maj. Brian Jones, a retired Army special operations officer, recounted how, sometimes, 'the only way to keep from freezing at night was to get as close as possible for body heat -- which means skin-to-skin.' There can't be any arousal. There can't be that awkward feeling.' (On The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart retorted, 'If nighttime patrol gives you a hard-on, I think you've got bigger problems than being gay.') Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, also told the congressional committee that, if 'don't ask, don't tell' were repealed, 'the result would be devastating because the military doesn't do things halfway.' An all-gay military?

For their part, the members of Congress were critical of antigay stances. 'You're basically asserting that straight men and women in our military aren't professional enough to serve openly with gay troops,' said Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat. 'How do you respect their service if you want them out?' asked Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican.

The members of Congress may have actually been voicing their constituents' opinions. July also saw the release of a Washington Post-ABC News poll that noted striking support across demographics for allowing openly gay troops: 82% of white Catholics, 80% of Democrats, 75% of independents and married couples, 64% of Republicans, and 57% of white evangelical Protestants. An interesting outlier was support for gay troops among military veterans: 71% approved of closeted gay troops, but only 50% approved of openly gay soldiers. Overall, 75% of Americans now support openly gay troops, the poll found, compared to 62% in 2001 and 44% in 1993.

Sometimes even the Bush administration seems rather inclusive of openly gay soldiers. While discharges related to 'don't ask, don't tell' doubled under the Clinton administration -- from 617 in 1994, the policy's first effective year, to 1,241 in 2000 -- the opposite has occurred under President Bush, with discharges of gay soldiers decreasing by 50%, from 1,273 in 2001 to 612 in 2006, the most recent data available. Cynical analysis -- including a damning December 2007 60 Minutes report -- suggests that openly gay soldiers are being tolerated, frankly, because the Pentagon needs all the soldiers it can get. Ironically, though, many gay soldiers who have been booted out in recent years were medics, Arabic translators, and other crucial personnel. Although Captain Taylor often identified himself as a medic, his role at Eglin AFB was basically head desk assistant at the base's hospital. He was disposable.

In May the ninth circuit court of appeals ruled that, based on the Supreme Court's decision striking down anti-sodomy laws, the Pentagon cannot dismiss soldiers simply for being homosexual without proving that the gay soldier damages morale and that the only way to improve morale would be to discharge the soldier.

As America readies itself for a new commander in chief to be sworn in on January 20, the issue of openly gay soldiers is timely. Does a new White House mean a new military policy too? It may.

During his campaign Barack Obama said 'don't ask, don't tell' is 'antithetical to the values of honor and integrity that our military holds most dear.' He supports the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would make discrimination against gay troops illegal.

Meanwhile, both straight and gay soldiers languish under a system that can enable gossip, threats, and witch hunts. Moreover, what's to be made of cases, as might have happened with Captain Taylor's trial, when a witch hunt accidentally catches a witch?

'It's really a Samaritan snare for these guys,' said Steve Ralls, former spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit watchdog and policy group dedicated to lifting the ban on gays serving openly. 'It is the opposite of teamwork and trust and loyalty and all those noble military traditions: These cases have soldiers being wary of other soldiers, not knowing whether they will get roped into trouble because of guilt by association. Even if they didn't do anything wrong. You have to remember that some soldiers get kicked out of the military for being gay, but some soldiers get kicked out of the military because people think they're gay.'

Without being able to out anyone as gay officially, in Taylor's trial government and defense lawyers both resorted to stereotyped circumstantial evidence, pointing out that a soldier who swears to his heterosexuality also trims his pubes or wears a nipple ring or sometimes puts his arm around gay friends. 'You'll hear from him, under oath, that he trims up his pubic hair. He's a male, and he's in his 30s, and he trims himself up. That's how he normally does it,' a lawyer told the jury at one point, talking about one of the accusers. At another, when an accuser said, 'I mean, he was draping himself on me. He was constantly trying to come on to me. He was always leaning on me. He always wants to be beside me,' an attorney followed up with 'And that is not unusual in the gay community, is it?' Captain Taylor was even asked, 'Have you ever received any theater training?' And a line of questioning on the subject of nipple rings produced the following exchange:

Q. He wears a nipple ring?

A. He showed it to me.

Q. He admits that he's got a nipple ring?

A. Oh, yeah. He showed it to me.

Q. Do you know any straight guys that wear nipple rings?

A. No, I don't. That's a gay thing, as far as I know.

Rather than calling the logo for the Human Rights Campaign a blue square with a yellow equal sign, it was described as 'a blue sticker, with two parallel gold bars that appear to be captain's bars.'

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