I’m afraid I don’t even know where to begin tonight, so I’ll just dig in. I just finished watching a video of Senator John McCain after the vote today where he insisted over and over again that it is not the military’s policy to seek out the sexual orientation of military members. All I can say is that he’s right: it isn’t the policy. But the policy isn’t enforced.
The good senator says he has sons in the military and that he’s seen it in action. I don’t know what he has seen. But he certainly hasn’t seen what I have, or else he wouldn’t make these statements. The policy is typically referred to as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but there’s a third part: “Don’t Pursue”. Officially, commands don’t pursue. They don’t conduct random searches of people to determine their sexuality. But they do act on suspicion.
At least three people I know have been unofficially investigated for violations of DADT. Yes, I said unofficially. How did they come about? Suspicion. A Marine goes out to a club with other members of his unit. While all the other members of the group are talking about women or flirting with them at the bar, one sits quietly not participating in the activities. When asked why he’s not being a member of the group, he says he’s just not interested. “What, are you gay or something?” Soon, word spreads that this Marine isn’t interested in women and that therefore he must be gay. People start talking behind his back. His roommate looks at his emails the next time he borrows the computer and finds a message that the Marine has sent to his civilian friend that indicate his sexuality. The email is forwarded to a senior Marine and the Marine is eventually called to the office to explain himself. Official? No. Damning to the Marine? Absolutely. I tell you that these things happen all the time.
Sexuality cannot be legislated. Prior to DADT, it was against official policy for gays to serve at all. Recruiters would ask, and if gays were inclined to serve anyway, they would lie. Since DADT, recruiters no longer ask, officially sparing the gays the necessity of lying about their sexuality as there had been in the past. Gays served in the military since long before DADT. They continue to serve now. As such, since every member of the military is vital to our mission accomplishment, it is easy to extend that to say that the service of all the gay and lesbian troops who have gone before and are currently serving is equally vital. Unfortunately it is not so simple as to say, “Don’t discuss your sexuality at work.” A person’s sexuality is inherent to their very being, and therefore can’t be compartmentalized between on- and off-duty.
Think about your day at work. When was the last time your girlfriend came up? Maybe it wasn’t in some official inquiry, but she came up nonetheless. People seem to assume that our sexuality plays no role in our professional lives, but in the military it does, because every waking moment for a Marine is his professional life. We are Marines 24/7, we are always on duty. And while supporters of DADT might argue that this is the very reason why DADT should remain, I would argue that it’s precisely why it should be repealed. A gay Marine can no more “control” his sexuality than his straight counterparts. Can he behave appropriately at work? Of course he can–there are already thousands serving in the military who do. But what about outside of work? On leave and liberty? The decisions a gay Marine makes on leave and liberty should bear no greater impact than the decisions a straight Marine makes. If a straight Marine goes out on a date with a woman, can he not still perform his duties when he returns to work the next day? Are his fellow Marines at all affected by these actions? Of course not. Why would it be any different for a gay Marine? What service are we doing to our military by maintaining this policy? What disservice are we doing to those who are needlessly prevented from living honestly and openly in their lives?
I said earlier that DADT was implemented to save gay people from having to lie about their sexuality. But this has not been its function. Rather, it has resulted in forcing gays to compromise their integrity–by either lying to themselves about who they are, or lying to their comrades about what they do on leave and liberty. Make no mistake: people who concern themselves with other people’s sexuality, race, gender, or nationality and treat them accordingly (or would have the government do it for them) are bigots. The real effect of this policy is to protect those inclined to harass gays from doing so by virtue of the fact that gays are not permitted to reveal themselves to these bigots.
I’m hoping this isn’t the end. I was brought up to believe that in America, equality eventually prevails. Nothing worth having isn’t worth fighting for, and I know the fight for equality will rage on. I, for one, won’t rest until we have won.