Thursday, November 18, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)

DISCLAIMER*The views of this post in no way reflect the views of the United States Army in any way, shape, or form. They are completely my own*DISCLAIMER

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has been major news for the past couple weeks, only recently overshadowed by the new TSA security proceedings, which may become a post in the future. I thought it might be a good time to share my opinion on the policy and what it might mean for troops, should it be removed.

I could honestly care less about who a soldier wants to climb into bed with. We’re here to do a job. If a soldier is professional and competent, their private life is of no concern to me. Most troops that I’ve talked to have similar feelings. It’s mostly a non-issue, especially on deployments. I can’t speculate how well received it would be to have gay and lesbian couples quartered together on bases, together at social functions, or any of the other issues that would come up. However, those are still larger issues in society outside of the military as well.

I don’t like the idea that the military forces gays to lie in order to serve. It violates nearly all of the values that the military tries to instill in it’s recruits. In the Army, those values are simplified into an easy to remember acronym that comes close to spelling out “Leadership”. They are, Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.(LDRSHIP) DADT asks homosexuals to basically violate all but two of those. Those two-Selfless Service and Personal Courage- are, in my eyes, even exemplified by homosexual troops. They must be selfless in order to live a lie, and that takes heaps of personal courage to do. Duty could also be argued, but since it’s technically the duty of a soldier to report conduct violations, that’s a gray area.

It’s also been shown that DADT can be psychologically harmful. By threatening their career if they become exposed, homosexual troops are forced to deploy without as much support from home, and their significant others must adopt pseudonyms in order to prevent an “outing”. Their loved ones back home are denied the support of family readiness groups-groups designed so that the families of deployed troops can get together to share news, commiserate, and help them remain strong. This, to me, is shameful.

There are certainly legitimate concerns to allowing homosexuals to serve openly though, and I feel that they’ve been minimized by the media, to the point where anyone who raises objections is automatically a bigot. There have also been many parallels drawn between DADT and the integration of blacks and women, which I feel are actually pretty weak, particularly with the racial comparison. Nobody doubts the capability of gays to perform their duties. At this point it’s more of an issue of if it will change the effectiveness of our forces.

The first, and I would say, biggest, issue, is that homosexuality has not been fully accepted into mainstream society. We don’t allow gay marriages, and there’s controversy about gay couples adopting children, for instance. I’m not sure what the answer to these questions should be at this point. I don’t support gay marriage, although I’d be relatively comfortable with civil unions-it’s the word itself that makes it an issue to me. Who you want to visit you in the hospital, make health and monetary decisions with, and make your ‘next of kin’ doesn’t concern me. I’m also on the fence about gay couples and children-however that’s based on my feelings that a child belongs in a standard family with a mother, and a father, and all that goes with it. The death of the nuclear family has started to turn this into a non-issue, and that’s a whole ‘nuther ball of wax. Enough children are being raised in completely non-traditional homes that it leads me to believe that a gay couple could probably do a pretty good job, but I’m just personally not ready to make that leap of acceptance yet.

While the above paragraph may seem like a bit of a tangent, the point is this: The armed forces, particularly in the midst of a long, drawn out conflict, are NOT the place to conduct a social experiment! If society as a whole is not ready to accept homosexuality, then the military should not be forced to either. The military has a culture all it’s own, but at its base, it is a microcosm of American society as a whole. We come from all walks of life, from all over the nation, and if the nation at large isn’t ready for it, I don’t think it should be forced on the services either.

The other issue that I have is not as all-encompassing, but has to do with living quarters and shower areas. In the military, not only do we work together, but we also live together, eat together, and shower together. It’s not all that hard to get used to, to the point where soldiers often have conversations in the shower with the same level of ease that we would at a supermarket. A body is a body.

However, we do separate males and females from showering together. We don’t allow people that may be sexually attracted to one another to be naked together. This makes sense, in many ways, although it could be argued as unnecessary. I find it interesting that in the very openly sexual culture that America has that nudity is regarded as such a big issue. As I said above, a body is a body, and there’s nothing implicitly sexual about nudity. That’s the way it is though, and without changing our entire culture on nudity and sex, it will continue that way.

So why should I have to shower with a man who might be sexually attracted to me? I’ve seen the counter to this argument- that it’s already happening anyway, and there haven’t been any problems, so it’s not an issue. However that doesn't hold up under scrutiny. For one thing, I don’t know that I’m being ogled. The whole point of DADT is that gays must keep their sexuality a secret. At this point, if some guy is stealing glances at my junk, I don’t know it, so it can’t really make me uncomfortable. However if I knew the solider next to me in the shower happened to favor the hot dog over the hot dog bun, it would strongly decrease my comfort level. In a society, and a military, where sexual harassment and sexual assault is prevalent, this is a problem. Even though the integration of women into the force went well, sexual harassment, assault, and even rape, are still such big issues that soldiers get briefings on it about four times a year.

Further still, in the litigious society that we live in, where a single bad joke or unwanted advance can be grounds for a lawsuit, I could see serious problems for the military. We don’t do lawsuits in the civilian sense, but consequences are still harsh. A soldier convicted can forfeit rank, pay, allowances, or even be separated. They can be flagged against any favorable actions or separated from the service. At first glance, that seems like it would discourage misconduct and make the transition easy. However crimes of this nature are often hard to prove, and harder to disprove. If I think Pvt. Snuffy is a “meat gazer” I could report it. But I might be wrong, and ruin his career. And if I just had it out for Pvt. Snuffy, he’d have a very hard time convincing others that I was lying-even if he made it past the military justice system, the individual soldiers that he works with may not be so forgiving. The criteria for what constitutes sexual harassment are pretty loose, and often boil down to how the accuser feels.

So what’s the solution? Does the military spend millions and require separate showering facilities for gays? There’d still be the chance of sexual misconduct, but hopefully they’d be more comfortable with the idea than a straight person would be. Do we simply eliminate separate showers altogether, and put everyone in the same boat? After all, that would be true equality. It’s happened on remote FOBs in Afghanistan, mostly where US troops are quartered with troops from, say, Sweden. They’ve had surprisingly few issues-the US Military is a professional and adaptable force. The most likely option is that the military will continue to segregate facilities based on sex and not sexual preference. It wouldn’t be a disaster, but it does create a new list of problems to be considered.

I don’t think that there is an easy solution to this, nor will there ever be. Overall, I actually do support removing DADT, and I don’t think it will turn out to be a big deal. The honesty and integrity of the men and women next to me is far more important to me than my comfort in the shower. But these are real issues, and things to keep in mind. There are genuine concerns here, not just simple bigotry like many seem to think. No matter what happens, it will not be the end of our military. We in uniform will drive on and succeed regardless. The idea is to make it as easy for us to succeed as possible.

I would love to hear some thoughts on this, so feel free to comment.

DISCLAIMER*The views of this post in no way reflect the views of the United States Army in any way, shape, or form. They are completely my own*DISCLAIMER

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