Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Don't Ask Don't Tell": A Bad Policy Which Should Be Eliminated.

What is commonly referred to as the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy was put into place in an apparent effort to placate the top military brass's opposition to allowing gay people in the military, one the one hand, and gay civil rights groups on the other hand. Up until that point, the simple fact that a person was homosexual was sufficient grounds to exclude them from the military. That's why so many young males during the Vietnam era showed up at the draft in dresses and high heels.

But times change. And we now have no draft, although we continue to have wars. Lots of wars. Many of the people who join the military are from working class or lower class families. If they graduate high school, or if they drop out of high school, many of them have no place to go: no jobs, no money for college, no opportunity. And the military recruiters are quite predatory, often promising young people opportunity that they will never see.

But the fact is that the military does offer opportunity for some. For example, I went to law school with a few students who were long-time military and were being put through law school by the government. I know people who joined the military and went to medical and dental school in exchange for a certain number of years service in the military. These professional opportunities would otherwise have been denied to young people whose families do not have the financial ability to pay for higher education.

Even for young people who do not want to go to college or professional school, the military offers a job, a place to live, medical and dental, and training in certain fields. Of course many people choose to make a career in the military, and likely do better than they would have in the private employment sector where there is no stability.

Homosexuals were excluded from the military for a long time, and gay rights groups saw that exclusion as a denial of basic rights to one sector of society for no legitimate reason. So Bill Clinton came up with a compromise. Essentially, the military would stop asking people if they were gay, and gay people would be allowed to serve so long as they did not "tell" that they were gay. Not "telling" essentially meant keeping it a secret. If they were seen entering a gay bar, for example, even if they didn't say anything, they could be thrown out of the military and lose all their accrued rights.

The rationale for excluding gays from the military is that straight men are uncomfortable being around gay men. Straight men do not want to sleep in a room with gay men, don't want to get naked and change clothes in front of gay men, don't want to shower with gay men. Straight men fear that the gay men will harass them, or come onto them, or try to grope them, and make unwanted advances.

Straight men argue that because they are uncomfortable, and fear unwanted advances, they are potential victims, and gays (the presumed predators) should be excluded from the military. Don't Ask Don't Tell was supposed to provide some assurances to straight men that if there was a gay man in the military, he would be prohibited from making sexual advances or inappropriate comments to straight men or he would be thrown out of the military. Gays could serve in secret.

The funny thing is that straight men also have always fought to keep women out of the military (and other fields like firefighters where people live together). But in that case, straight men say that they are the presumed predators, they might attack the women, they might sneak a peek at a naked woman living next-door, they might sexually assault the women, they might make unwanted advances. And in this scenario, straight men say the potential victims (women) should be excluded from the military.

I'm thinking that in order to be consistent, maybe straight men should be excluded, and gay men and all women can do the work without worrying that they will attack or rape each other.

This argument, that straight men don't want gay men in the military, is essentially the same argument that was used to exclude black people, or confine them to separate assignments: white men don't want to sleep in the same room, eat at the same table, shower with black men.

I think these straight white men should get over themselves.

In our legal system, and in most of our civil institutions, we do not brand people as bad because of race, gender, or sexual orientation. We instead have rules and laws which say what qualifications people must have to get a job, what people must do to keep their job, and what conduct is improper and subject to discipline or termination. That's the way things should be in the military.

All people, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, should be held to the same standards. In today's world, that means generally that you should not "date" a co-worker, or ask them to date you, other than in a non-coercive and non-sexual context: would you like to go for a cup of coffee. That allows each person to consent or refuse a change in the relationship. It's really not that difficult. Or some places have rules which prohibit people in the same department from dating.

It's possible to come up with rules that would reasonable serve the legitimate interests of everyone involved. Citizens may join the military regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. All members of the military will be held to a set of rules prohibiting sexual harassment or coercion, and such other rules as are reasonably necessary to avoid undermining the cohesiveness of the department, such as prohibiting anyone from dating someone who works in the same group.

It looks like the military is finally going to phase out the Don't Ask Don't Tell policies. Good. It's about time.

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