The Real War America Needs to Fight

With an American led invasion of Iraq, the real issue behind who will go to war and who will not has precious little to do with an impartial enlisting of America’s patriotic men and women who want to fight for our country. It has to do with how race, class and sexual orientation forces some of us into the armed forces — while it forces others of us out.

With the line drawn in the sand between those lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who view opposition to Bush’s invasion of Iraq as “unpatriotic” and “un-American” and those who view our opposition to the war as a requisite imperative to our own civil rights, the debate about war proves to be unequivocally a queer issue.

However, no matter where we stand on the war issue, the biggest obstacle we must first confront is the blatant discrimination we face with the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that was instituted in 1992. A policy drafted on the belief that LGBT service members showering together and heterosexual women using the same toilet seats as lesbians endangers “unit cohesion” and corrupts the military’s image is eerily reminiscent of the same argument used when the military was forced to racially integrate its ranks. This policy is unconstitutional; it violates LGBT service members’ First Amendment rights to free speech and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Democratic New York Congressman Charles Rangel wrote a commentary that circulated in major newspapers across the country suggesting it is time to bring back the draft so that “there be a more equitable representation of all classes of Americans making the sacrifice for this great country,” which would include LGBT Americans who do and do not want to serve.

Even Charles Moskos, the chief architect of the military’s exclusionary policy, said that the policy should be temporarily suspended if the draft is reinstated. Moskos, however, was less concerned about the constitutional rights of LGBT service people, and the obvious discrimination of the policy itself, and more concerned about road blocking draft dodgers.

“If ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ remains in effect during conscription, then an easy way to avoid the draft would be to say one is gay — [and] only admitted straights would be allowed into the military,” Moskos told The Advocate. ” …There has always been ‘known’ gays and ‘open’ gays in the armed forces. Homosexuals should have bumper stickers saying ‘Gays support the draft.’ …I came up with the concept of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ to help get Clinton off the hot seat in the first months of his administration. And it worked. Shouldn’t gay advocacy groups give me some kind of medal?”

Whether Moskos should receive a medal for his lopsided policy is more about self-aggrandizement and hubris on his part than about a straightforward policy on behalf of LGBT civil rights. But some LGBT Americans support the suggestion of reinstating the draft because it would be an open door, albeit a temporary one, that would not only show their patriotic mettle but also allow for full integration into military life.

…the belief that LGBT service members showering together and heterosexual women using the same toilet seats as lesbians endangers “unit cohesion” and corrupts the military’s image is eerily reminiscent of the same argument used when the military was forced to racially integrate its ranks.

In a recent interview with online news site TeenInk.com, Secretary of State Colin Powell shared his reason for defending the military’s ban on LGBT service members while at the same time denouncing any form of homophobia at the State Department. “I think it’s a different matter with respect to the military, because you’re essentially told who you’re going to live with, who you’re going to sleep next to,” Powell said.

Powell contradicts himself with his congratulatory acknowledgment of the work LGBT service members do at the State Department on the one hand, and his homophobic statement that LGBT service members will not be able to serve in combat on the other.

The Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard University, wrote in his essay, “Black Christians and Homosexuality: The Pathology of a Permitted Prejudice,” that Powell’s concern that LGBT Americans in the military would “destroy unit cohesion” and thus compromise military capability is a fallacious argument. Powell should know this is reminiscent of the military’s long history of racist arguments that he, too, had once endured.

Unit cohesion and military capability “remains an appropriate concern of a military man, but General Powell in this dispute was more than a mere military man. He was a military man of color, and thus could give cover to any painful analogy between the admission of gays into a heterosexual military and the admission of blacks into a white military,” Gomes wrote.

Homophobia, like racism and sexism, in our armed forces is militarily dangerous because it thwarts the necessary emotional bonding needed amongst service members in battle, and it underutilizes the needed human resources to make a strong military.

The privacy rationale is another argument that advocates for the banning of LGBT service members in combat. This argument states that all service members have the right to maintain at least partial control over the exposure of their bodies and intimate bodily functions. In other words, heterosexual men deserve the right to control who sees their naked bodies. According to the privacy rationale argument, the “homosexual gaze” in same-sex nudity does more than disrupt unit cohesion. Its supposedly predatory nature expresses sexual yearning and desire for unwilling subjects that not only violate the civil rights of heterosexuals, but also cause untoward psychological and emotional trauma.

“The irony/idiocy of this entire argument is based around how straight — some straight — guys think every gay male in the world must want their body! They should only wish. Part of their ‘straight’ mindset comes from the fact many straight men believe every woman in the world wants them, so how could every gay male in the world not feel the same way? So much for modesty and humility!,” the Rev. Vincent Turner of Turner Ministries in Boston wrote to me in an e-mail.

Powell’s concern that LGBT Americans in the military would “destroy unit cohesion” and thus compromise military capability is a fallacious argument. Powell should know this is reminiscent of the military’s long history of racist arguments that he, too, had once endured.

“Another part that is missing from this discussion is that guys — straight guys — do check one another out. It is a natural, normal curiosity. Logically, the majority of them are not interested beyond simple male curiosity. While a gay man may look at another man — straight or gay — with the wider lens, so to speak, that does not translate into the gay man wanting or trying to seduce the man he is looking (homo gazing) at.

“When I was in the USAF, I was not out… I loved military service (and still have fondest memories of those four years) so much, I would have done nothing to jeopardize my commitment and duty to the military,” wrote Turner.

While it is believed that the “homosexual gaze” would be the root cause for the disruption of unit cohesion and military capability of our service members, the cause is actually the macho male heterosexual culture embedded in this milieu. It is in this culture that both sexual harassment and rape of female and LGBT service members persists.

The recent study, “A Modest Proposal: Privacy as a Flawed Rationale for the Exclusion of Gays and Lesbians from the U.S. Military,” states that banning LGBT service members would not preserve the privacy of its heterosexual service members, but would instead actually undermine heterosexual privacy because of its systematic invasion to maintain it. And in order to maintain heterosexual privacy, military inspectors would not only police the sexual behaviors of its service members, but they would also police the sexual behaviors of the spouses, partners, friends and relatives of its service members.

According to the study: heterosexuals already shower with known LGBT service members, lifting the ban would not significantly increase the number of out LGBT service members, and few heterosexuals are extremely uncomfortable with LGBT service members.

Military readiness is not a heterosexual calling, and queers in the military were not always forcefully closeted with a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Like heterosexual service members, LGBT service members have been proudly and openly putting their lives on the line for their countries since antiquity.

The Greeks favored gay and bisexual young men in their military. Since gay and bisexual men were considered a family unit, the Greeks knew that paired male lovers assigned to the same battalions were a military asset. They would fights courageously, side by side, and would die heroically together in battle.

While it is believed that the “homosexual gaze” would be the root cause for the disruption of unit cohesion and military capability of our service members, the cause is actually the macho male heterosexual culture embedded in this milieu.

The famous Sacred Band of Thebes was composed of predominately paired queer lovers who fought as a fierce corps on front line shock troops.

Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), who was king of Macedonia and noted as one of the greatest military conquerors, was openly bisexual. When his lover Hephaestion died in battle, Alexander the Great not only mourned openly for his lover, but he staged an extravagant funeral which took six months to prepare.

Military drag was a common practice in war during the first century. Heterosexual and queer men were known to cross-dress as women in order to catch their opponents off-guard. First century historian Josephus writes in his History of the Jewish War: “While their faces looked like the faces of women, they killed with manly right hands.”

Two of our queer saints, Saint Sergious and Saint Bacchus, were Christians and Roman soldiers whose passion for each other is symbolized in gay unions.

Our most well-known queers in the military, however, are Jonathan and David in the Old Testament. In Samuel 18:1-3, Jonathan makes a covenant with David and strips off his clothes in front of Jonathan to give him his armor. In Samuel 20: 41, Jonathan and David kiss each other. When David dies in battle, David conveys his love for Jonathan when he says, in 2 Samuel 1:26: “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother! Most dear have you been to me; your love more wonderful to me surpassing the love of women.”

I am not an advocate for war; however, in a time of war you need every soldier who wants to serve. Having a highly disproportionate number of people of color, poor and rural whites, and an absence of openly LGBT service members shows how America will not be able to present itself as a united front on the battlefield.

That’s because the real war in America is with itself.

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