The battle on the home front

It is not surprising that Gen. Peter Pace – chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior ranking officer in the U.S. military – gave his personal opinion about gay service personnel, stating that homosexuality is “immoral.” But it is surprising that in the midst of a war that needs every able-bodied fighter, the enlisting of our American patriots continues to include a debate about sexual orientation.

Military readiness is not a heterosexual calling. And even Charles Moskos, the chief architect of the failed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, has said that it should be temporarily suspended, especially if the draft is reinstated.

Under current policy, the Pentagon polices the sexual behavior of its service members because grounds for their discharge include: “if they attempt to engage in a ‘homosexual act,’ state they are gay openly (unless they can prove they have no propensity or intention to engage in a ‘homosexual act’) or attempt to marry a person of the same sex.”

The military’s belief that service members who are gay or lesbian endanger “unit cohesion” only maintains a policy of segregation and fosters a climate of intolerance.

Also, the beliefs that men of mixed sexual orientations showering together and heterosexual women sitting on the same toilet seats as lesbians corrupt the military’s image are eerily reminiscent of the same arguments used when the military was forced to racially integrate.

But Pace isn’t the only one who feels gays should not serve in the military. In a 2003 interview with online news site TeenInk.com, former Secretary of State Colin Powell shared his reason for defending the military’s ban on gay service members: “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.”

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

Unit cohesion and military capability, Gomes stated, “remains an appropriate concern of a military man, but Gen. 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.”

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

On another front, the privacy rationale 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 violates the civil rights of heterosexuals, but also causes untoward psychological and emotional trauma.

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

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

The study found that heterosexuals already shower with known gay service members, so lifting the ban would not significantly increase the number of gay personnel, and few heterosexuals are extremely uncomfortable with gay service members.

However, gays in the military were not always forcefully closeted with a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Like heterosexual service members, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members have been proudly and openly putting their lives on the line for their countries since antiquity.

The Greeks, for one, 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.

Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), king of Macedonia and noted as one of the greatest military conquerors, was openly bisexual. When his lover Hephaestion died in battle, Alexander not only mourned openly for his lover, he staged an extravagant funeral that 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 wrote in his “History of the Jewish War”: “While their faces looked like the faces of women, they killed with manly right hands.”

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 Jonathan 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.”

Our gay and lesbian service members are prepared to defend this country with their lives. And an absence of openly gay and lesbian service members shows how America will not be able to present itself as a united front on the battlefield because the real war in America is with itself.

Published in In Newsweekly, March 22, 2007.

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