Military homophobia: Donít ask, donít tell
by Leon Satterfield
It was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who, in late September, 1993, a week before his retirement, initiated what would be known as the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for homophobes in the military.
"I wouldn't say this if I weren't about to retire," he told the other Joint Chiefs, "but it's crystal clear that homophobic propensities are incompatible with military service."
There was a sharp intake of breath around the table as his colleagues grew pale and involuntarily crossed their legs. The Marine commandant was the first to respond.
"Holy abomination," he gasped. "Whatever do you mean?"
The chairman presented his evidence:
Sgt. Jose Zuniga, medic in the Gulf War, Sixth Army 1992 Soldier of the Year, forced out of service by homophobes after he marched in a gay parade in full uniform, including medals.
Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, 26-year veteran, Bronze Star for heroism in Vietnam, forced out of service by homophobes after she revealed she's a lesbian.
Marine Col. Fred Peck's testimony that he opposed allowing his homosexual son to join the Corps, not because he'd be a bad Marine, but because he "could be killed or injured" by homophobes serving with him.
Barry Goldwater's charge that homophobes have "wasted a half-billion dollars in the past decade chasing down gays and running them out of the armed services."
"It just has to stop," the chairman concluded. "Homophobes have a pathological fear of some of our best people, and as soldiers they attack what they fear. It plays hell with unit cohesion."
The other Joint Chiefs squirmed, then calmed momentarily when he opened his Bible.
"And get this," the chairman said, turning to Second Samuel 1:26 and reading aloud King David's lamentation over the dead body of his good friend Jonathan: "Very pleasant has thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women."
"Had the Israelites been as homophobic we are," he said, "the greatest military leader in the Bible would never have been issued a slingshot."
Murmers ran round the table, then finally the Marine commandant, playing devil's advocate and trying to uncross his legs at the same time, made a telling point in defense of homophobia.
"A homophobe can be just as good a fighter as the rest of us," he argued. "And if we tell him the enemy is gay, he can be a helluva lot meaner. And even retain his self-righteousness. Sanctimonious violence can enhance our combat readiness."
Eventually, of course, they hammered out the compromise policy that allows homophobes to serve so long as they simply deny their basic identity. Its key provisions:
Recruits won't be asked and they aren't to tell about their homophobia. However, homophobic conductsay beating hell out of the guy who's insufficiently appreciative of your girlfriend's bikini photo, or who doesn't give a damn how the game comes outwill result in dismissal.
Latent homophobia will not in itself keep a soldier from security-clearance jobsso long as he doesn't cross the line into active homophobic practices which might leave him open to blackmail.
Service personnel will not be disciplined for hanging out in homophobic bars or listening to homophobic radio talk shows, homophobic football coaches, or homophobic ministers. However, they may not repeat the arguments, either on base or off base, in uniform or out.
GIs may continue their unconscious displays of sexual insecurityoften the root of homophobiasuch as the involuntary crossing of legs during discussions of homosexuality or other subjects that threaten their manhood.
When the Joint Chiefs presented their compromise to the President, he said it was "not identical with some of my own goals," but he'd accept it because who's in charge anyway?
Militant homophobes in "Act Down" opposed the policy because it would treat homophobia as a pathology instead of a virtue. Republicans opposed it because it came from a Democrat.
"Certainly we'll vote against it," the Senate Minority Leader said. "I'll figure out why after I've read it. My guess is that it'll undermine military morality. Or something like that."
Nevertheless, the new policy became law on a straight party vote. The session ended on a bipartisan note, however, when aging males on both sides of the aisle had to be rolled off the floor in wheelchairs. They couldn't get their legs uncrossed.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.
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