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Outed, booted, driven out

There’s a great news article by Melissa McEwan (some of you might recognize that name…) up on The Raw Story, about the continuing ridiculous circumstances in our military as a result of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

While recruiting numbers fall through the floor (and mysteriously discharges of gay soldiers drop as well), the disingenuous behavior of the military shows complete disrespect for the sacrifice of gay men and women who choose to put their lives on the line for their country.

How long can the Pentagon continue to claim with any validity that “unit cohesion” is the reason that gays and lesbians cannot openly serve when we are in the middle of a war and the discharge rate has dropped?

“It is interesting, but not surprising, to learn that after 9/11, the discharges of lesbian and gay servicemembers began a dramatic decline,” said Steve Ralls, Director of Communications for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a non-profit that provides legal services to gays in the military. “In fact, whenever the country is at war, lesbian and gay soldiers are far less likely to be discharged, which undermines the Pentagon’s primary rationale for the policy.”

“They argue that lesbian and gay soldiers undermine unit cohesion, but never is unit cohesion more important than during wartime,” he added. “That discharges under the ban decrease during times of war completely undermines their argument for the necessity of the policy. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America, gay discharges have declined by more than 40 percent.”

Interviewed in the article is Jeff Howe, who was discharged when online profile indicating that he was gay was discovered by superiors. The unbelievable additional horror of Howe’s case is that he started the blog, posted photos at the request of his commander, and was later investigated for “terrorist ties” when he deleted it. Talk about being targeted by one of your own. Sick.

Also featured in the piece is Austin Rooke, who didn’t come out while in the military, but left because of the cultural climate of homophobia in his unit. Rooke:

After 9/11, Rooke was working for the Gay and Lesbian Task Force when he got a letter from the Army telling him he was being activated. This led to a stint in Qatar during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion. There, Rooke says he experienced an entirely different atmosphere.

“It was the first time I was really isolated and didn’t have any friends or support,” he said. “The commander was really homophobic, which was the first time I’d experienced that. I think during that time, I experienced what most people feel like when they have to serve without being openly gay. You’re in a dangerous situation, away from home. You feel isolated and separate from your teammates, denigrated by your commanders, and afraid to be send home because of a big secret you’re carrying.”

…”Keeping that secret sets you apart, but it’s the only way to ensure your safety,” he said. He notes that coming out is “hard enough as it is without being surrounded 24 hours a day by people who are hostile toward gays. Homophobia is part of the culture—and it’s part of the culture because it’s the law.”

It’s a great article; go read the rest.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding