These Americans are proud, brave and homosexual

MIKE LITTWIN

November 13, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

The first big story of Bill Clinton's prepresidency is his reiteration, on Veterans Day no less, that he plans to lift the ban restricting gays and lesbians from serving in the military.

Pat Buchanan was right. He warned us the Democrats were beholden to liberals, decaf-sippers, cross-dressers and others who would rent the fabric (not quilt) of this great land.

A lot of people are upset, and you probably know why. It's simple, really. It's about protecting the sanctity of the Army/Navy/Air Force/Marines shower room, and who might be looking at you funny when you're taking a shower -- and why.

Marines, let me tell you, don't like to be looked at funny.

What's really funny, as it turns out, is that in 1992 we're still having this discussion. We're having it, and it looks as though we're going to keep having it. Maybe you missed it amid the excitement of election day, but the religious right got an anti-gay referendum passed in Colorado. Another much harsher referendum failed in Oregon.

There will be other contests, other elections. In fact, gay rights will almost certainly remain a battle-ground issue throughout the '90s.

Clinton has shown which side he's on, making what seems a fairly obvious point: That sexual orientation has no bearing on the ability to serve one's country.

Let's just say that military leaders tend to see the issue differently. So do some others. This is one of those visceral issues upon which reasonable argument doesn't always work.

Maybe you remember the old rationale used to keep gays out of the military. Gays were said to be potential security risks. In the Cold War, they could be blackmailed by the KGB and have been forced to give up valuable information, including the motor pool arrangements at Fort Dix, or otherwise face the humiliation of being pushed from the closet. With the Cold War over, it became necessary to find some other reason for exclusion.

The new argument is the shower, which suggests that hundreds of thousands of gays would line up for the chance to take a shower with a military man.

That's basically it. Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed the military point of view when testifying earlier this year before the House Budget Committee. He explained that allowing gays and lesbians into the service would be disruptive and bad for morale (the same argument that was once trotted out in an effort to keep women sailors off ships).

"It is difficult in a military setting where there is no privacy, where you don't get a choice of association, where you don't get a choice of where you live, to introduce a group of individuals who are proud, brave, loyal, good Americans but who favor a homosexual lifestyle," Powell said.

Here's a little experiment General Powell and others might try. Insert "black" for homosexual. It was the same argument made 50 years ago for not integrating the military. White people would feel uncomfortable around blacks. Whites weren't used to living with blacks. Whites might leave the military if forced to eat, drink, fight, shower alongside blacks.

No one would say that now about blacks, except in whispers. Powell tried to get on both sides of the issue by conceding gays could be brave and loyal. But what he's saying is that he doesn't want the few, the brave, the proud if they are also the homosexuals.

Others would make this a moral issue. They include the abomination-unto-the-Lord crowd, who, of course, have the right believe whatever they wish. They might also want the armed forces free of adulterers. Or adulterers in their hearts. It is a moral issue, particularly if you think bigotry is immoral.

Probably, the only valid litmus test for serving in the armed forces is the ability to do the work required.

The irony is that, as everyone concedes, there are already tens of thousands of gays serving surreptitiously in a military force of 1.8 million. They served in the desert, and they served in Panama, and they served in Granada, and no one seemed the worse for it.

And yet, the military is spending an estimated $27 million a year in the cause of ridding the services of gays and lesbians, who were otherwise performing their duties without problem or who were, occasionally, even decorated for valor. Now, $27 million may not be a lot of money for the boys in the Pentagon -- what, four or five toilet seats? -- but it's just possible that the money could be better spent.

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