Gays in the Army? Big deal!

November 19, 1992

The following editorial appeared last Saturday in th Philadelphia Daily News:

About a hundred years ago, Mrs. Patrick Campbell uttered the wise words that we Americans have had trouble hearing ever since.

"My dear," she said dismissively, "I don't care what they do as long as they don't do it in the street and frighten the horses."

In our country, just the knowledge that they do it at all frightens many, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the estimable Gen. Colin L. Powell, who doesn't otherwise appear to be a man who's easily scared.

Relax, general. It's not exactly a threat to life as we know it that President-elect Bill Clinton plans to keep his pledge to stop discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military. It won't change many lives, other than those of the victims of that discrimination.

The General Accounting Office estimates that the services spend at least $27 million a year ferreting out people they can charge with being homosexuals. The military thus provides the double loss to the taxpayers of wasting all that money, then tossing out service people it has trained at great expense, often people who are doing a good job. It makes those $600 toilet seats look like chump change.

Opponents of ending discrimination in the military are considerably more subtle than the yahoos who write electoral initiatives like the recent one in Oregon.

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

All due respect, general, but a lot of that sounds like the rationale given for keeping the Army segregated racially until President Truman cut though the crap and ordered it done.

What olive drab fantasies is the army entertaining? Leather bars at Fort Sill? Marching drag queens at Fort Polk?

Are the general and those who think like him saying they have no faith in the ability of officers and non-commissioned officers to maintain order? If it isn't already banned, it shouldn't be too difficult to enforce a rule against overt sexual behavior in the barracks.

Maybe they could expand the rule to cover NCO clubs and protect a few straight women from the jerk "lifestyle" the Army doesn't seem worried about.

The Army survived for hundreds of years without banning homosexuals. It has survived for the last 50 tolerating the dedication, bravery and perhaps even the existence of gay and lesbian servicepeople as long as they were willing to endure the fear of exposure and instant dismissal.

The Army will survive gays and lesbians who are proud and unafraid, as well.

Who knows, it might even improve life in the barracks. Anybody who's had to listen to the cacophony of country music and rap with which youthful soldiers pummel anybody in earshot might be grateful for the occasional show tune.

Relax, general. Our new president plans to do something that's right.

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