Policy on gays in military lacks major elements

MICHAEL OLESKER

July 22, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

The man on the radio needs jumper cables attached to his tongue. He's so agitated about this gays-in-the-military business that the words can't find their way out of his mouth fast enough. Nouns, verbs, all manner of modifiers are tumbling madly, breathlessly, a random spill out of a verbal revolving door, until finally, exasperatedly, comes this:

"Homosexual literature," he cries. "They'll be bringing homosexual literature into United States Army barracks."

Minutes later, I reach the office of a friend of mine, who is gay and more open about it than the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff would find acceptable if he ever wished to abandon civilian life.

"Did you hear the guy on the radio?" I ask. "He's worried now about homosexual literature in the barracks."

"In the barracks?" says my friend. "I would think they'd welcome literature of any kind in U.S. military barracks."

This is sarcasm designed to cover hurt and resentment. My friend sees no victory in President Clinton's proposal to allow gays in the military, so long as it's based on the notion of everybody shutting up about being gay if they're in the military.

This is a policy, my friend declares, based on a simple, ruinous premise: Everybody should lie. At best, it gives Clinton political breathing room. At worst, it insults everyone's dignity. In either case, an overt policy of lying is no way to run a country, or a military institution, and no way for human beings to live their lives.

He says he spent all of Monday night, the night after Clinton launched his "don't ask, don't tell" policy, on the telephone with gay friends, all of them believing Washington has failed to understand the significance of their argument.

"It's not just opening the doors," says my friend, "because, frankly, who wants to join the military anyway? That's kind of a side issue. The real issue is prejudice, and this proposal says nothing about that at all. It says we can be honorable soldiers, but if we admit what we do in bed, we're back to being freaks.

"Why is the U.S. military so threatened by what people do in private? And why is sexuality so dangerous that we now have to have an official policy of lying about it?"

My friend has lived in Baltimore for much of his adult life, having moved here from a town in Western Maryland. He grew up in the 1960s, a time of sexual liberation for many in America but not necessarily those in small Western Maryland communities.

I have no grasp of the pain he went through: not only coming to grips with his sexuality in a world that sneers at such sexuality, but the pain of letting others know it and risking their ridicule and rejection.

(I do know that he is now open about his homosexuality, and sometimes funny about it. When I told him, months ago, that I was getting married, he declared, "That's great. Has she got a brother for me?")

But, for many like my friend, Clinton's new military proposal undoes the effort it took to be open, to stop letting others dictate terms of freakiness. It says, in effect, you're still freaks, but you seem to have some numbers on your side.

The proposal says homosexuals can serve in the military only as long as they keep their sexual orientation private. Nowhere does it say anything about heterosexuals keeping their own sexuality private. Make any noise, you're out of the service.

"If they tell you to keep quiet," my friend said yesterday, "that's a formal approval of prejudice. It says, we're being forced by politics to let you into our institution, but you're still not like us. You're not really full citizens.

"Well, that's got everything backwards, because the real problem is the people who hold the prejudice, not the people who are its victims."

Also, it dances around certain obvious truths which the military wishes not to acknowledge: the number of gays who have always served in the military, and with honor; the amount of stupidity it would take for a gay to make an unwanted pass at a heterosexual when the military is overwhelmingly comprised of heterosexuals, all of whom have been trained to kill; and the military's recent, shameful record of sexual abuse, committed overwhelmingly by heterosexuals.

None of which is addressed by the president's brand new proposal on gays in the military.

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