By Pat Rossiter YOUTH Forum Program Manager
Five of my friends, when I served in the military in 2000-2004, left the service on, what we affectionately referred to as a “rainbow chit.” A chit is a naval term to denote a piece of official paperwork. A rainbow is the spectrum of colors gays see the world in. (Sorry straight people for your beige walls and gray suits.) Put them together and you have a get-out-of-jail-free card.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law has been in place for over fifteen years and in that time, according to the Service member’s Legal Defense Network, 12,500 service members have been released. 800 of those were mission critical specialists, including pilots, intelligence analysts and linguists. I and my friends, were linguists.
When the first of my friends went, he had been one of several in a string of linguists to leave from The Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA. (Tough duty right?) In response, the navy Command called a muster and we 450 students and staff gathered in a large auditorium. Our Command Master Chief strode out on to the stage. He was large and could be imposing.
He started by saying he was very disappointed in some or other hijinks that had gone on. In truth, his audience was almost entirely 18 or 19 year olds with all the hormones, energy and enthusiasm as every other college freshman, with the added benefit of lots of disposable income and EASY access to alcohol. We studied hard. We partied harder.
After this, he went on to what he really wanted to address: “fagging out” of the navy. I sat cautiously, trying not to be too interested and not too disinterested in what he was saying. It went something like, “By now, you’ve all heard about certain parties leaving the command. Don’t think it hasn’t occurred to us that some of you may try and take advantage of this situation. Let me put it this way, if you come into my office claiming to be gay, you’d better be prepared to prove it.”
In the silence of the room full of people, there was one loud guffaw.
I desperately tried to muffle my laugh as the CMC glared down at me and 898 eyes bore into the back of my head. I’m sure I’m not the only one that played out a pornographic scene in their mind at the words, “prove it.” (OK, maybe I was.) In any case, I do know that I did find the whole situation much funnier that most everybody else there.
To the young queer service members, DADT was like the Sword of Damocles, dangling over their head for the moment at which they would say the wrong thing, drop the wrong pronoun, name the wrong bar, be caught looking. They lived in fear of sharing too much about themselves.
Meanwhile, for the Command, there was another fear: that the young queer service members would out themselves. It did not take me long to figure out that the military, like so much else in the world, revolves around money. The training of a linguist is extraordinarily expensive. It costs roughly $100,000 for someone to attend the language school for one year. That’s an awful lot of cash to flush down the toilet because Seaman Stains walks into the Command Master Chief’s office and says, “I’m a homo and I want out.”
I had another friend in the Air Force who, upon delivering his letter stating his proclivity to musical theatre and Prada shoes, was begged by a Colonel to take it back. My friend is a Chinese linguist and they are not only in short supply but take forever to train new ones. By bringing the DADT law to bear, he was putting this Colonel’s Command’s operational ability in jeopardy. One Chinese linguist can make all the difference.
President Obama made the repeal of DADT a plank in his platform while campaigning last year. We are still embroiled on two major fronts. The Army is now accepting 42 year old, felony offending, high-functioning mental deficients into its ranks to meet recruiting quotas, yet the Pentagon is STILL fighting to keep DADT. Our partners in Iraq, the British Military accepts gay service members. Israel and 23 other nations allow openly gay service members and they seem to still be able to fight. Dozens of former military leaders including John Shalikashvili , Retired Army General and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have come out for repeal of DADT.
Most important though is this: I served with another friend who was (how do I put this delicately?) queer as a three dollar bill. Like, swish-swish-swish-goes-the-crinoline gay. He used to bring a pink “Princess” coffee mug to class with him and while it was slightly maddening to the most Gung-ho types, no one, in truth, cared. He was a really great linguist. And, if the military is nothing else, it is a meritocracy. You advance based on how well you do your job.
The argument in the Pentagon has always been this: Out homosexuals will damage morale and unit cohesion. As a gay service member who spent four years having to lie to my colleagues, edit nearly every conversation and curtail relationships with them so that I could be with other gay men and women, that argument isn’t merely wrong, but completely contrary to the truth. Morale and unit cohesion are built on honesty and that simply isn’t possible in today’s military.
So, I say to Mr. Obama, it is time for all the gay servicemen and women to be honest with their comrades. It is time for partners to attend unit functions. It is time for proud gay patriots to be honored by their country. It is time for DADT to go away.