11 October 2010

DADT Point-Counterpoint

Happy Coming Out Day from the land of DADT, or to give this heinous little piece of legislation it’s more formal moniker: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue, Don’t Harass. Recently, a particularly unambiguous anti-DADT Facebook status of mine was met with both the humorously disapproving “you’re scaring me” and the flatly awkward “O”. I’m not even sure what that means, but I think I can safely assume it’s not an endorsement of my position. Some of my other debates have been, at very least, more spirited. By way of a fun intellectual exercise, let’s run through some of the arguments and counter-arguments I and my (usually military) sparring partners have trotted out over the past few weeks.

Consistently, the first claim to be made, and one which I had not heard before, is that repealing DADT represents a massive logistical burden. I have trouble seeing this as much more than an ‘excuse’ argument – something that says really, I’m not against queers, but they’ll complicate things too much. In the spirit of good debate, though, I’ll accept it as a sincere concern. The argument is as follows: in letting openly LGBTQ people serve in the armed forces, they would have to be provided with separate services such as lodging and restrooms, thereby doubling the logistics footprint of any operation. Integration of openly non-straight people presents the same type of logistics quandary as did the women’s army core, or WAC, into the all-male Army. As such, it presents a tremendous financial and resource burden on already strapped armed services.

LGBTQ only living quarters? Why not a separate DFAC and TMC while we’re at it? Many of the same arguments about logistics and the need to segregate facilities were made about racial integration into the military. The Army is a conservative institution, and as such historically is always one of the last to change. It fought racial and gender integration, yet I think both made it a stronger force. Also, I find it interesting that LGBTQ-identified soldiers would only require distinct living quarters if they were out; closeted soldiers are evidently fine to share a shower with.

Further, when assessing the financial costs of repealing DADT, one also must be aware of the costs of keeping it in place. According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a LGBTQ advocacy group for vets and current service members, more than 14,000 service members have been fired under the law since 1994. The GAO estimated that these losses cost the military upwards of 200 million USD, due to investigations, lost productivity from discharging troops, and other related expenses. An independent study put the estimate for the same time at more than $363 million. Intangible costs, such as the loss of potential LGBTQ recruits, cannot be quantified.

I was, however, assured that lost recruits are not a grave concern. In fact, some National Guard units are so chock-a-block with recruits that they’re turning people away. Leaving aside the question of whether Big Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard are so lucky, it was asserted that, while repealing DADT might encourage some new recruits, it would almost certainly also discourage those who do not want to serve with openly LGBTQ comrades. One Guardsman was willing to concede that the “quality of the personnel could be an issue” among new recruits. It was a begrudging, if utterly accurate, admission, considering the trends among recruitment standards. Army Strong doesn’t mean quite what it used to, as recent years have seen the armed services wave requirements on high schools degrees or equivalency exams, clean criminal records, and health and fitness. But, by all means, let’s continue dissuading totally capable LGBT recruits so that we can capture the coveted bigot demographic.

Moving beyond recruits, I considered those 14,000 personnel who have actually been discharged. While some of the high school dropout courted by recruiters might eek by in the service, the same GAO study found that more than 750 mission-critical service members, including more than 320 with skills in important languages such as Arabic, Korean and Farsi, had all gotten the boot. Why there are so many LGBTQ linguists, I do not know. What I do know, working with civilian linguists, is how hard it is to find good ones. Incidentally, we do have a former Marine among our linguists who left the service ‘before DADT could do it for him’. The ripple effect of such a discharge would also have outed him to his very conservative Muslim family. Gotta love unintended consequences.

According to the grapevine, however, such mission-critical skills are nothing in the face of unit cohesion. Showering with non-straights was raised time and again as a unit cohesion issue, apparently comparable to allowing men to shower with women. Who knew there was such a spate of bathroom phobias in the military? In addition to contenting that living with openly LGBTQ folks is, for lack of a better work, icky, many of my interlocutors felt the need to add a concern non-straight sex will increase. As one young medic put it, “if you start letting OPENLY LGBTQ people live together what do you think will happen?” He expanded his emphatically capitalized rhetorical query but asserting that, “with the political correctness of today’s Army it would lead to more investigations, and more BS.”

It’s gotten so that every time a supposedly straight man complains to me that he doesn’t want another dude checking him out in the shower, I want to alert him the sad fact that, really, he’s not that cute. Moreover, simply because one is attracted to the same sex does not mean that they will feel comfortable ogling them in the shower. More likely, a fear of stigmatization will actually encourage more demure conduct. And having watched the rampantly homo-erotic behaviours among servicemen, I hardly even think they would notice.

As a means of by-passing locker-room harassment, one charmingly naïve specialist suggest basing living quarters around gender and attraction, rather than biological sex. If you feel like a woman, the logic went, you should live with them. So wherein lays the problem of allowing gays to shower with the ladies and lesbians with the fellas? Oh, that’s right, they might well get raped. Indeed, DADT is exploited to cover up a great deal of sexual misconduct. Its repeal could therefore lead to more investigations, but that is far from a bad thing and it’s most certainly not bull-shit.

As far as consensual LGBTQ sex is concerned, all US personnel in theatre all supposedly bound by GO1. Why does it matter who you’re not sleeping with as long as you’re yet abstaining? What is more, does anyone really suppose DADT has stopped the queer folks from pursing romance? Indeed, this is as good an argument as any against living quarters segregation by orientation; it would make hooking up so very much easier. I suspect that even now, LGBTQ soldiers violate GO1 with much the same temerity as their straight comrades. Actually, given the queer population here is likely to be smaller than the hetero population, same-sex tryst are probably less common and more circumspect. I don’t see how someone who is serving openly is any more likely to flaunt violations of GO1 than is someone serving in the closet or straight.

Let’s forget about sex for a moment (less fun, I know). A number of my friends in uniform reminded me that there is the ‘military culture’ to consider. The armed services are not an equality-based institution, and people are routinely excluded for any number current or potential concerns, such as medical conditions like asthma. Lest I didn’t notice, the United States military is not some recreation baseball league that must allow handicapped kids to play. Some people are simply not acceptable for the military, and this is the “hard truth”.

If LGBTQ recruits are upset about an institutionalized bigotry that compares their sexual orientation to a disease or handicap, it’s evidently their own fault. As members of a volunteer force, they should have an awareness of what they’re signing up for in the first place. There is nothing directly impeding their service, but doing so necessitates remaining mum on their sexuality. The traditions and stringent requirements of the military are overt and well-publicized. A minority, therefore, has no standing to demand rules change to their personal benefit. The only focus of the armed services in on winning wars, excuse me, WARS. In that respect, it cannot be expected to conform to the precepts of other governmental bodies. It’s simply not “how the finest fighting force in the world does things”. If a LGBTQ individual is hell-bent on expressing their orientation, they can join the NSA or FBI.

But, I protest, the toys aren’t nearly as cool. After all, there are no grenade-launchers in the FBI. On a more serious note, why does being open equate to flaunting your sexuality? Repealing DADT offers LGBTQ soldiers the right to take pride in themselves and their families. It is about being able to display photos of one’s partner with the same dignity as his or her straight colleagues do their spouses. Queer soldiers are exposed to the same stresses during deployment as everyone else, but with the additional and possibly unbearable pain of having to constantly hide a critical aspect of who they are.

Beyond the obvious mental health strain this poses to individuals, it also negatively impacts the overall functionality of the military. Closeted personnel are less efficient and enthusiastic. According to the Harvard Business Review, less than 21 per cent of closeted LGBTQ persons trust their employer, compared to 47 per cent of those who are out. Similarly, fewer than 60 per cent describe themselves as loyal, versus 70 per cent of their out peers. Being open about one’s orientation fosters engagement, trust, loyalty, and creativity, in addition to boosting productivity. Did someone mention something about creating the most effective fighting force in the world?

Frankly, while these debates have been stimulating, I still want to call shenanigans. Whatever justifications are offered in defense of DADT, it is and has always been a question of equality. Some service people are simply uncomfortable with the thought of sharing their B-Hut with someone queer. Again, though, there is no doubt that the service already has LGBTQ members. Does the knowledge really make that much of a difference?

In the long-run, an open military will likely not adversely impact its straight members. Who it will impact are the victims of DADT, predominately women and minorities. Because the burden of proof rests with the ‘accused’ under this law, there have actually been several instances of people (usually women) being investigated and discharged under DADT for entirely vindictive reasons. Perhaps they resisted the advances of a superior or passed over someone for promotion. So much for not harassing and pursuing.

I’m sorry if my soapbox is especially high in this post, but few things have stirred my passion this much of late. I think you should be able to vote, work, fight for your country, or marry the person you love, no matter your orientation, religion, skin colour, gender, or whether you prefer crunchy or smooth peanut butter. On this Coming Out Day, I’m coming out against DADT as broken, unnecessary, and functionally unconstitutional. It camouflage fear and hatred with a veneer of plausibility, and it’s high time it was exposed and consigned to the rubbish bin of history. I will celebrate when it's repealed, and in ten years, I very much hope my friends and debating partners in the armed services agree with me.

Don’t even get me started about queer rights in Afghanistan. Except on Thursdays, of course.