February 27, 2007  Sgt Denny's Rant

news summary
Momentum: The Military Readiness Enhancement Act

This week, Massachusetts Representative Marty Meehan is scheduled to reintroduce The Military Readiness Enhancement Act.  This is, I believe, an auspicious time in our history for such monumental legislation which would reassert the true values of American equality in the spirit of freedom and patriotism.  I sense the sounds of Sousa marches and Copeland songs (a gay American), the sight of Fourth of July bunting, and the scent of home baked cherry pies.

In January, just after New Years, General John Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote that the time had come for gay volunteers to be able to serve openly in our armed forces.  A day or so later, former Defense Secretary Cohen said the same and more.  A Zogby Poll, cited by both, found that 78% of military personnel could care less if the person working with them was gay or straight.  This month, the commander of the California Military Reserve issued a directive that all non-federalized troops under his command were to serve without discrimination with regard to sexual orientation.  And a few weeks ago, New York Representative Ackerman challenged Secretary of State Rice, during an International Relations Committee hearing, to hire gay and lesbian linguists who had been discharged due to homosexuality.  For months endless articles have appeared in the media dealing with the disturbing increase in waivers of criminal behavior for entering military service.  What's going on here?  There seems to be some sort of synergy leading to the brilliant conclusion that allowing gay patriotic Americans to volunteer to serve openly in our armed forces might just be a good idea.  This might seem rather obvious to some; but, what is obvious isn't always convenient politically.

"I now believe that if gays and lesbians served openly in the U.S. military, they would not undermine the armed forces. Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job," wrote General Shalikashvili.  The former JCS Chairman had previously supported the policy that effectively keep honest gay people from serving.  His change of heart came after extensive meetings with gay retired senior flag officers and with gay enlisted personnel.  What was significant was that this general, who was not personally affected by the ban, was willing to listen and was ultimately willing to change his opinion and make a public stand on it.

Two days after the General's public statement, former secretary of Defense William Cohen referred to the Don't Ask Don't Tell law as a policy of discrimination, saying, “I think what we're hearing from within the military is what we're hearing from within society—that we're becoming a much more open, tolerant society for diverse opinions and orientation.”

In the Autumn of 2006, Zogby International conducted a poll for the Michael D. Palm Center regarding attitudes towards gays in the military by American military personnel who had recently served in combat zones.  According to the poll report, "Three-quarters of those surveyed stated that they felt comfortable around gays and lesbians and four-in-five (78%) noted that they would join the military regardless of their open inclusion." Interestingly, slightly more than half had "received some form of anti-gay harassment training."

The general attitude revealed by the poll is a significant change from over decade ago when the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy was enacted in an era of institutionalized military homophobia that led to the murder of PFC Barry Winchell at Ft. Campbell in 1999.  The pervasive conscious effect of the ongoing ban may have led to the fact that nearly half of those polled 'suspected' that a member of their unit was homosexual.  If anything, the policy driven suspicion seems to be the last remaining negative element effecting unit moral.

In mid-February,  according to US Newswire, Major General William H. Wade II, the commander of the California Military Reserve issued a policy memorandum stating that, "All leaders are responsible for ensuring that every member of the State Civil Service, State Military Reserve, and State Active Duty who are not federally recognized receive fair and equitable treatment on the basis of their capability and merit without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, gender, disability, age, or sexual orientation. ...As The Adjutant General, I am committed to maintaining a positive work environment that is productive and free from discrimination and bias.  It is only with full command support that equal opportunity, elimination of discrimination and bias can become a reality.  It is the responsibility of every member of the California Military Department to ensure that this policy is enforced."

On February 7th, during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, NYC Congressman Gary Ackerman challenged Secretary of State Rice to have the State Department hire military trained translators expelled by our armed forces for being gay.  According to media reports, Representative Ackerman asked the Secretary, "It seems that the Defense Department has a 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' when it comes to homosexuals. You don't have such a prohibition in your agency, do you?"  When she agreed that the State Dept. has no policy barring gays, he said, "Well, it seems that the military has gone around and fired a whole bunch of people who speak foreign languages — Farsi and Arabic, etc.,  ...Can we marry up those two — or maybe that's the wrong word — can we have some kind of union of those two issues?"

In a brief interview with Gay Military Signal on Feb. 22nd, Rep. Ackerman acknowledged that his exchange with Ms. Rice had been spontaneous.  He was one of the original cosponsors of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act in 2005 and generally has an excellent record of supporting gay rights.  His working class constituents in Queens NY did not voice objections to his much publicized remarks on the hiring of former military translators; although one local NYC tabloid referred to him in a headline as the "nutty rep."  What is remarkable is that his statements, along with those of others noted above, are from a prominent official who is not primarily concerned with nor focused on gay rights.  Asked how he felt about gays serving in our armed forces, he gruffly but righteously remarked, "As long as they can aim to shoot fine with me."

Since the time of gay baiting politics of just a few years ago, it has now become normal and proper for  ordinary people, senior military personnel, and politicians to speak out for the right of patriotic Americans to volunteer to serve in our armed forces regardless of sexual orientation.  The momentum is there for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act to move forward through Congress to repeal the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, prohibit discrimination, and allow us to serve openly in our armed forces.

If generals and leaders and  politicians from working class districts can speak up for our rights without angst about animosity, so can you.  Please do; call your Representatives and tell them that you want them to support the Military Readiness Enhancement Act being reintroduced this week in Congress by Rep. Marty Meehan.