Donít Ask Donít Tell
Michael Rankin, M.D., Capt., MC, USN (Ret.)
on his own petard." Itís an archaic phrase,
rarely used. But I believe itís exactly what I did
as a member of a March 12, 2008, panel of military
officers from around the world, held at Georgetown Law
School in Washington, D.C. I spoke as a "devilís
advocate," defending a policy I opposed all my
twenty-four years in the Navy, and after I retired.
I knew many gay and
lesbian sailors and Marines in those twenty-four
years, but I will never forget the first. He was very
young, about 17, from a hardscrabble farm in West
Virginia. When he "confessed" his
homosexuality to me in sick bay, his main concern was
that God would condemn him for his feelings toward
men, feelings he had never acted upon. I told him that
wasnít the way I understood God worked in the world,
but we were from different religious backgrounds. I
would send him to see someone from his own faith
chaplain would have handled it beautifully, but he was
on leave, so I sent him to the base chaplain, a man Iíd
never met. He confirmed the sailorís worst fearsóGod
would indeed send him to hell for these feelings.
Believing he faced a lifetime of struggle and guilt,
the seaman attempted suicide and had to be
I tried always to be
a sympathetic listener and a caring physician to those
who sought me out, both on my ships and with my Marine
units. If a gay sailor or Marine wanted to stay in the
service, I tried to help him or her do so. If a
discharge was inevitable, I suggested ways of making
it an honorable one.
In l992, Bill
Clinton was elected president, and in l993 he sought
to end the ban against active service. I had been
Clintonís Commissioner of Mental Health in Arkansas
his first term as governor, and had found him to be
gay affirming, completely free of homophobia. I was
not the only openly gay member of his cabinet. I urged
him to do all he could to allow open service.
The ban was not
lifted. "Donít Ask Donít Tell" was
supposedly a compromise, but, it took little time for
military officials to begin the witch hunts which
persist to this day. From l993, and especially after I
retired from the Navy in l996, I joined my fellow
veterans and others seeking to overturn the policy.
But when nobody
could be found to speak in favor of "Donít Ask
Donít Tell" on Colonel Fieldís panel, at
least not without a $5,000 speakerís fee, I
volunteered to do so as a "devilsí
I told the audience
I could speak in fairness to the policyís supporters
only if I quoted them exactly, using their own words.
Since time was limited, I would concentrate on their
two greatest concerns: the values-religion issue and
For the values
discussion, I used an excerpt from a Veterans Day
sermon given by an active duty chaplain at a
conservative mega-church in Mississippi.
Speaking in uniform,
an impressive array of ribbons his chest, the chaplain
began on a high note: "My friends, the
homosexuals are at it again. This time their agenda is
to force the military to accept practicing
homosexuals. I know you are as outraged by this as I
am. Serve with a homosexual? Iíd sooner serve with
the whore of Babylon! Having a homosexual in your
barracks, in your battalion, on your Navy ship, is
like having a babyís dirty diaper on your dinner
read in the book of Genesis that God created Adam and
Eve. We do not read that God created Adam and Steve.
Godís judgment on homosexuals is right there in the
book of Leviticus, Chapter 18, Verse 22: Ď you shall
not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an
abomination!í An abomination, my friends! An
"Yet when I
point this out to the liberals and ACLU types, I can
hear their snickers; I see their smirks and raised
eyebrows. I feel their mocking.
"You should not
use the Bible to make decisions about our
military," they say. "There are men from
many faith traditions in our armed forces. Your way of
believing is not everyoneís way of believing. Your
values are not everyoneís values. You must respect
everyoneís religious beliefs."
"My friends, itís
true that not everyone is saved. But if they demand
that we respect their values, why can they not also
respect ours? Why do they object to our calling our
Pentagon ministry "The Pentagonóa Christian
Embassy?í Thatís exactly what we want it to be!
And why do they belittle our chaplains who consider
our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan a God-given
opportunity to bring Moslems to a saving knowledge of
the Lord Jesus Christ? We battle every hour of every
day against the homosexuals and their allies. And my
friends, they are powerful, more powerful than you can
If only we were.
Unit cohesion: three
years ago I debated Elaine Donnelly and her military
supporters at the National Defense University at Ft.
McNair here in Washington. A retired Marine 06 was the
most vocal in his demand that we keep and strengthen
the ban. Afterward, he gave me a copy of his
statement, with his notes in the margin, in case I
missed something he said. I heard him loud and clear.
agrees with us that unit cohesion is important, that
soldiers and Marines have to trust those they fight
alongside. But he assures us that in the militaries of
other countries, where they allow homosexuals to serve
openly, unit cohesion has not been adversely affected.
I seriously doubt that. Iíve spoken to senior
officers in those countries who say it has been
adversely affected, very much so.
But even if it hasnít,
we are not other countries. We are the United States
of America. Our young men are not hanging out in the
bars of the Yorkville section of Toronto. They are not
dating actors from the West End theaters in London, or
prancing up the street in womenís clothes at
homosexual festivals in Sydney. They are not
congregating on nude beaches in Tel Aviv, trying to
pick up an Israeli soldier.
No. Our military men
are from the farm towns of the Central Valley of
California, from Cleveland, Atlanta, and Dallas, from
small cities in the south and mid-west. And they are
aghast when they are told they have to sleep next to
some flamer from Greenwich Village or the Castro. They
know they have to watch their backs in the showers
with these guys, so they wonít be assaulted. Itís
stressful enough just being in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Why add to that stress? Donít they deserve
"devil" rested his case, and invited
comments from the other panelists.
2008 Gay Military Signal