Over the last couple of days, I have been contemplating the end of the federal government’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. With DADT gone, anyone who otherwise qualifies to be in the military may now join any branch without concern regarding the enlistee’s sexuality. The United States of America has taken a step forward with the change, but I must admit, as happy as I am about this fact, I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about the celebration.
Since the days when Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin was discharged for sodomy from the Continental Army in 1778, American military policy regarding gays has consistently banned homosexuality among its soldiers, but the structure of that disapproval has changed many times, most often in the 20th Century. During World War II, the psychiatric component of the military evaluation began, at which time homosexuality was considered a psychopathology. Thereafter, several categories of discharges were established, such as the blue discharge which was neither honorable nor dishonorable, although it held a stigma in society after the individual left the military. In 1942, if an individual was not found to have sexual contact prior to the court martial, they were given an undesirable discharge. A dishonorable discharge was given to those who had sexual contact with individuals of the same gender. General discharges were also offered to some servicemembers. Interestingly enough, the Crittendon Report in 1957 determined that gay people did not pose a security risk, but that the anit-gay policies should remain because homosexuality was “evil.”
When DADT began on December 21, 1993, there was a mix of hope and disappointment in President Bill Clinton’s choice to go this route. Although he promised to be the president for all American citizens, his initial attempt to eliminate the gay ban in the military was shot down by Congress. He was advised that full permission for gay and lesbian individuals to serve in the military was unthinkable. He chose to establish a policy of “ignorance is bliss” instead. I know many people were happy with this policy, but it seemed that any codified ignorance would not be a good thing. I mean, what did the policy really do?
Prior to DADT, a servicemember could not openly state that he or she was gay. The soldier could not openly date a partner, be seen in public holding hands with an individual of the same gender, and they could be asked whether he or she was gay. If the soldier answered, “Yes,” then court-martial proceedings ensued, after which the soldier was ceremoniously removed from the military.
After DADT, the same things could happen, except the military was not allowed to ask the question in the first place. If the soldier admitted to being homosexual, the same process began as before DADT. Ask many soldiers, such as Lt. Daniel Choi, if there was any difference. DADT was hailed as a step forward toward full equality for Americans, and I suppose at some level, it was.
Here’s my issue: I have known family and friends who served in the military who are gay; one of whom served during World War II. He was a decorated veteran and served honorably for several years overseas. The thought that had he served during DADT and it became known he was gay, the same thing that would have happened to him during WWII, would have happened to him during the 1990s as well if his superiors discovered he was homosexual. The only difference is that during DADT, no one would have asked in the first place. The bottom line is that gay folk were personae non grata in the military until yesterday.
Something has changed now, of course. Gay people can enlist in the military as they can in many western countries, such as England, Canada, Spain and Italy. They can serve beside their straight counterparts and all of them will be called soldiers… sort of. For a while, at least, we know that because we are neither gender blind nor sexuality blind, these soldiers will continue to be called gay soldiers and lesbian soldiers among the rank-and-file and in the country as a whole. The other salient thought is that married and registered domestic-partnered gay soldiers, will have no benefits for their spouses because of the Defense of Marriage Act.
We should call this event as it is: Another step forward. It is not the end of the journey for our service members who happen to be gay. A group of our soldiers will know they cannot support their spouses with health insurance, death benefits, or be ceremonially recognized if they should die as the spouses of straight soldiers are. They will give the same service, but not have the same benefits. This is not equality.
So, as we celebrate this movement forward, let us stay aware that until full equality is achieved, work still must be done to ensure our American soldiers… all our American soldiers… are treated equally.
Beginning in the 12th Century, the Roman Catholic Church sought to purge the world of those who were heretics to the Word of God and the law of the church. Heretics were punished, sometimes by death depending on the era, and most often at the hands of secular and governmental bodies. In the 15th Century, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella established the Spanish Inquisition, separate from the Roman church, but with the same intention and outcomes.
The purpose and reasoning for these trials were specified in the 1578 handbook, Directorium Inquisitorum, “…quoniam punitio non refertur primo & per se in correctionem & bonum eius qui punitur, sed in bonum publicum ut alif terreantur, & a malis committendis avocentur.” Translation from the Latin: “…for punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit.” 
As I read the commentary by candidates and public officials such as Sally Kern (R-OK) who have stated that HIV/AIDS and the bombardment of homosexuality upon our children is a greater threat than terrorism, and that our country being exposed to homosexuality destroys our virtue as a country, I cannot help but harken back 900 years to the era of those who would cleanse their world of those who had different views than those in power for the betterment of the community-at-large.
There are some differences, though. First of all, the extreme right-wing political groups are a tiny fraction of the overall electorate. They are loud, certainly, but they are not the majority by any measure; yet, when we look again at the structure of the Inquisition in the 1100s, we realize that the powerful minority was attempting to take action against those who spoke against their belief systems. How is it that we are allowing this process to begin again?
As we see “Don’t Say Gay” and “Defense of Marriage Act” bills flooding our country, we realize that a segment of our population seeks to quash the civil liberties of a portion of our population. Legislative action has been suggested and taken to stem the evolution of our social structure to ensure that the status quo remains in place. This all sounds dreadfully familiar to those who understand history. The manner in which these processes are developing may be different, but the results are the same: Stop anyone who speaks out against those who bellow the loudest and do not believe as the extremists believe. Is there a difference, though, in these processes?
Some right wing candidates have put forth a suggestion that there should be a congressional inquiry into the operation of pro-gay and pro-equality organizations. With their desire to get to the truth about who funds and supports these causes, conservatives suggest that these organizations identify all donors during this inquiry. Is this an inquiry or an inquisition? Either way, this reeks of McCarthyism and the Inquisition, using terroristic and threatening methods against people who are simply seeking equal status in the United States. Should anyone question my use of the word, “terrorism,” Dictionary.com defines this words as, “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce,especially for political purposes.” Our access to freedom is being threatened by congressional attack and verbal abuse in the media.
One must wonder, why is the right wing is becoming increasingly vehement about their patterns of attack upon pro-equality groups? I can only think that like a drowning person who is so afraid of dying he ultimately drowns the person assisting him, the extreme conservatives recognize that the country is changing all around them. They are so desperate to save what they know and trust, they are lashing out with every fiber of their being against a segment of their constituents to maintain their current status. If progressive groups succeed in moving the country into the 21st Century politically and socially, the conservatives will play a diminishing role in the government. They will be seen as archaic entities that are no longer necessary on the political landscape. Even in my own life, I recently heard that someone I care about very much, and who is very right wing in beliefs, say to a mutual friend of ours, after reading a particularly pointed blog I wrote, “I thought James was a nice person.” I believe I am a nice person, but a nice person who has a strong belief in equality for all Americans.
Perhaps we are not hearing hatred shouted from the mouths of angry divisive people; perhaps, rather, we are hearing the death throes of a dying breed, the extreme conservative. Ultimately, they may not be so interested in what is happening in the pro-equality movement as they are in how it is possible they are watching their demise as a power in the United States. In the same way as the Roman Catholic Church did as they heard an uprising of people who did not agree with them, they are simply screaming the question, “Why?!”