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.
Dear President Obama,
As we evaluate what happened in Maine as marriage equality, via Question 1, went down with a similar margin as is did in California with Proposition 8, a vivid memory from over thirty years ago comes to mind, in the way a locust comes to a field of corn.
When I was a young father, I used to smoke around my children and in the house. I smoked in the car and at work. I smoked everywhere.
As my children grew, I would lecture them on the dangers of smoking, even as I went to the hospital for asthma and two strokes in my forties from smoking. I did begin smoking in a different room than the one in which my children were playing. I did all these “better” things, but I never quit. I never took action to model a “best” behavior for them.
I believe that this is what you have done to the gay and lesbian community. You’ve talked a lot about your support of the LGBTQ community. You’ve signed ENDA and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. You’ve done all this, but you have not repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and you have not repealed the Defense of Marriage Act. I remember mentioning that we would see how you’d done by this time in my commentary of May 2009, “DOMA, DADT, and the President of the United States.”
You have given tacet approval to everyone in the United States to stand by their arrogant bigotry by not taking action. Maine’s response to Question 1 raises our questions about your commitment to the tasks at hand, especially considering that on your White House contact website, there isn’t even a category for civil rights. Our issues are relegated to the cruel word, “Other.” It makes me believe that some of us American citizens are seen as “those people.”
For the record, every single one of my children ended up smoking. Although they are now in their 30’s and 40’s for the most part, and making their own choices, they initially learned from me that smoking was o.k. I am saddened every day by that fact as they end up in the hospital with asthma and bronchitis. I am saddened that they may develop emphysema or lung cancer and die the way their great-grandparents did, and as I, it appears, shall do as well. I am saddened that their children, of which there are nine between them, will learn the same lessons from my children as mine did from me. The impact of my smoking has become generational.
Are you going to allow the impact of your inaction toward the necessary civil rights issues before you to become generational, as well?
With my husband, David, we signed our Domestic Partnership documents in August 2005. In August 2006, we were married in a religious ceremony, and in doing so, we became husbands to one another. You, Mr. President, however, have no record of that marriage. Neither does anyone else, except in the hearts of those in attendance. Is that the life you would want with Mrs. Obama?
Next time you have a cigarette, (and because I, too, continue to struggle with my nicotine addiction, I know there will be another cigarette, Mr. President), each time you take a drag, think about the gay community. Each cigarette represents another gay person who is being discriminated against. Each puff represents one more day that American citizens are being kept from equality. Every butt you throw away is the dream of a gay couple whose hope for their 50th wedding anniversary that has been dashed.
So, I raise my filled ashtray to you, President Obama, in hopes that you will both stop smoking and make the changes to our laws that will provide equality to all people in America.
James S. Ch. Glica-Hernandez
Sent Wednesday, November 4, 2009 9:15 PM PST
As we talk as a nation about the troops who are serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, as well as many other regions in the world, I can’t help but take a moment to contemplate my family’s participation as military personnel. “Deployment” to me has taken on a whole new meaning knowing my son and my cousin, as well as my students, are now, or may be soon, overseas defending our country.
Since the earliest days of my genealogical trail, one thing has become crystal clear. On all four sides of my family, my family has participated in every war since 1850.
My son, Michael, has served in the Navy since 1994.
My father, Floyd, and his brother, Matthew, were both in the Navy during World War II, as were many of their cousins. Matthew also served in the Korean conflict. My Wiech great-uncles were in World War I. My grandfather, Stanley, left Galicia, Poland/Austria during that first world war.
On my mother, Teresa’s side, my uncles and my cousin, Caroline, have risen in rank as high as Lieutenant Commander or Commander in the Navy. Caroline is currently serving in Afghanistan at the age of 48. My Uncle Rudy was shot down over the English Channel and died during World War II. My cousin, Robert, was injured while in the Army during the Viet Nam War. My cousin, Margaret’s daughter, Brooke still serves our country. My cousin, Marty is a retired general in the Air Force. My great-grandfather, Joaquin, was a Captain in the National Public Security Force in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution.
My birth father, Robert, served our country during the Viet Nam war, as did so many of his brothers.
My birth mother, Bette’s father, was a hero during World War II, liberating American POW’s in Germany. Honorable service was provided by his brothers, as well.
On all four sides, I am proud to say that our family has been represented honorably, without exception, as defenders of our country.
As someone who never qualified for, nor entered the military, I stand grateful to each one of the men and women in our family who added their names to the many rosters around the world as they fought for our liberty and strength.
I’ve always known we are a proud people. As I contemplate the risks they’ve taken in defense of our country, I understand a little bit better why that is.
Then, I think, “Wait a minute, there are a huge multitude of families all over our country who have histories just like ours.” At this point, I clearly remember why we are such a proud and noble nation.
Sometimes, change happens all at once. Usually, however, it happens in tiny increments, especially when it comes to social change.
United States Senator Barbara Boxer (California) recently distributed an e-mail indicating that she is joining a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The passage of ENDA would prohibit all employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and other groups who hire and fire staff from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against anyone on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.
This bill has already been supported by high profile national civil rights and labor organizations and more than fifty Fortune 500 companies.
One must wonder if the significance of this era is being missed by those who feel they are not directly involved in the movement toward the eradication of discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender citizens?
Is it even possible to realize how important a particular shift in public perception is until after the transition is complete? The movements to ensure a woman’s right to vote and the acknowledgement of and action against racial discrimination began in small ways, but it wasn’t until the lion’s share of the legislation was passed that we could begin to fathom just how pervasive the blight of hatred and disrespect had been and how far we were stepping ahead.
Senator Boxer’s note to all of us was particularly welcome given that President Obama has shown so little dynamic leadership in relation to repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue (DADT) policies currently on the books in our country.
The best news about ENDA is that it is a bipartisan effort by our Federal legislators. Nothing gives us greater hope for our future than when, on both sides of the aisle, our elected officials choose to correct a horrible injustice in our laws and societal patterns in such a dynamic way.
Slowly, the awakening is beginning that each person, no matter how they are identified in the little boxes on most forms, has the right to all the freedoms promised in our United States Constitution. This new effort is one more important step.
Congratulations to everyone involved in the passage of this bill!
When my cousin, Catherine, and I began doing our genealogical research, one thing became crystal clear: When it comes to death records in the regions of California we were searching, only white people died. There were volumes of information on European-based individuals and their vital statistics. As for Mexicans and Native Americans, for example, unless they were a part of the mission system or the Bureau of Indian Affairs in California, there was little to no information available to us. Jokingly, my cousin and I suggested that only White people died in California prior to the late-1800’s.
Now, I understand more clearly why this is the case.
In watching this verbal exchange between commentator and interviewer, Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan, right-wing conservative commentator, author, and advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, there bubbled up a clarity why so much of our history reflects the Western European experience. As Pat Buchanan states, he espouses a belief that, “this has been a country built basically by white folks.”
During their exchange on Rachel Maddow’s television program, apparently Pat Buchanan more seriously espouses that same view. “…nearly 100 percent” of the people who stormed the beaches of Normandy were caucasian.
There are statistics that Ms. Maddow recited in a follow-up to that interview about how many blacks and other races were present at many of the events that shaped our nation. While it is true that “white folks” were the signateurs of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, they were not the only ones who fought against the British and at other times, the French and Spanish, Germans and Japanese.
I would probably get enflamed about Buchanan’s statements if I couldn’t so readily consider the source. His arrogance and ignorance of others unlike himself has been so clear over the years that I simply cannot put any more energy into him.
So, thank you, Ms. Maddow, for your humor and intelligence in this discussion. They are appreciated by this short, Latino/Native American, dark-skinned, economically lower-middle class, fellow, whose family has served in World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, Viet Nam, Desert Storm and now has a Commander of the U.S. Navy stationed in Afghanistan.
Pay attention, Mr. Buchanan. Your ugly is showing.
Seaman August Provost
Camp Pendleton, San Diego, CA.
Shot to death.
Died June 30, 2009
Seaman Allen R. Schindler, Jr.
Beaten to death
December 13, 1969 to October 28, 1992
Ft. Campbell, Ky
Beaten to death
August 31, 1977 – July 6, 1999
The strange thing is that I’m not going to discuss how they died. I’m not going to talk about their families. I’m not going to vent my outrage at their murderers.
I will simply say that these young men, and others unnamed in the media, closeted and afraid during their honorable service, died in the line of duty. They took their duty seriously enough to deny who they were. They carried their duty with enough gravity to set aside their own truth to live the military truth of the United States of America in order to serve our nation with distinction.
Through their fearful and oppressive environment, through the weight of institutionalized homophobia, through their youth and inexperience with the burden of true hatred, these valiant young men died in horrific ways, either in uniform or with their uniforms hanging in their barracks closet.
These are our children, America. Look at their faces and remember their names. They lived protecting us. We didn’t do the same for them. We killed them with our ignorance.
God rest their souls and bring them into the light of his blessings. Guide us to our awakening that nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of all our citizens. Amen.