Gays in the Military Essay
1362 Words6 Pages
For nearly 50 years, it has been the U.S. military's official policy to exclude homosexuals from service. In November 1992, President - elect Clinton told Americans that he planned to lift the military's long - standing ban on gays and lesbians. Homosexual men and women, he said, should not be prevented from serving their country based on their sexual orientation. Soon after taking office in 1993, Clinton faced powerful military and congressional opposition to lifting the ban. General Colin Powell, then - chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Senator Sam Nunn, who was chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee between 1987 an 1994 and left Congress in 1996, announced that they would seek to block his attempts to lift the ban.…show more content…
Many see the right to serve openly in the military as a fundamental civil right for gays and lesbians. Groups such as the Service members Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have supported gay service members in legal challenges to the policy. In 1997 SLDN documented 563 violations of the policy. The Clinton administration and military leaders defend the current policy and the way it has been enforced. They argue that allowing gay people to serve openly would harm military readiness by destroying troops' morale and disrupting order and discipline. Policy defenders argue that the military is a special institution that holds itself to stricter rules than those observed by the rest of society. Because the armed forces must fulfill the crucial mission of defending the U.S. and its allies, they say, its leaders' views on how to achieve optimal readiness should be respected. Pentagon officials say that while they believe the current policy is working well, they will investigate cases of alleged abuse. Gay people have not always been barred from military service, and in fact, have served in the nation's wars throughout its history. The military's official stance toward gays and lesbians has evolved over time, often in tandem with social change. In the 1920's and 1930's, homosexuality was treated as a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment. That attitude began to change in the early 1940's,
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Homosexuals in the Military
Homosexuals have been excluded from our society since our
country's beginning, giving them no equal protection underneath the
large branch of the law. The Emancipation Proclamation gave freedom to
blacks from slavery in the 1800's and women were given the freedoms
reserved for males in the early 1900's with the women's suffrage
movement. But everyone still knows the underlying feeling of nation in
dealing with minorities and women, one of contempt and utter disgust.
Hate crimes are still perpetrated to this day in this country, and
most are unpublicized and "swept underneath the rug." The general
public is just now dealing with the struggle of Homosexuals to gain
rights in America, although this persecution is subtle, quiet and
rarely ever seen to the naked eye or the general public.
The big question today in Homosexuals rights struggles are
dealing with the right to be a part of our country's Military Forces.
At the forefront of the struggle to gain access to the military has
been Female's who have tried to gain access to "All Men" facilities
and have been pressured out by other cadets. This small group of women
have fought hard, and pressured the Government to change regulations
dealing with the inclusion of all people, whether female or male, and
giving them all the same opportunities they deserve. The Homosexual
struggle with our Nation's Armed Forces has been acquiring damage and
swift blows for over 60 years now, and now they too are beginning to
With the public knowledge of "initiation rights" into many
elite groups of the military, the general public is beginning to
realize how exclusive the military can be. One cadet said after "hell
week" in the Marines, "It was almost like joining a fraternity, but
the punishments were 1000 times worse than ever imagined, and the
Administration did not pretend to turn there back, they were
instrumental in the brutality." The intense pressure of "hell week" in
the Marines drove a few to wounding themselves, go AWOL, and a few
even took there own life. People who are not "meant to be" in the
Military are usually weeded out during these "initiations" and forced
either to persevere or be discharged dishonorably. The military in the
United States has become an elite society, a society where only few
In a survey taken in 1990, the United States population on a
whole is believed to consist of 13-15% Homosexuals. This figure is
believed to have a margin of error on the upward swing due to the fact
that most homosexuals are still "afraid" of their sexuality and the
social taboos it carries along with it. With so many Homosexuals in
the United States, how can the military prove its exclusion policy
against Homosexuals correct and moral? Through the "long standing
tradition and policy," says one Admiral of the U.S. Navy. But is it
fair or correct? That is the question posed on Capitol Hill even
today, as politicians battle through a virtual minefield of tradition
and equal rights.
Historically, support for one's military was a way to show
one's patriotism, if not a pre-requisite for being patriotic at all.
Society has given the military a great deal of latitude in running its
own affairs, principally due to society's acknowledgment that the
military needs such space in order to run effectively. The military,
in turn, has adopted policies which, for the most part, have lead to
very successful military ventures, which served to continually renew
society's faith in the military. Recently, however, that support has
been fading. The Vietnam War represented both a cause of diminishing
support for the military by society as well a problem. The Vietnam War
occurred during a period of large-scale civil disobedience, as well as
a time where peace was more popular than war. Since the effectiveness
of the military depends a great deal upon society's support, when
society's support dropped out of the war effort, the war effort in
turn suffered. The ultimate defeat of the United States in the Vietnam
War effort only lead to less faith in the military's ability. This set
the stage for society becoming more involved in how the military was
The ban on homosexuals serving in the military, was originally
instituted in 1942. Though some of the reasons that were used to
justify it at the time have been debunked since-that homosexual
service members in sensitive positions could be blackmailed, for
instance ("Gays and the Military" 54)-the policy was largely an
extension of the military's long-standing policy against homosexual
acts. At the time, the prevailing attitude was that homosexuality was
a medical/psychiatric condition, and thus the military sought to align
itself with this school of thought. Rather than just continuing to
punish service members for individual acts of sodomy, the military
took what was thought to be a kinder position-excluding those people
who were inclined to commit such acts in the first place, thus
avoiding stiffer penalties (including prison sentences) for actually
As society and the military came to be more enlightened about
the nature of homosexuality, a redefinition of the policy became
necessary. In 1982, the policy was redefined to state that "a
homosexual (or a lesbian) in the armed forces seriously impairs the
ability of the military services to maintain discipline, good order
and morale.'" (Quoted in "Out of the Locker" 26) Essentially, it was
reasoned that homosexuality and military service were incompatible,
and thus homosexuals should be excluded from the military. Only in
1994 was this policy changed, and then only the exclusion of
homosexuals-acts of homosexuality or overt acknowledgment of one's
homosexuality are still forbidden in the military. But we must ask
ourselves, why was this ban upheld for so long?
The primary reason that the military upheld its ban against
gay service members was that it was necessary for the military to
provide "cohesiveness." Society bent to accommodate homosexuality. The
military, however, cannot bend if it is to effectively carry out its
duties. The realities of military life include working closely while
on duty, but the true intimacies "are to be traced to less bellicose
surroundings-to the barracks, the orderly room, the mess hall. If
indeed the military can lay claim to any sense of `organic unity,' it
will be found in the intimacy of platoon and company life." (Bacevich
31) The military demands an extreme amount of cohesiveness, and this
is very much reinforced in barracks life. You must sleep with, eat
with, and share facilities with your fellow platoon members. Life in
the barracks is extremely intimate. Men must share rooms together, and
showers are public also. Having homosexuals be part of this structure
violates this cohesiveness so the military says. Men and women are
kept in separate barracks much for the same reasons.
However, the true purpose behind barring gay service members
is how the individuals who are part of the military feel about them.
Members of the military are more conservatively minded people, but,
moreover, they are overwhelmingly opposed to having homosexuals among
their ranks (Hackworth 24). To then force these individuals to serve
with gays only undermines the morale of the military. And when morale
is undermined, the effectiveness of the military plummets as well. The
leadership of the military has always been persistent in its
position-"Up and down the chain of command, you'll find the military
leadership favors the ban." (Quoted in "Gays and the Military" 55).
And, as one navy lieutenant put it: "The military is a life-and-death
business, not an equal opportunity employer." (Quoted in Hackworth 24)
No one is doubting that gays have served in the military. Ever
since Baron Frederich von Steuben (a renowned Prussian military-mind
and known homosexual) served as a Major General in the Continental
Army (Shilts 7), there have been homosexuals serving in the military.
Even today there exists a Gay American Legion post in San Francisco
("Gays and the Military" 55). However, the general consensus is that
allowing them in the service represents a rubber-stamping of their
existence rather than a concerted effort to discourage it. Though the
homosexual lobby often cites the fact that gays have always served in
the military as a justification for lifting the ban, this sort of
reasoning is invalid. There are many other types of behavior that the
military has been unable to completely eradicate, such as discharge
and use of illegal substances. No one would ever deny that these
things happen in the military. But the point is that if they were made
legal, there would be more instances of them. To use the lack of
perfect implementation as a pretext for legalization is equally absurd
in the civilian world: Do we legalize criminal behavior on the grounds
that "people have always done it"?
Another parallel that is frequently drawn with gays in the
military is that of the situation of women in the military. Though
largely a male institution-"Symbolically, the military represents
masculinity more than any institution other than professional sports"
(Quoted in "Gunning for Gays" 44)-women have been a part of the
military since World Wide II and the women's support units have been
abolished since 1978 (Moskos 22). But, like that of race to
homosexuality, the comparison is invalid. Women are not permitted in
combat units (Towell 3679)-an exclusion that for homosexuals would be
hard to implement, at best. They also have separate barracks and
facilities, which would be equally as unpractical to homosexuals.
In 1994, Bill Clinton, by executive order, implemented a
policy of "Don't ask, don't tell." Homosexuals can be in the military
so long as they do not violate rules against homosexual acts and do
not announce themselves as being gay. Already severely disliked among
members of the military (Hackworth 24), President Clinton received
criticism from both sides of the issue for the implementation of this
policy. Members of the military were upset at the legalization of
homosexuals serving in the military, and members of the gay lobby (and
their supporters) were upset that a full lifting of the ban was not
implemented. Many were also concerned that this violated gay service
members' right to free speech, though members of the military do not
hold this right.
The movement to have the ban on homosexuals in the military
lifted came, for the most part, from without (society) rather than
from within the military itself. The military, by and large, has
always remained opposed to the lifting of this ban. But the transition
of the control of the military from the military itself to the
political world has been a sign of society's changing attitude toward
the military. The lifting of the ban seemed not a matter of dealing
with the reality of military life or an effort to create a more
effective military, evidenced in such statements as "Resisting the ban
is important, but so is opposing militarism" ("Cross Purposes" 157)
and "the (end of) the Soviet Union would herald not just a new
American foreign policy but, more radically, a new American political
culture free from militarized pride and anxieties." (Enloe 24) It
becomes increasingly questionable whether those who would have gays
serve in the military having the welfare of their own ideals, rather
than the welfare of the military, in mind when considering policy.
Indeed, most of the military considers this to be the case. (Hackworth
If the admission of homosexuals into the military causes
adverse effects on the morale of the soldiers, then the debate should
be re-opened there. The military's function is to protect democracy.
The sacrifices associated with military service may be very great-up
to giving up one's life. Excluding homosexuals from military service
seems petty, everyone should be allowed to defend their country.
Moreover, the politicizing of such issues undermines the military's
faith in the civilian leadership that guides it. The military is
quickly loosing its prestige, its traditional conservative values, and
that is a good thing for most Americans. Reinstating the ban would be
a gesture of utter and sheer digustedness in our military. Having
homosexuals in the military is a matter of military effectiveness-not
of the homosexuals' ability to perform military duties, but of the
morale of the military as a whole. And, in the military, it is always
the good of the whole which must be considered before the good of the
individual. The ending of the Cold War and the re-definition of the
military's mission does not mean that we should make the military less
effective. If a policy in regards to the military does not improve its
effectiveness, then it should not be implemented. But when the
implementation means giving a chance to few who would like to serve
out great nation, than it should be considered legal.
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