Reports about the military's ongoing dismissal of gay Arabic linguists continue to show what can, and regularly does, happen to even mission-critical servicemembers who are caught up in the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. But an Associated Press story this week was noteworthy for its reporting of what did not happen to a just-discharged linguist.
A May 23rd story by Lolita Baldor tells the story of Stephen Benjamin, a 23-year old Navy petty officer who was found using a military computer system to send innocuous messages to his roommate. The messages suggested he was gay -- he thinks he mentioned having a date -- and as a result, he was discharged. In that sense, his story is similar to that of 57 other Arabic linguists whose careers have met a similar end.
What is more revealing about Benjamin's story is that his entire unit knew he was gay, and yet he never experienced taunts or other problems with his fellow soldiers or superior officers. In fact, his supervisor tried to keep him on the job by urging him to sign a statement saying he was not gay. (He declined on the advice of his attorney, who was concerned that the false statement could be used against him later.)
Both facts raise serious questions about the rationale that is used to support the policy: that open service by gay or lesbian servicemembers would be so disruptive that it would undermine military readiness. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that active duty personnel may have moved in the same direction as the rest of American culture -- toward growing acceptance of gay and lesbian people. A Zogby poll of servicemembers conducted last December year added empirical support to that proposition when it showed that a clear majority felt comfortable with gay and lesbian people. A month later, former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff John Shalikashvili wrote in the New York Times that the time has come to end the ban, saying that including gays will not harm the military.
The AP story also reports that a group of 40 congressman, led by Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA), has asked the House Armed Services Committee for a hearing to discuss the ongoing dismissal of high-value Arabic linguists. That hearing, if it occurs, should provide a useful forum for discussing whether the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy continues to serve the military and the nation well, particularly in time of war.