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
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.
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