Combat medic Sergeant Darren Manzella was forcibly discharged from the U. S. Army last month. The sergeant's transgression? He had the temerity to go on 60 Minutes last December while stationed in Kuwait and tell Lesley Stahl and fifteen million other Americans that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was not only flat-out wrong, it didn't even work. It was a fundamental failure.
The Army couldn't ignore what fifteen million Americans had just seen: a soldier telling the world that he was gay. True, he was doing his job and, as everyone acknowledged, a good job at that. Many of his superior officers and fellow soldiers were fully aware that he was gay because he'd told them. His officers replied, in effect, "No, you're not. Get back to work."
Before 60 Minutes aired, nobody really cared. The Army needed Sergeant Manzella. It needed him just as much after 60 Minutes aired, but if his appearance there didn't violate "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), then nothing did. Suddenly Sergeant Manzella became a very high profile case marked "handle with care" and reviewed at the top. It took nearly six months for the Army to restore law and order in its ranks by getting rid of him under the DADT law. The Army cited his appearance on 60 Minutes as a basis for his discharge. It's right there in his paper work. And right there on his DD 214 discharge paper that employers always want to see, it names the reason for his separation: homosexuality. I am not making this up.
When Congress enacted "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 1993, it ignored the conclusions of several studies, including an exhaustive Rand Corporation report that the Pentagon itself had commissioned, and gave in to fear mongering and homophobia instead. The Joint Chiefs, their Chairman, and the senior military leadership all put aside common sense and their own reports to push for a law that violated the basic civil rights of one particular group of citizens solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. Job discrimination in the Pentagon became the law of the land.
Sadly, Darren Manzella is just one of the latest casualties of this law. Former Air Force Sergeant David Hall is another. He was first in his Air Force ROTC class, granted a prized slot for pilot training, and then DADT came crashing down on him too. His transgression? He'd been dating the male cadet ranked number three in the class. Another two promising Air Force careers prematurely ended, two more unnecessary and expensive losses for the country.
Patriots like these are being treated as though they were convicted felons and unceremoniously booted out. Ironically, this is happening at the very time the Pentagon is actively recruiting really serious convicted felons in order to keep its numbers up. I am not making this up.
And guess who wants to hire discharged, decorated medics like Darren, talented information technology specialists like David Hall, doctors like Martin Chin and linguists like Stephen Benjamin? None other than our own United States government. Recruiters from the State Department and other federal agencies are calling Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), and asking to be put in touch with the men and women the military has just discharged. I am not making this up either.
In an Administration known for its religiosity, the Pentagon and State Department seem to have taken to heart the Biblical injunction, "let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth."
On a December afternoon in 1955, the Alabama seamstress Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Birmingham bus. She was tired that day, and tired of the indignities she had suffered. She had had enough. When police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City on a June night in 1969, gay and lesbian and transgender Americans fought back. They had had enough. The civil rights movement didn't begin with Rosa Parks, and the struggle for LGBT rights didn't begin with the Stonewall riots, but both events were catalysts for great social change.
And now Darren Manzella has said "Enough!" He is scheduled to say it again on 60 Minutes July 13th.
As Michelle Obama said last week in New York City, "...from Selma to Stonewall, in pursuit of that more perfect union." That is the promise of this country. It's time we realized it. It's time to end this nonsense. It's time to stand with Sergeant Manzella and say: Enough is enough.