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Aubrey Sarvis

Aubrey Sarvis

Posted: June 30, 2008 11:56 AM

Women's Liberation? No, Oppression


You can be sure that someone in the Pentagon has been scratching his head this week and muttering. "What is it with all these women?" More likely several someones.

Maybe you noticed that I said "his head." I said it deliberately, not out of some unconscious sexist impulse. It's got to be a man, probably a straight man, maybe even a straight man who gets into those woman-to-woman porn movies made for the straight male market -- but he just doesn't get it. It says here (our hypothetical Pentagon fellow is reading the newspaper) that women comprise just 14 percent of Army personnel and yet in 2007 they made up 46 percent of those discharged because they'd rather sleep with someone of their own sex that with, well, someone like him, for example.

Seems to me that who a woman (or a man) wants to sleep with is her business, not the government's. In fact, I thought the Supreme Court settled that finally and once and for all in Lawrence v. Texas. That was five years ago. Only five years ago, now that I think about it.

In the Air Force, the figures are equally alarming or puzzling, depending on your point of view. Twenty percent of Air Force personnel are women but they make up 49 percent of those discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In 2006 the figures were 35 and 36 percent, respectively. That's a very big increase. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, to lift a line from Hamlet; something is definitely out of whack.

In fact, though, the problem lies not in Denmark. The problem is right here at home where 15 years ago Congress passed the odious law that demands gay but not straight men and women in the military keep their bedroom doors firmly shut. Their preference for their own sex must be kept a secret, and don't even think about acting on it. Mention it, even in what you thought or at least hoped was a private letter or e-mail, and under federal statute you will be discharged, kicked out, and humiliated in the process.

So let's give Denmark a little credit. It's not a problem there. In the Danish military, as in all the NATO militaries but Turkey and in countries outside of NATO as well, like Israel, being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight is a non-issue.

But it's definitely an issue -- a big issue -- in the United States, the bastion of the free world, a shining beacon of democracy, the land of the free and the home of the brave, etc., where all are equal before the law except gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, who are not free to be themselves in the armed forces of their country. In addition to everything else that this law is -- costly, inefficient, unfair -- it is disgraceful.

So our hypothetical man in the Pentagon is asking the wrong question. He should be asking, "When is Congress going to rid us of this stupid and offensive law that is antithetical to everything this country is supposed to stand for?"

And why are women being singled out so disproportionately? They make up approximately 15 percent of military personnel but almost 50 percent of the discharges under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I don't have an answer to that question, but I know that the President's nomination of Lt. Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody to be the nation's first female four-star general right after this disturbing data was released does not answer the question either. I'm happy for Gen. Dunwoody, though, and I offer her my congratulations.

By the way, my Pentagon buddy read these statistics in the newspaper because my organization, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, pulled the information out of the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act, thanks to the pro bono work of the law firm Bryan Cave.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Star reports that men and women in uniform will march in the city's Gay Pride parade this Sunday. "Call it the opposite of 'Don't ask, don't tell,'" Sarah Barmak writes. "The soldiers will march alongside firefighters, police and people representing Toronto Crime Stoppers, the latter who are also marching at Pride for the first time."

In other news, the Imperial War Museum North in London, as part of its four-month Military Pride exhibition, asked gay servicemembers to tell their experiences in the military. You can read what four of them had to say here.

But here's some good news from within our borders. Stephen Benjamin, an Arabic translator who was booted out when his superiors learned he was gay, was one of 27 new students awarded scholarships by the Point Foundation, the largest gay scholarship organization in the country.

Congratulations, Steve. And congratulations to Toronto and London. They do us proud even if our own country doesn't.