We Didn't Ask, So Why'd You Tell?

05/09/2007 11:21 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The ridiculous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy seems to be optional when it comes to skill level and lack of qualified servicemen and women.

Anyone can carry a gun, but not everyone is a linguist. There have been over 12,000 service men and women who have been dismissed for being gay - hundreds of whom have been highly qualified specialists, as reported yesterday in The Boston Globe.

Petty Officer Jason D. Knight was discharged in 2005 even though the country was at war and his skill set- as a linguist- was obviously needed. Why? He informed his commanding officers he was gay.

He told. No one asked, he told.

People don't understand why, as a gay person, you can't keep your mouth shut about who you are. I had a family member ask me once why, when I came home could I please not be gay? It was only for a weekend, after all.

Uh... can you please not be straight?

Straight people don't seem to understand how every day their heterosexuality is shoved down my throat. I have to see ads, watch TV commercials, and listen to songs, all celebrating the love between a man and a woman. If I have to see an aging, combover Donald Trump parade his latest cupcake, can't I please see Martina Navratilova and her latest gal pal, too?

Two women kissing are still titillating news - war in Iraq or Courtney Cox plants one on Jennifer Aniston? Maybe if we saw it a little more, people would get over it. In our house, the occasional smooch between the wife and I is greeted with a loud chorus of EWWWWWW's from the kids.

I don't know how anyone who is gay in the military can live with the rule of shutting down a part of their life while at work. Especially when their work can be yearlong tours of duty. Imagine being with a group of people who are talking about their families, their homes, and their life they miss so much. And you had to sit silently because even a story about an adored pet might have you slip and mention your spouse or partner you have been ordered not to speak about.


Years ago, while working for corporate America, I sat at a meeting table and listened to some guy go on about how he didn't know any gay people. It was right after the 1989 gay and lesbian civil rights bill had been passed by the Massachusetts legislature. Why do they need special rights? he asked.

I sat silently. I was not ready to be the one to test the waters, risk being fired. I hated that job and not because I had to wear stockings, but because I held everything in - my upcoming purchase of a home with my partner, the series of hysterical house shopping weekends that preceded the final choice, my mother's incredible turn-around about my life as a lesbian, handing us a loan for the down payment.

I listened to countless stories of my co-workers lives, their spouses, and their kids. Every lunch, every break, every time there was a moment for idle talk - which in corporate America is bountiful.

I could not say one word for fear of the repercussions. It ate away at me, daily. When I resigned, having been offered a job with a former boss who knew I was queer for less pay, everyone was shocked. My boss tried to offer me even more money, a better office - I was good at my job. I walked away and promised myself to never, ever be in the closet again.

Petty officer Jason D. Knight came out for his own reasons. Being able to breathe, I'm guessing, was a big part of it. When the Navy came knocking at his door- because, "He's better than the average sailor at his job," Bill Driver, Knight's former supervisor was quoted saying in The Boston Globe, Knight agreed to go back but not in the closet.

Therein lies the rub - if gays and lesbians are better than average, if we prove our worthiness above and beyond the call of duty? We get to be queer. If not? Forget it. Our lives are minimized and deemed inappropriate for the general public's viewing.

U.S. Representative Martin Meehan has sponsored a bill to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, he recognizes not only the absurdity of the law, but the need for any and all capable servicemen and women four years and counting into the war in Iraq.

I applaud Petty Officer Knight's commitment to his country, his unit's support of him and his commander's respect for him. Meehan's bill must be passed for the rest of the soldiers who are willing to give their lives for a country that wants them to shut up about theirs.

If not? Perhaps it's time to start telling even if they aren't asking. What are they going to do? Cram their fingers in their ears and say, "Didn't ask, didn't ask, so I can't hear you!"