During the past 14 years, the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy has resulted in over 10,000 discharges from the United States military. It has been estimated that Don't Ask Don't Tell has cost American taxpayers $363.8 million dollars. This estimate, of course, does not include the psychological burden and financial hardship the policy has cost those discharged as well as the some 65,000 homosexuals currently serving discreetly. During my active service in the military, Marines I knew to be closeted gays and lesbians demonstrated eager and willing ability to serve and defend their country. These men and women were more often than not exemplary Marines who, perhaps because they felt they had something to prove, were quite capable and accomplished in the military -- despite the onslaught of obstacles they faced.
I recently organized the first Vet4Vets for homosexuals who have served since 9/11. Vets4Vets is a wonderful non-partisan organization that brings together veterans to share and heal from their common experiences. Anyone who has served in the military has been exposed to many unique experiences, many of which can be physically and emotionally harmful and destructive. Because of discriminatory policies and practices, gay men, lesbians, and straight women are especially knowledgeable of what types of personal damage military service can cause. I felt it was crucial for a Vets4Vets conference that was exclusively for LGBT veterans because discussing our issues with straight people in the military is usually difficult, uncomfortable, and at times hostile. The same can be said about discussions about female veteran issues between men and women, and Vets4Vets has also provided accommodation for female-only conferences.
While what was discussed during the conference is strictly confidential, I can tell you that our group was composed of amazing men and women from around the country who had served or are currently serving in the Armed Forces. Some were discharged under Don't Ask Don't Tell, others completed their service without any incident regarding their sexuality. We were so diverse that the only thing we could agree on was that Don't Ask Don't Tell is a ridiculous policy and has to go, well and that Madonna is faaabulous!
One frustration I have with the campaign against Don't Ask Don't Tell is that it does not recognize the diversity of gays and lesbians in the military. These campaigns tend to paint homosexuals in the military a drab khaki rather than our natural rainbow. This is also a problem exacerbated by the mainstream media which picks and chooses which servicemen to interview. We are not all Bush-loving and pro-war, and many of us are not willing to sacrifice certain unalienable rights so that we can supposedly defend those rights for others. Like many of our heterosexual counterparts, quite a number of us believe this war is illegal and immoral, for which we are not willing to sacrifice our lives or the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters in the military and the lives of Iraqis.
Some of us, like myself, left the service as conscientious objectors because we could not reconcile our personal beliefs with what we were being ordered to do. As a gay Marine, I am extremely proud that the first public conscientious objector (me), as well as the first recipient of the Purple Heart during this conflict were both gay Marines. When I bring up my sexuality during public speaking engagements, it is to highlight how my experience of hate and discrimination as a gay man helped me to understand that I would never want to participate in war. When Eric Alva speaks about his sexuality, it is to show that it did not effect his ability or conviction to serve his country with honor and distinction.
The military is a wonderfully diverse organization and anybody that decides to serve should have the right. A recent poll shows that 79 percent of Americans believe homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly. Military groups for and against Don't Ask Don't Tell as well as those for and against the war often fall back on military cultural training and would have everyone believe that their membership are herds of like-minded sheep. These are blatant lies, and while a strategy of unified voice has advantages, it will ultimately fail because it is not the truth. I normally do not address Don't Ask Don't Tell very often because I am against the war, and various antiwar organizations I belong to discourage the discussion because they deem it "off-topic" or "identity politics".
Screw it, it's Independence Day.
P.S. In August, St. Louis will host the annual Veterans For Peace convention. At the Iraq Veterans Against the War website you can contribute by sponsoring Iraq-era veterans (like me) for the convention.