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Steve Ralls

Steve Ralls

Posted: June 20, 2007 03:59 PM

Zero Hour On Gays in the Military


Films have the power to change our national conscience and launch unprecedented political movements. An Inconvenient Truth brought the issue of climate change to dinner table conversations and Michael Moore's SiCKO is already igniting a much-needed debate about the state of American healthcare. Now, a new film from renowned director Robert Greenwald is challenging the country to think about the impact of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members.

On Monday, Greenwald and Brave New Foundation unveiled a powerful and innovative 3-minute film about the real price we pay when we turn away gay Americans who want to serve our country. Lift the Ban, which debuted at Take Back America and is available online at www.lifttheban.org, tells the story of Stephen Benjamin , a trained Arabic linguist who was fired from the armed forces when his command learned that he is gay. Stephen is one of 11,000 service members -- including more than 300 language experts, 58 of whom < http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/05/23/america/NA-GEN-US-Military-Gays.php > were proficient in Arabic -- who have been sent packing simply because of who they are. Every day, the Pentagon fires at least two more service members under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," including linguists, helicopter pilots, medical professionals and others.

Regardless of what one thinks about the current state of military operations, there's no question that Stephen and the 57 other Arabic speakers fired under the ban could have made a tremendous difference to those serving on the front lines ... and those of us here at home. Arabic translators help our troops on the ground in Iraq communicate with the local community and gather potentially life-saving intelligence about the insurgency. Here at home, those same translators help decode terrorist chatter and alert military leaders about possible threats. In fact, according to at least one report, Arabic linguists in the U.S. decoded a message -- sent on September 10, 2001 but not interpreted until September 12 -- with an ominous message: Tomorrow is zero hour. Because of the shortage of Arabic linguists on duty at the time, the message was translated 24 hours too late. If some of those 58 Arabic speakers had been on duty then, would we have received that dire warning in time? No one will ever know.

What we do know, however, is that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" exacts a very real impact on our national security. Members of Congress are currently considering legislation - The Military Readiness Enhancement Act -- to repeal the ban and welcome gay Americans to our military. Eight out of ten Americans support lifting the ban, but it is imperative that lawmakers hear from their constituents. That's why Brave New Foundation has also launched a petition, along with Greenwald's film, to allow the public to contact their Congressional representatives and urge their support of this important legislation. By visiting www.lifttheban.org, we can all see first hand, through the story of Stephen Benjamin, the real cost of federal homophobia. And by joining the campaign to lift the ban, we can all play a part in making sure the next 'Zero Hour' message is translated a day too early ... not a day too late.