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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Imagine that a resident assistant walking through a dorm at night hears a noise that sounds suspicious, so he or she knocks on the door. He eventually gains access to the room and realizes that he has interrupted a sex act between two male students. He reports the incident to the administration. The president oversees an investigation into the sexual identity of the two students. The investigation infuriates other homosexual students, so several of them walk into the president's office and claim to be homosexuals. After learning that all the students are in fact homosexuals, the university expels all of them.

When other students talk about this, many say that it is unfair, but many more claim that it is understandable because being in the classroom (or, worse, the shower room) with homosexuals creates an environment that damages the ability of students to trust one another and work effectively in the classroom.

That sounds pretty implausible, right?

Thankfully, it is not something that I can imagine happening at Georgetown. But it is something that did happen while I was studying at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. In 2002, nine soldiers - two in the Korean and seven in the Arabic schools - were discharged from the Army for being homosexual.

I have heard many soldiers make arguments in favor of the ban against openly homosexual men and women in the military. They say that working alongside homosexuals would damage morale: Heterosexuals cannot form the same bonds with homosexuals that they can with other heterosexuals.

They also say that they would feel threatened by homosexuals when sharing a sleeping space or a shower. Homosexuals would enjoy the experience too much and may be encouraged by their intimate working relationships with heterosexuals to attempt to "convert" them to homosexuality by persuasion or force.

In short, it's a morale issue. They say that homophobia is so pervasive in the armed forces that, if we allow homosexuals to be open about their sexual orientation, morale will suffer and combat-effectiveness will deteriorate. The U.S. Department of Defense's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is actually very permissive of homosexuality compared to what is authorized by Congress.

A department directive regarding homosexuality states: "Sexual orientation is considered a personal and private matter, and homosexual orientation is not a bar to service entry or continued service unless manifested by homosexual conduct." So, you can be gay as long as you don't act on it.

In 1993, Congress passed a joint resolution concerning homosexuals in the armed forces. It barred anyone from service who "engages in, attempts to engage in, has a propensity to engage in or intends to engage in homosexual acts," who "has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual," or who "has married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex." This is necessary because "[t]he presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability."

I suppose I can understand that people who have never been familiar with people who are openly homosexual may feel uncomfortable around them. Of course, people who have never been around African-Americans might feel uncomfortable about being around them as well. Thankfully, former President Harry Truman helped people overcome their fears by issuing Executive Order 9981, in 1948, which declared "that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services."

Truman knew that single-handedly enforcing racial integration in the military would be seen as an attack on the morale of military units, but he believed it was the right thing to do. He argued that a failure to integrate rapidly without harming morale would demonstrate the failure of incompetent leaders in the military. The generals may have grumbled, but they accepted the challenge. The military consequently led the nation in the passage of desegregation laws.

It was difficult for anyone to argue that black service members were incompetent. Black soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines had demonstrated their courage in every theater of World War II. It was obvious to anyone who looked that blacks were every bit as capable of fighting effectively in combat as whites.

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The same can be said of homosexuals, but no one can see the homosexuals who have fought (and sometimes died) in Iraq and Afghanistan because they look just like heterosexuals.

It is easy to maintain a bias against a group that is hidden and silenced. Today and every day, homophobic soldiers are living and working with homosexuals without knowing it.

Personally, I doubt that I would be a soldier if the military told me that I could neither practice nor speak about my heterosexuality. I would be offended and frightened. I admire homosexuals who are willing to serve despite the current policy.

The current policy seems designed only to appeal to those who dislike homosexuals. When a policy's stated purpose is to maintain high morale by allowing bigots to avoid those they dislike, it is wrong and should be abolished. Truman once said that the racial integration of the military was "the greatest thing that ever happened to America."

His was only the first step to full integration.

William Quinn is a student at Georgetown University.

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