Late last month, I watched a documentary film on P.B.S called "Ask Not," dealing with the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy which bars gay men and lesbians from being out while serving in the U.S military. I wasn’t sure if I had seen the film before, and I had, but it was worth seeing again, especially now that President Obama is trying to repeal this wishy-washy and ultimately corrosive law that, as the film makes clear, President Clinton endorsed in a moment of caving in. It is definitely provocative and certainly brings up a lot.
It is shocking - and damning - to see, as the film shows...
...gay people being turned away and even arrested when they try to sign up at recruiting stations d mention that they are gay.
...the large number of people who have been kicked out of the military for being gay.
...that some of these people who can’t sign up or have been kicked out due to their sexuality have language skills that would be most helpful in the Middle East and could have even detected and prevented the 9/11 plot.
...that the military, struggling to get enough people to sign up, has been accepting some convicted criminals - but not queers.
...the staggering list of countries that let gay men and lesbians serve openly in the military.
As a pacifist Quaker, I have wondered if I should stand against this policy, and, indeed, I have heard it argued that queers should be grateful that they are excluded from the opportunity to fight in a war. This not only misses the point - it is foolish. This is not about war and whether one should fight or not; it is about equality. It is like gay marriage, where I know gay guys who enjoy being single and have no desire to marry. And as someone points out in the documentary, how can we credibly demand other rights if we don’t demand the equal opportunity to serve in this way if so lead?
Finally, it is evident in the film that "don’t ask, don’t tell" is all about homophobia. There is amphibians footage of enlisted men, generals and politicians saying essentially that they just don’t feel comfortable being near gay men. Meanwhile, there is also brief footage of some soldiers having fun at a swimming pool. It occurred to me that, if they didn’t have their trunks on, it would look for all the world like some pool parties I attend. Mmm...
(I can’t help thinking of when I was working out recently at the local rehabilitation hospital. A young man, a patient at the hospital, was being raised to a standing position and said, "Wait, I’m not straight—I mean, I am, but my legs aren’t." Okay - you’re not gay - thanks for the heads-up, dude! Was he so insecure about his sexuality that he felt he had to make a point of clarifying it? Then again, he was no doubt wrestling with his new identity as a disabled man.)