Gay officer says a new policy would not alter his discretion
Stars and Stripes November 18, 2009
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — If “don’t ask, don’t tell” were repealed tomorrow, don’t expect soldiers like John to jump on a table and proclaim their sexuality to the world.
John, an active duty Army officer whose name has been changed to protect his identity, recently served with a small Military Transition Team tasked with training the Iraqi army but told no one there that he was gay.
“I thought about it with one of the guys, but chose not to because there would have been no benefit to the guy or the team,” John said. “In a small team situation, the needs of the team must come first. … Even in situations where I’ve been relatively open about who I am, there is still always a layer of discretion, and I think that is appropriate.”
John says that the circumstances of gay servicemembers’ jobs, units and surroundings make a big difference in how open they might be about their lives — which is why ending the policy barring gays from openly serving would alleviate the fear of being discharged, but when and who to tell would still be a private matter for many people.
Even under the current policy, there are servicemembers who are both asking and telling.
William, a sergeant in South Korea whose name has also been changed to protect his identity, has told members of his unit that he is gay.
“I’ve told people I trust,” William said. “Not in uniform. It’s a casual setting, or they might ask and I tell them.”
He was also asked indirectly by a drill sergeant while in basic training whether he was gay. He lied. And even if he was allowed to serve openly, William says he probably wouldn’t have come out in that environment.
It’s been six years since that episode, and William says he hasn’t had much problem since. However, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is still playing a part in his decision not to re-enlist.
“[A repeal] would make a sincere difference to those considering re-enlisting,” William said, noting that many gay servicemembers find it difficult to maintain long-lasting relationships while in the military. “There’s a very strong argument to get out of the military to pursue that.”
William also believes it would help with recruiting people who would otherwise join if not for their sexuality.
However, groups who support the current policy believe its repeal would hurt recruiting and retention because of moral opposition to homosexuality. They also argue that straight servicemembers should not be forced to shower with gays or have to witness gay relationships.
Gay advocates counter that they already serve in the military now, and showering hasn’t been mentioned as a problem.
“If it’s inappropriate, it’s inappropriate,” William said. “In a coed shower, it would be inappropriate to hit on a girl. That’s just professionalism.”
John says he can’t see himself ever kissing another guy in public on base, both because people aren’t ready for it and because it’s inappropriate in front of a place like the post exchange.
“But at the same time, I also think that I shouldn’t have to see heterosexual couples in uniform doing the same thing on post,” John said. “There are rules on the books about public displays of affection, and they need to be enforced equitably, regardless of the genders of the people involved.”
John says he holds no grudge against the military for its policy. It’s just a circumstance has to deal with, he said.
However, he rejects the argument that many believe is paramount — that allowing gays to serve openly would cripple the military in a time of war because of a breakdown in unit cohesion among those who do not accept it.
“I was forced to keep it from my teammates [in Iraq], and I honestly believe that it drove a wedge between us,” John said. “I couldn’t be completely open about who I was, even though they seemed to be completely open about themselves. So I’m more convinced than ever that [“don’t ask, don’t tell”] is more of a hindrance to team-building than having openly gay people in the military.”