USA

Gay soldiers – why Obama can't do it alone

Obama reaffirmed his promise to repeal the US Army's ban on homosexual soldiers this month. But while gay activists across the country wait patiently for their right to serve in the army as openly homosexual, our Observer, a gay soldier who served in the sixties and seventies, explains why Obama needs the backing of Congress to fulfil his promise.

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Obama reaffirmed his promise to repeal the US Army's ban on homosexual soldiers this month. But while gay activists across the country wait patiently for their right to serve in the army as openly homosexual, our Observer, a gay soldier who served in the sixties and seventies, explains why Obama needs the backing of Congress to fulfil his promise.

The "Don't ask don't tell" (DADT) legislation was pushed through by the Bill Clinton administration in 1993 after fierce opposition to a complete overturn of the ban. Although it meant that gay men could serve in the army, it did not allow them to be open about it, and intending to or actually engaging in sexual contact with members of the same sex remained a dischargeable offence, because "It 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."

Since then, close to 14,000 gay soldiers have been discharged from the US Army after admitting to being gay or being denounced as gay.

During a dinner held by the Human Rights Campaign on 10 October, President Obama reaffirmed his wish to scrap the law. The Senate Committee on Armed Service will hold a hearing on the DADT in November.

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At a hearing on gay marriage in April 2009, an unlikely candidate stepped forward to air his views on the controversial subject. This performance from 86-year-old World War II veteran Philip Spooner received both a standing ovation and quite a stir on the net. A month later, same-sex marriage was legalised in the state (although the law faces a "people’s veto", a type of referendum, on November 3).

 

"Our army suffers because we cannot employ many highly qualified people"

Former Sergeant first class Dennis Meyer is the public affairs editor of pro-equality association the AmericanVeterans for Equal Rights. He also runs theGay Military Signal website.

Presently, the military cannot ask if you're gay, but you can't talk about it either. President Obama promised he would end this policy, but he can't take the decision alone. He needs to be backed by Congress and the military committee. But everyone is waiting for everyone else to make the first move.

Even if they haven't admitted it officially, the military is studying the case. Our army is suffering because we cannot employ many highly qualified people, like translators, just because they're gay. And in any case, banning homosexuals from the army is simply not fair.

Our opponents from the extreme right say that the army is not about fairness but about defending the country. What sense in there in that - gay people are just as patriotic as anyone else. They also claim that having homosexuals serving openly would harm the unit. So how come in all other western armies, where gay people are perfectly integrated, the matter is not even an issue?

I think it's also a question of generation. We've interviewed a lot of young soldiers coming back from Afghanistan, and when asking them if they'd have a problem serving alongside gay soldiers, none of them said they would, and some of them were even surprised by the question. When you're under enemy fire, knowing the sexual preferences of the guy next to you really is the last thing you're thinking about.

Back when I served in the late sixties and seventies, there was a lot of prejudice against homosexuals. I had to keep it secret. If they found out you would get a dishonourable discharge, making it very difficult to find a job. You could even end up getting killed.

Today it's very different, now you're honourably discharged. But since the DADT came into being, 14,000 soldiers have still found themselves kicked out. Incidentally, this happens less during war time".