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August 1, 2006

Sgt Denny's Rant
The Tenth Man

Straight folks are often very conflicted about having gay people in their midst. It is a well known fact that, while the US armed forces forbid known gay people to serve, discharges decline during wartime. When we are needed, it becomes convenient to ignore the concerns of discrimination. The American Christian community, until its recent conversion to extremism, simply ignored the rather obvious fact that most talented church organists are gay. In the Jewish community, as well, the concept that all Jews are welcome has prevailed up to a point. In many American inner cities, there are declining populations leading to some small old synagogues having only a handful of old men available for the required minyan of ten Jewish men to carry on the tradition of daily group prayers. And so, it is considered a great honor and blessing (a mitzvah) to be 'the tenth man' who may go out of his way to volunteer to be present to allow the tradition to go on. In the late 90s, I found myself willingly 'on call' for this duty for two small local congregations. After all, there's no harm in having a bit of good-deed on account. But, I began to feel troubled by the subtle homophobia that hovered in the background, the muttered chatter, the innocuous questions about wife and family, etc. And so I began to show up, when called upon to be the tenth man, wearing a pink yarmulke. These old men were not stupid; they knew exactly what it meant. And this set up a conundrum; did they want to send me away because I was an unwelcome queer, or did they want me to stay as the honored tenth man whose blessed presence allows them to pray?

In today's American armed forces, with recruiting shortfalls resulting in shortages of readiness manpower, idiotic ideology prevails; queers are not wanted, period. Instead, criteria for intelligence and decency have been lowered to allow common criminals and neo-nazis to enlist. Research data indicates that over 41 thousand gay and lesbian young Americans would enlist to serve their nation, in this time of war, if they could do so openly. Millions of other young Americans refuse to join a military that discriminates.

In recent years, huge numbers of critical linguists were discharged simply for being lesbian or gay. Many were replaced with 'foreign national native speakers' some of whom turned out to have compromised or conflicted loyalties. How can it be that criminals and potential traitors are considered more desirable than intelligent patriotic young Americans who are willing to volunteer in time of war but are unwanted simply because of the way they love. What sort of moral fascism drives this nation towards such self destructive decisions?

The decision of the old Jewish men? They always had me stay so that they could pray. They were not particularly egalitarian. They simply decided that, even if I was gay, I was a Jew who qualified to fill out the minyan; and the obligation to give thanks in prayer was paramount. It would have been a sin to send me away, simple as that. The primary sin considered was the abrogation of prayer for the sake of discrimination. The second sin, of sending away a Jew who wanted to pray, was perhaps a secondary but still very serious consideration as well.

Our armed forces, our nation, stand on the brink of failure due to a fanatical ideology which has resulted in inadequacies and incapabilities in our troop strength. It is what my mother called, "biting your nose to spite your face." Is this nation really so determined to defend discrimination that our national defense is compromised? What kind of sin against American values, democracy, and liberty is it to send away able bodied patriotic American citizen volunteers who want to serve their nation?