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Op Ed Sgt Denny's Rant

Retired JCS Chairman and Former SECDEF Speak Reality
by Denny Meyer

Gay and lesbian patriots now proudly serve openly in twenty-four countries around the world from the Royal British forces through the Israeli and Australian Defence Forces. But, in the Unites States a perverted policy of ideological bigotry still prevents us from serving in Pride. Imagine the absurdity of being concerned about the sexual orientation of people volunteering to sacrifice their lives for freedom!

On January 2nd, 2007, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon wrote that he now thinks that gays should be able to serve openly in our military.  For those of us concerned with this issue, it was Fourth of July fireworks. General Shalikashvili (ret.) was the child of immigrants who came to America from far Eastern Europe during the dark days of totalitarianism there.  So, it's no wonder that he might have a solid, reality-based, appreciation for what true American freedom means.

In his landmark New York Time's Op Ed on January 2nd, General Shalikashvili wrote, "I now believe that if gays and lesbians served openly in the U.S. military, they would not undermine the armed forces. Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job." The general did suggest, however, that we should proceed with sensitivity.

On the same day, in a commentary in gaymilitarysignal.com, Out gay Rear Admiral Alan M. Steinman (ret.) wrote, "The significance of General Shalikashvili’s editorial cannot be overstated. He was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs when the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) legislation was enacted, and he had to implement it as policy throughout the military. He supported the arguments underpinning DADT at the time (namely, openly gay service members would undermine morale, destroy unit cohesion and impair combat readiness). But over the years, as evidence continued to accumulate that times have changed and that the current generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coasties do not share the same degree of homophobia as was assumed to exist in the early 90’s, General Shalikashvili changed his mind. He now agrees with those of us who have been advocating for open inclusion of gays and lesbians in the military."  [gaymilitarysignal.com/070102Steinman.html]

The next day, in a CNN interview, former secretary of Defense William Cohen said, “I think what we're hearing from within the military is what we're hearing from within society—that we're becoming a much more open, tolerant society for diverse opinions and orientation.” He referred to the Don't Ask Don't Tell law as “a policy of discrimination.”

 In response to these incredible developments, out gay retired Navy Captain Mike Rankin stated, "I'm delighted that General Shalikashvili agrees Don't Ask Don't Tell is a failed policy, one that does not reflect well on our nation, which we all want to believe is a beacon of fairness and justice. I'm also delighted that those like former SECDEF Cohen believe the policy needs to be re-examined. However, I wince when I hear him and others speak of "proceeding with sensitivity" as we consider eliminating it.  My special friend is a Marine colonel on his second tour in Iraq, after serving two tours in Afghanistan following 9-11. He has 18 years in the Marines--all of it served in silence. How about his sensitivity? How about the sensitivity of thousands more proud and brave gay and lesbian Americans now serving in our armed forces, also in silence?"  Captain Rankin is a member of Military Equality Alliance.

The President of American Veterans For Equal Rights (AVER), A J  Rogue, summed up what many gay veterans, who served so long in silence,  feel, "General Shalikashvili's recent statement regarding his support of ending the ban of gays in the military sends a clear message to those who oppose having us serve our country: Don't Ask Don't Tell has no clear purpose other than to deprive our nation of true patriotic men and woman who desire nothing more than to serve their Country openly and honorably. The idea that the Pentagon is considering changing its policy of immigrants serving in our Armed Forces, while at the same time depriving true citizens from serving, merely adds ammunition to our cause.  Let those of us who wish to serve do so openly, without prejudice or discrimination."

Like General Shalikashvili's, my parents were immigrants to America.  They were Holocaust refugees; my mother arrived at Ellis Island in 1938 as an illegal without papers.  They reared me, on the Upper West Side in the postwar late 1940s, to regard American Freedom as the most precious thing that any human could hope to have.  That stuck with me.

In the late 1960s, despite being queer, a believer in peace, and a draft-exempt college student, I volunteered to join America's armed forces in order to "pay my country back" for my family's existence.  I had no clue, at the time, that I was starting a ten-year two-service career in the military in which I would achieve the rank of Sgt. First Class.  I left in the late seventies because I was sick of serving in silence; I wanted to live as a free open gay person with my lover.

Uncounted thousands of others like me took their  years of experience, leadership, and training and left without a word.  But we are silent no longer.  Whether male or female, gay or straight, any veteran will tell you that war is the worst solution.  What we demand is the right to choose to serve in pride, as we are, as we always have.

Now at last our military leaders are listening to our voices; hopefully Congress will hear them.

C. Dixon Osburn,  Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) summed up the moment, "General Shalikashvili’s op-ed has re-ignited the national debate over ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’  Congress has always given great weight to the opinions of military leaders, and few opinions carry more weight than those of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  As we move toward repeal, General Shalikashvili’s remarks will insure that the 2007 debate over gays in the military will be both a positive and productive one for those working for the freedom to serve."

An edited version of this article appeared in The NY Blade on January 12, 2007