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Retired West Point Professor Speaks Out On LGBT Rights, Again

In 2005, LTC Al Bishop, a West Point professor, wrote an article in Army Times elucidating the reasons why the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy should be repealed.  At the time, few if any active or retired heterosexual military personnel had spoken out in favor of open service by gay personnel in our armed forces. Since then, 28 retired Admirals and Generals have spoken out, as well as General Shalikashvili -a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, as well as others. LTC BIshop was among the first with the courage to challenge the general wisdom of the time. Now retired, Al Bishop has recently spoken out again regarding Advocacy for gay rights. His speech, on February 8th 2008, at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, below, speaks eloquently of his ongoing belief in human dignity.

Sixth Annual Kent Estes JUSTICE FOR ALL Conference
University of Nebraska at Kearney
LTC (USA RET) Al Bishop

It is appropriate that we consider the struggles of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Questioning persons (LGBTQ) in a conference headlined by the word justice. We Americans tend to think we have something of a corner on justice, that the word America somehow subsumes the word justice because we regard ourselves as the most just nation on the planet. But even if we are the most just society yet conceived and formed, we are imperfect, and our unstudied declarations about the glories and the reach of our justice only get in the way. America is a great nation; I feel particularly fortunate to be an American. America is a place where the ideas of liberty, respect for others, and an unquestioned positive belief in individual citizens exercise themselves in the day-to-day life of the body politic. I am a white heterosexual man, and the America I experience is not the America known by, say, a black lesbian woman. Our justice, our union, remains imperfect.

And the injustices, and let’s be clear, that is what they are—acts failing to conform to our best and most deeply held notions of justice for all—experienced by the LBGT community are not only or even primarily the problems of the LGBT community. Sure, they suffer the most. They are denied the right to have their affections sanctioned by ceremony. They are often refused medical insurance for their partners. Should a beloved partner of many years become unable to manage their own affairs, the able partner is often shunted to the side while "family members" who may have rejected the "differently oriented" and now disabled son or daughter make life and death decisions in conference with the doctors. And these same unloving family members may go on to disburse funds, sell properties, and make final arrangements without regard for the deepest affections of either the dying one or of the partner. In this way the deepest, most intimate, parts of their personality and their humanity are sometimes consistently ignored by family members, denied standing before the law and institutions, and denounced as sinful and outrageous in the same fashion as Hester Prynne in Samuel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. This is mere prejudice carried out on a large scale all across America everyday. Whose problem is this?

Martin Luther King Jr. told us that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" and that though "the arc of history is long, it bends toward justice." America ought by now to have learned that any time we take counsel of our fears or unexamined traditions, we end badly. Any old review, however brief, of our treatment toward women and persons of color illustrate the point. And the flashes of religious intolerance we have long held give pause. The Salem Witch Trials, stocks and pillories, witch dunkings, and the unloving , unforgiving Christian compassion, shown toward gay persons ought to revolt thinking citizens. But we have a long history of the Ku Klux Klan, resistance toward Catholic Presidents, and so on that we should all work against. The principal question for citizens of a democracy is not the question of whether a given act conforms with one’s privately held convictions about God’s commandments; no, the principal question is one of whether a given act conforms to our most carefully considered judgments of justice for all citizens. The problem is Our problem, We, All of us. And it is made worse because the burden of change and redress is forced upon the victims while most of us sit comfortably and idly by basking in the enjoyment of our hetero-liberty. We are supposed to be a diverse yet essentially homogeneous society in that we share common views about justice for all, about the blessings of liberty. We do not.

If America is to become more fully American we must stop the homophobia, stop the prejudice, and embrace all citizens—straight or gay—as the individual human beings and citizens they most certainly are.

©  2008  Gay Military Signal