home about media center archive history links subscribe
Democracy, diversity, and Equality
Our American Armed Forces

By Denny Meyer

Sometimes I wonder if opponents of gay rights are somehow anti-American.  Isn't this nation of immigrants all about equality?  Many Americans would agree that our military's mission is to defend freedom around the world.  When our armed forces show up, their unique diversity is in-and-of itself a light unto the world.  Nowhere else on earth will you find an armed force so fully integrated.  Just seeing the faces of our troops, speaks of freedom to people everywhere who are fleeing oppression simply because of who they are.

Imagine an Afghan guide, coming to his first meeting with American soldiers whom he has been hired to guide to local villages where their mission is to meet with elders and provide aid and education in democracy. As he enters the room, four American soldiers are examining a map of the local terrain.  The first thing he notices is that one of the sergeants looks Russian; the Russians killed his grandparents, he hates Russians.  But this American sergeant is merely of Lithuanian decent; his name tag says, "Epstein," he's Jewish American from New York City.

Next he notices the senior officer in the room, an Asian American Major whose name tag says "Chin."  For a moment, he wonders whether he's Chinese Communist; but of course he can't be, he's an American Army officer.  He doesn't trust Communists, Russian or otherwise. He later learns that Major Chin is from Los Angeles, the son of a Baptist Minister; he's a Christian.

Then he sees the Lieutenant standing next to the major; he clearly looks middle eastern, and his name tag says, "Abdullah." My God! Well, this Abdullah hasn't got a beard, so he can't be Taliban.  The Taliban killed his parents; he hates Taliban.  Lt. Abdullah is from Detroit and is a Muslim, but he does not speak Arabic; he's not the interpreter of the group.

The other sergeant, named Jones, is the Arabic interpreter, he's stocky and black and a member of an AME church in Chicago.  The Afghan guide had heard that many of the Arab linguists in the American armed forces are gay.  He wonders if this Sgt. Jones is gay, he certainly doesn't look like he is.  In fact, Sgt Jones is not gay, he has a wife and two daughters back in Chicago, just like the American president.  Unbeknownst to everyone in the room, except Lt. Abdullah, it is the Major who happens to be gay.  Lt. Abdullah doesn't give a flying duck about that; as tactical officer, he has more important things to worry about.

Our Afghan guide was speechless at seeing this group of American soldiers.  They weren't glaring at one another nor arguing.  In fact they seemed to be working comfortably and calmly together as if they were on the same team.  Clearly, they seemed to be totally oblivious to their differences of ethnicity, religion, and race.  The guide's head began to spin.

The guide eventually asked them, politely, whether they had been specifically selected to work together on this mission, because they were so different from each other.  "What do you mean?  We're not different, we're all members of the 3897th Civil Affairs Brigade."  The lieutenant told him.  And thus transpired the first lesson in American democracy and equality for this mission.

For the purpose of this example, I've made up every detail about the above fictional unit; the names chosen are intentionally common American surnames.*

But, it could be any ordinary US Army unit, of course.  Any Army Humvee rolling through Iraq could have the same diverse American composition.  It is astounding to people in countries in crisis, where clans and ethnic groups distrust one another deeply.  In places like Kosovo and Northern Iraq, it is nearly impossible for people to imagine getting along and living side by side in peace.  When our American troops arrive, clearly oblivious to their own diversity, their very presence is the first lesson about equality and democracy, without a word being said.  Our troops are a light unto the world.

It does not end there of course.  Our troops are, in fact, a light unto one another.  After all, our American people have not always gotten along that well with one another.  We have had plenty of discrimination and distrust among ourselves.  Even today, many members of the minorities in the example above really never worked together until they volunteered to join our armed forces.  Even today, there are Americans who feel very strongly that gay Americans should not be allowed to serve in our military.  Interestingly, our own young troops, serving together in diversity don't have any problem at all serving alongside those who are gay or black or white or Asian or Hispanic or Jewish or Baptist or from Alabama or Oregon.  It is the act of patriotically volunteering and training together that makes them one, that makes them professional service members,  that makes them Americans on the same team oblivious to their diversity.  What sort of American could object to that?


*In the original version of this article, the 'major' was written in as a female officer in order to portray the total diversity of our armed forces.  But, the merciless GMT fact-checkers shot that down because, currently, female officers are still not permitted in infantry units to which such a Civil Affairs unit would be typically attached.

  2009  Gay Military Signal