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Gay Ban, Same Old Story of Prejudice
Danny Ingram
President, American Veterans For Equal Rights

 It will “seriously affect voluntary enlistments,” “seriously affect morale,” and “affect battle efficiency.”  Though these claims are identical to the arguments of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell in opposing the integration of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender service members into the United States military, they are actually the words of World War II hero and very first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Omar N. Bradley, in opposing the integration of African-American service members in 1948.  To Bradley’s credit, the great general went on to say in a March 28, 1949, statement that “we all realize that the donning of a uniform does not change a man’s personality, his aptitude or his prejudices.”  In other words, it is not the performance of a minority group within the military that is the problem, but the bigotry of the majority in acting on ignorance that leads to trouble.  Bradley obviously had little confidence in the military’s professionalism or the ability of “grunts” to work with people they had been socialized to dislike.  It may remain one of the great ironies of American military history that Colin Powell, the first African-American chair of the Joint Chiefs and arguably the one soldier to benefit most from Harry Truman’s decision to oppose his own top military commander, would use the same argument to exclude gay service members that was used to exclude black service members. 

President Harry Truman

General Omar Bradley

Secretary of State
Colin Powell

Opposition to minorities serving in the military is nothing new in America.  Even before there was a United States, individual North American colonies excluded minorities from military service.  In his book “Founding Faith,” author Steven Waldman writes that both Jews and “papish” Catholics were barred from military service.  The Dutch colony of Nieuw Amsterdam (later New York) excluded Jews from military service and then taxed them for not serving. 

Ironically, the military has begun to expound on the merits of “diversity” while many groups still oppose lifting the ban on LGBT service members.  Command Sergeant Major Hector G. Marin, who assumed the top enlisted position at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 2007, spoke of the “strength in diversity” at his installation ceremony.  According to Marin, “the many races, ethnicities, religions and creeds” that “make America strong” also help “make the Army strong.” “We take young men and women from all backgrounds, some who come from several generations of Americans and some who are first generation Americans, and turn them into a force with a common focus, the defense of our great way of life. We understand better than most that success has nothing to do with the color of your skin, where you were born, or the type of religion to which you belong. In fact, we know there is only one color of importance to the Soldier and that is Army green….It was only in 1948, when President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order that led to the integration of the military, that we really started on the road to becoming the model of meritocracy that our military is today.”  These same sentiments were echoed by General George Casey, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, who stated in the wake of the Ft. Hood mass shooting tragedy by a Muslim officer, “Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that's worse."  The Army’s first four-star female general, General Ann E. Dunwoody, Commander, U.S. Army Materiel Command, spoke on the same theme of diversity in a speech on March 6, 2009. "Your Army considers diversity a strength – and  we proudly lead the nation in offering equal opportunity to all.”

General George Casey

Command Sgt Major
Hector Marin

General Ann Dunwoody

Are these exceptional, highly experienced soldiers merely giving “lip service” or do they limit the definition of “diversity” to the usual categories of nationality, gender, race, ethnicity and religion?  Of course some Americans disagree with their argument altogether.  Conservative commentator Ann Coulter, for instance, stated in direct response to General Casey’s “diversity is strength” statement with her own thoughts on diversity. “Never in recorded history has diversity been anything but a problem. Look at Ireland with its Protestant and Catholic populations, Canada with its French and English populations, Israel with its Jewish and Palestinian populations….’Diversity’ is a difficulty to be overcome, not an advantage to be sought.”

Sec. of Army Kenneth Royall
Coulter’s comments actually come closer to another Army commander’s statements when discussing earlier issues of diversity.  Again in reaction to Harry Truman’s plans for racial integration of the military, Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall stated in an official letter dated March 29, 1949, “A total abandonment of – or a substantial and sudden change in – the Army’s partial segregation policy would in my opinion adversely affect enlistments and reenlistments not only in the South but in many other parts of the country, probably making peacetime selective service necessary.  And a change in our policy would adversely affect the morale of many Southern soldiers and other soldiers now serving.”  Why is it that today’s   commanders can see the ignorance of their predecessors when discussing
issues of race, gender, religion and ethnicity while being blinded to the thoroughly whipped dead horses of “morale” and “recruitment” when it comes to sexual affection or gender identity?  Or are their words as empty as the promise of “the Army takes care of its own” to those of us who have been the victims of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy?

Both General Powell and former Senator Sam Nunn, co-parents of DADT, have now called for a “reexamination” of the policy.  Clearly, the military is beginning to at least pay homage to the value of diversity, which should include LGBT service members.  If anything, the integration of LGBT soldiers into the US military should be easier than other minorities, since LGBT personnel are already serving incognito alongside their heterosexual counterparts.  Now that military leaders are beginning to come around to valuing diversity rather than claiming difference is a challenge that training and discipline just can’t overcome, why is the ban not being lifted amidst a celebration of the military’s newly discovered pride in the “strength of diversity?” 

In the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan women have come closer to overcoming the ban on female combat soldiers than ever before.  According to New York Times reporter Lizette Alvarez, “as soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, women have done nearly as much in battle as their male counterparts: patrolled streets with machine guns, served as gunners on vehicles, disposed of explosives, and driven trucks down bomb-ridden roads. They have proved indispensable in their ability to interact with and search Iraqi and Afghan women for weapons, a job men cannot do for cultural reasons.”  Women have become so crucial in combat situations that Army commanders have resorted to “bureaucratic trickery” using such terms as “attached” rather than “assigned” when women have been needed in combat units.  The US Navy now allows women to serve on nuclear submarines.  And not surprisingly, a number of allied nations now actively recruit women to serve in combat units, having crossed traditional barriers well ahead of the “leader of the free world.”  

Of course not everyone approves of women in combat either.  Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, opposes allowing women to serve in combat.  Ms. Donnelly also opposes allowing LGBT personnel from serving openly in the military.  Polls show that the majority of Americans not only support lifting the ban on LGBT service members but also support allowing an increased roll for women in combat situations.  The Center for Military Readiness appears to be out of touch on both issues.  The Human Rights Campaign has pointed out that the claims by groups opposed to the service of openly gay soldiers that LGBT integration would “disrupt the tight cohesion of a unit and lead to harassment and sexual liaisons” are the same claims used to oppose women in combat.  Women soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have debunked these myths, which appear to be as vaporous for women in combat as they would be for LGBT personnel serving in openness. 

So, with the military’s newfound love affair with diversity, and both facts and the public supporting lifting the ban on LGBT soldiers, why is the ban still in place?  The experience of almost all of America’s military allies following their integration of LGBT service members into their forces has shown that all the claims made in opposition to the move have been proven to be false.  And the US military’s own “bureaucratic trickery” in hanging on to deployed openly LGBT soldiers until units return stateside proves that the military itself does not believe that the presence of such LGBT personnel damages unit morale, combat readiness, or “military efficiency.”  So what’s the problem?  The naysayer “experts” both inside the military and outside have always been around in the past, yet the armed forces have pushed past the prejudice.  Perhaps the missing ingredient in the mix could be referred to as the “Harry Truman factor.”  Truman chose to integrate African-American soldiers into the military, possibly because his knowledge of electoral politics told him that he needed the black vote to win reelection, despite the opposition of his top military commanders and a huge number of vehemently racist Americans.  However you may choose to describe it, it seems that Harry Truman had, well, something akin to “chutzpah” which may not be politely stated in this article.  Whether or not the “right thing” is done on the issue of patriotic openly LGBT service members may very well depend on whether the current Commander-In-Chief, who has long promised to lift the ban, possesses the same “set” of moral courage and determined leadership as Harry Truman. 

  2010 Gay Military Signal