While it is not surprising that Marine Gen. Peter Pace gave his
personal opinion about gay service men, stating that homosexuality
is “immoral", it is surprising, however, that in the
midst of a war that needs every able body that wants to fight,
the enlisting of our American patriots continues to include a
debate about sexual orientation. Military readiness is not a heterosexual
calling. And even Charles Moskos, the chief architect of "Don't
Ask, Don't Tell", has said that the policy should be temporarily
suspended, especially if the draft is reinstated.
The policy polices the sexual behavior of its service members
because grounds for their discharge include “...if they
attempt to engage in a ‘homosexual act’, state they
are gay openly (unless they can prove they have no propensity
or intention to engage in a ‘homosexual act’) or attempt
to marry a person of the same sex".
The military's belief that service members who are gay and lesbian
endanger "unit cohesion" only maintains a policy of
segregation and fosters a climate of intolerance. Also, the beliefs
that men of mixed sexual orientations showering together and heterosexual
women sitting on the same toilet seats as lesbians corrupt the
military's image are eerily reminiscent of the same argument used
when the military was forced to racially integrate its ranks.
But Pace isn’t the only who feels that gays should not
serve in the military. In a 2003 interview with online news site
TeenInk.com, former Secretary of State Colin Powell shared his
reason for defending the military's ban on gay service members:
"I think it's a different matter with respect to the military,
because you're essentially told who you're going to live with,
who you're going to sleep next to."
The Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church
at Harvard University, wrote in his essay, "Black Christians
and Homosexuality: The Pathology of a Permitted Prejudice",
that Powell's concern that gay Americans in the military would
"destroy unit cohesion" and thus compromise military
capability is a fallacious argument that he should know is reminiscent
of the military's long history of racist arguments that he, too,
had once endured.
Unit cohesion and military capability Gomes stated "remains
an appropriate concern of a military man, but General Powell in
this dispute was more than a mere military man. He was a military
man of color, and thus could give cover to any painful analogy
between the admission of gays into a heterosexual military and
the admission of blacks into a white military."
Homophobia, like racism and sexism, in our armed forces is militarily
dangerous because it thwarts the necessary emotional bonding needed
amongst service members in battle, and it underutilizes the needed
human resources to make a strong and democratic military.
The privacy rationale is another argument that advocates for
the banning of gay service members in combat. This argument states
that all service members have the right to maintain at least partial
control over the exposure of their bodies and intimate bodily
functions. In other words, heterosexual men deserve the right
to control who sees their naked bodies. According to the privacy
rationale argument, the “homosexual gaze” in same
sex nudity does more than disrupt unit cohesion. It supposedly
predatory nature expresses sexual yearning and desire for unwilling
subjects that not only violate the civil rights of heterosexuals,
but also cause untoward psychological and emotional trauma.
While it is believed that the “homosexual gaze” would
be the root cause for the disruption of unit cohesion and military
capability of our service members, it is actually the macho male
heterosexual culture embedded in this milieu. It is this culture
that both sexually harass and rape female and gay service members.
The study titled “ A Modest Proposal: Privacy as a Flawed
Rationale for the Exclusion of Gays and Lesbians from the U.S.
Military,” states that banning gay and lesbian service members
would not preserve the privacy of its heterosexual service members,
but would instead actually undermine heterosexual privacy because
of its systematic invasion to maintain it. And in order to maintain
heterosexual privacy, military inspectors would not only inquire
about the sexual behaviors of its service members, but would also
inquire into the sexual behaviors of the spouses, partners, friends
and relatives of its service members.
According to the study this is its findings: heterosexuals already
shower with known gay service members, lifting the ban would not
significantly increase the number of open gay service members,
and few heterosexuals are extremely uncomfortable with gay service
However, gays in the military were not always forcefully closeted
with a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Like heterosexual service members, lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender service members have been proudly and openly putting
their lives on the line for their countries since antiquity.
The Greeks, for one, favored gay and bisexual young men in their
military; since gay and bisexual men were considered a family
unit, the Greeks knew that paired male lovers assigned to the
same battalions were a military asset. They would fights courageously,
side by side, and would die heroically together in battle.
Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), king of Macedonia and noted
as one of the greatest military conquerors, was openly bisexual.
When his lover Hephaestion died in battle, Alexander not only
mourned openly for his lover, but he staged an extravagant funeral
that took six months to prepare.
Military drag was a common practice in war during the first century.
Heterosexual and queer men were known to cross-dress as women
in order to catch their opponents off-guard. First-century historian
Josephus wrote in his "History of the Jewish War," "While
their faces looked like the faces of women, they killed with manly
Our most well known queers in the military, however, are Jonathan
and David in the Old Testament. In Samuel 18:1-3, Jonathan makes
a covenant with David and strips off his clothes in front of David
to give him his armor. In Samuel 20:41, Jonathan and David kiss
each other. When Jonathan dies in battle, David conveys his love
for Jonathan when he says, in 2 Samuel 1:26: "I grieve for
you, Jonathan my brother! Most dear have you been to me; your
love more wonderful to me surpassing the love of women."
Our gay and lesbian service members are prepared to defend this
country with their lives.
And an absence of openly gay and lesbian service members shows
how America will not be able to present itself as a united front
on the battle field because the real war in America is with itself.
BC columnist, the Rev. Irene Monroe
is a religion columnist, public theologian, and speaker. She is
a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School.
As an African American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector
of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is www.irenemonroe.com.
here to contact the Rev. Monroe.