Friday, June 08, 2007

A gay linguist speaks out

Stephen Benjamin, one of the gay Arabic translators kicked out of the military under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy -- despite a crippling shortage of Arabic speakers in uniform -- has written an essay for the New York Times.

His description of what happened:

My story begins almost a year ago when my roommate, who is also gay, was deployed to Falluja. We communicated the only way we could: using the military’s instant-messaging system on monitored government computers. These electronic conversations are lifelines, keeping soldiers sane while mortars land meters away.

Then, last October the annual inspection of my base, Fort Gordon, Ga., included a perusal of the government computer chat system; inspectors identified 70 service members whose use violated policy. The range of violations was broad: people were flagged for everything from profanity to outright discussions of explicit sexual activity. Among those charged were my former roommate and me. Our messages had included references to our social lives — comments that were otherwise unremarkable, except that they indicated we were both gay.

I could have written a statement denying that I was homosexual, but lying did not seem like the right thing to do. My roommate made the same decision, though he was allowed to remain in Iraq until the scheduled end of his tour.

The result was the termination of our careers, and the loss to the military of two more Arabic translators. The 68 other — heterosexual — service members remained on active duty, despite many having committed violations far more egregious than ours; the Pentagon apparently doesn’t consider hate speech, derogatory comments about women or sexual misconduct grounds for dismissal.

Also, consider this:

My supervisors did not want to lose me. Most of my peers knew I was gay, and that didn’t bother them. I was always accepted as a member of the team. And my experience was not anomalous: polls of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan show an overwhelming majority are comfortable with gays. Many were aware of at least one gay person in their unit and had no problem with it.

Everyone in Benjamin's unit knew he was gay and didn't care. Which would seem to destroy the whole "bad for morale" argument against gay soldiers, at least in noncombat units.

He also notes the lengths the military is going to to entice new recruits, including lowering recruiting standards and paying higher bonuses and other benefits. He then notes that simply repealing "don't ask, don't tell" could add 41,000 soldiers to the roster. Which approach makes more sense?

(The 41,000 figure, by the way, comes from a 2005 analysis by UCLA law professor Gary Gates).

Benjamin's final paragraph:

As the friends I once served with head off to 15-month deployments, I regret I’m not there to lessen their burden and to serve my country. I’m trained to fight, I speak Arabic and I’m willing to serve. No recruiter needs to make a persuasive argument to sign me up. I’m ready, and I’m waiting.

As I said in my previous post on this, the military's policy on gays has always been asinine. But in this time of war and manpower shortages, it's gone from asinine to indefensible. Pass the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, now.

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