Thursday, May 28, 2009


When Bill Clinton was campaigning for his first term as President, the issue of gays in the military started to gather some steam. Around 1993, I heard a report about a pending “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that would permit gays to serve in the military. Make no mistake…gays had always served in the U.S. military, but no one really spoke of it. In World War II there may have been hundreds of thousands of gay service personnel. If a more aggressive effort was not undertaken to rid the military of known homosexuals, it was only because there was such a massive need for troops and support personnel. In a war like that one, the U.S. could not be quite so picky about sexual orientation. Still, military people who were discovered to be sexually active with people of the same gender often found themselves in psychiatric wards.

We don’t presume to ship gay people off to mental hospitals anymore. That hasn’t been done in decades. But somehow, even now, in 2009, our government still fails to recognize the remarkable achievements of some individuals, once it is determined that they are homosexual. In fact, for thousands of U.S. military personnel, their sexuality has rendered their heroism, their bravery and their commitment to America null and void.

Such is the case of Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. Fehrenbach, a fighter weapons systems officer, an aviator with 18 years of service. Fehrenbach, whose mother and father served in the U.S. Air Force, and who estimates the military has spent upwards of $25 million training him, will shortly be involuntarily discharged because he is gay. How interesting that the U.S. military earlier saw fit to ceremoniously decorate him for heroism, and yet now sees fit to fire him. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is in full bloom, and currently no one – not the President, not the Congress, not military officials—no one is speaking of it.

That is, until Lt. Col. Fehrenbach decided to speak. He did so on Rachel Maddow’s program. Listen to what he had to say:
Think about it: What is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” anyway? It is a policy that simply says, ‘We, the U.S. government agree not to discuss your sex life with you because we need you in large numbers to fight for your country; and you, the service personnel that we need, agree not to discuss your sex life with us, because you have something to be fully ashamed of. And if you slip up and express yourself honestly and act on your attraction to another human being, we’ll have no choice but to fire you.’

The premise is flawed. Of course, our government has a choice. Their option is to cancel the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and work toward social change in the military. Congress has the power to do this. You have the personal power to communicate your opinion to your Senators and Representatives. Here is the place you can find their email addresses. Speak up. In the end, it is about you. Socio/cultural change is always about all of us.

1 comment:

Joan Eisenstodt said...

Thanks for posting this Paul--it is one of THE most critical issues facing our country and our military. That so many gay men and Lesbians have served (and do serve) honorably, makes a mockery of this absurd law. Until our country gets on board with others - until we understand that one's sexual orientation has nothing to do w/ one's loyalty or service, we will (continue to) be a country of fearful, hateful people. Enough.