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Got Soldiers? The HRC’s Tour Against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

The Human Rights Campaign has launched A Legacy of Service Tour where gay veterans will talk about serving their country. If you’re in Orlando, note the appearances this Wednesday.

This is a timely moment for reconsidering “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” This morning NPR was a-buzz about the Army missing its recruitment quota the second month in a row. Recent news reports featured the misbehavior of substandard recruits allowed to enlist because we’re so desperate for warm bodies to fight an unpopular war.

Liberalize policies about gay military service, and one of two things will happen. Either more gay people will sign up for service, or they won’t. (Plus existing gay servicepeople won’t be tossed out.)

If more gay people sign up, then we can level or even raise the quality of recruits fighting this war. If they don’t sign up, then nothing changes except one stupid policy, and nothing is harmed — plus we bring our policies in line with our allies.

One of the arguments against eliminating the DOD’s anti-gay policies is that straight soldiers don’t want to work around gay soldiers. But they don’t have a choice, given that most of the members of the “Coalition of the Willing” allow gay soldiers to serve. Not only that, but they serve next to gay people anyway. They just don’t know it, or if they do know it, they mostly don’t care.

Furthermore, take the typical soldier and ask him or her: seriously, would you rather jump into a foxhole with a poorly-educated dimwit with a history of sociopathic behavior, or with someone of a different flavor of sexual orientation who, by the way, at that very moment is probably not staring at your ass (to use the common objection I heard twenty years ago) but thinking about saving his or hers — or even yours?

Even someone who feels compelled to say “I’ll take the dimwit” probably doesn’t mean it, at least not when the chips are down. When you’re serving in the military in any significant capacity — in peace or in war — you probably aren’t aware if the person next to you is gay, but in many cases, you definitely know if he’s a dimwit. A profession involving guns, bombs, tanks, and aircraft does not need slow studies or basket cases.

The campaign to defeat “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and allow gay Americans to serve with honor is also, in part, a campaign to stamp out dimwits and nut jobs. I was fortunate to serve with many smart people, but in the armed services, it only takes one person to make your day go from good to very, very bad. Whether or not you support the war in Iraq, take a moment to ask your legislator to change the military’s policy. We need every good soldier we can find.

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