In recent weeks, the debate over the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy regarding LGBT soldiers has grown significantly. Major heads of the armed forces have spoken out against the policy, calling for its repeal. Political leaders have agreed with the sentiment, and most have pledged to seek its destruction. And on September 9th, a federal district judge, Virginia Phillips, declared the policy unconstitutional and effectively ended its 17-year reign.
The declaration seemed a crowning achievement for LGBT rights and was hailed by many as the ruling most needed to bring equality to the military. Judge Phillips decried the policy, most notably disparaging the military’s practice of discharging outed service members only after their return from combat conditions, saying “…the effect of the Act has been, not to advance the Government’s interests of military readiness and unit cohesion, much less to do so significantly, but to harm that interest.”
After the ruling, preparation and announcement of the military’s intention to accept openly gay and lesbian applicants at recruiting stations came swiftly. The debate continued to rage in the popular media, but it was mostly embodied by a fringe minority that seemed uninterested in the protection of equal rights. Most agreed with the ruling, and polls showed a majority supported Judge Phillips’ decision, with over 60% of Americans agreeing with the injunction. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it seemed, was finally over.
Curiously, however, the policy continued to show its reluctance to die, and an injunction was quickly placed against Judge Phillips’ ruling by the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals, pending action by the military. And suddenly and unexpectedly, several politicians, most notably Senator John McCain, started back-pedaling on their stance and began requesting more inquiry into the possible deleterious effects of the repeal. They expressed concern over what might transpire regarding military readiness and cohesion should the policy be immediately lifted without a quality transition plan, backed by academic research and a proven path of action.
And it is here that we see the debate reach the ultimate trouble: Many still feel that there is reason for fundamental concern over LGBT soldiers serving their country. The sentiment is never fully explained in detail, as the subject is known to be sensitive and politically charged, but the mentality is visceral when the concern is hinted. It shows an underlying belief that LGBT people, while theoretically deserving of equal rights, are inherently different than heterosexual people and issues related to them must be considered carefully and tactfully.
This is ultimately the true infection of the mind that must be eradicated if LGBT people are ever to be truly accepted. There is nothing beyond personal romantic inclinations that separates an LGBT person from one who is heterosexual. They do not require any discussion or study to determine their ability to effectively defend a country that oddly doesn’t respect their right to live freely within it. And yet the debate still carries on, not as violent as that of the civil rights movements of the past, but palpable.
The precipitous rise in suicides amongst LGBT teenagers in recent weeks and months has offered a window of understanding into a suffocating culture that seems to reward a stifling of self. It seems sensitivity to the issue has risen to a degree that repudiates a direct condemnation of the LGBT lifestyle, but has yet to foster a belief that LGBT people are truly equal. The regard manifests most obviously in discussions related to LGBT integration with groups most commonly regarded as primarily heterosexual, such as churches, schools, and the aforementioned military. And it is this attitude that has encouraged young LGBT people to feel uncomfortable with themselves, driven to repression and depression that, as any reputable psychologist will confirm, may eventually reach a fever pitch and become uncontrollable if not dealt with.
It is time that we start recognizing this disease and actively working to correct it. LGBT people should be willing and able to announce themselves, live openly and freely, and feel as equal and protected and represented as any other American. And above all, if any man or woman wishes to live their lives serving and defending the safety of their country, they should be able to do so without having to hide who they are and what they stand for. They should be able to be proud, hold their head high, respected and understood for what they are above all else: real patriots.
On reflection, I find myself fearing that every generation, no matter how much they may care or agree with the equal rights fights and triumphs of generations past, will have its own battle to wage. It seems the need to repress and control satisfies some baser genetic imperative that I am uneducated in understanding; a primal need to feel only comfort in one’s environment and to repel, sometimes viciously, that which is not comfortable. I fear we, as a culture, will never truly be able to learn from our past; many will always justify the mistreatment of some class of people, even if the class does change on each iteration. And they will always feel justified, righteous, correct. As advanced as we claim and hope to be, we seem never to rise above that animal level in our minds.
And yet I still hold faith. Perhaps that, too, is a disease of the mind and I am mistaken for holding to it. But hold to it I do. We need to find a way, as a people, at a most basic level, to hold true to the commonly evoked notion that everyone is equal. It is the only true path to freedom, and one far too many seem unwilling, or unable, to understand. A first step must be taken, and maybe that step is forthcoming: the complete condemnation and eradication of the discriminatory practice of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Soon enough we shall see.