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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

National Coming Out Day Today

Don't Ask, Just Tell

National Coming Out Day is hardly making much of a ripple today, and that is a shame. October 11 has been celebrated since 1987 as a day lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people make themselves visible, either in large or small ways. And one way same-gender-loving people can celebrate Coming Out Day would be to show up at their local armed forces recruiting center to challenge the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies.

That policy continues to deprive the armed services of the abilities of thousands of qualified people. That the Pentagon continues to cling to such an anachronistic policy is particularly ironic given reports Tuesday that a major reason the armed services have met their recruiting goals in 2006 is that they have allowed in people with misdemeanors or past histories of drug and alcohol abuse.

According to an Agence France Presse report, the Army acknowledged that approximately 17 percent of the 80,635 troops who enlisted in the active force during the year were given waivers excusing medical shortcomings or problems of a "moral character" in the recruit's past.

But David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel, is quoted in the article as challenging the notion that the armed forces are bringing in less qualified recruits, and offers this comment:

"As a generalization the services want to look at the whole person. The standard here really is ability to perform."

Oh, really? The question that Chu was not asked was why, then, have 11,000 people been discharged from the armed services since the advent of the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy in 1993, including 800 with “mission-critical” skills, such as knowledge of Middle Eastern languages. According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, two or three gay and lesbian service members are fired from the armed services every day solely because of their sexual orientation. The services, meanwhile, are denying themselves the services of an estimated 41,000 people who would otherwise enlist if they did not have to worry about subsequently being discharged once they are outed.

The group Soulforce has a program of challenging the gay ban at recruiting centers in 30 cities. Earlier this month, four of their members were arrested at a recruiting center in a Tampa, Fla., suburb.

In one sense, no one, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be behind the battle lines in the unjust war we are fighting in Iraq. That fact does not lessen the need to demand that our armed forces end a policy of discrimination that is actively harming our security. The Pentagon can’t justify a policy that says people with substance abuse histories or brushes with the law are more fit to be equipped with a military weapon than a law-abiding same-gender-loving person. So perhaps it is time for all those who support equal rights for all people to stop asking and start telling the Pentagon to end this madness. If I were prime recruitment age, I would be at a recruiting station today doing just that.

--Isaiah J. Poole | Wednesday, October 11, 2006 11:12 AM


From TomPaine today.

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