OPINION: Our Untold Patriotism
April 02, 2004
By Jeff Cleghorn, Columnist
Some attribute the drop in gay discharges from the
military to the need for troops at a time of war, but
theres a better explanation.
A REPORT RELEASED last week by the Servicemembers Legal
Defense Network points out that for the second year
in a row, gay discharges are down.
SLDN argues in the report that gay discharges
have dropped every time America has entered a war.
And indeed, discharges went from 1,273 in 2001, to 906
in 2002, to 787 in 2003, a 39-percent decrease since
There is, however, at least one other possible explanation;
one that focuses on the bravery and loyalty of gay troops
rather than Pentagon hypocrisy.
Back in the days before Dont Ask, Dont
Tell, the military routinely conducted witch-hunts
to identify gay and lesbian soldiers, and summarily
kick them out. Today, 10 years into the notorious Dont
Tell law, gay troops continue to be discharged.
There is, however, a very big difference between now
Today the military no longer seeks to systemically
purge gays from its ranks. According SLDNs report,
gay and lesbian troops are not targeted for criminal
investigation, witch-hunts or inappropriate command-directed
asking and pursuits to the extent that they were
before the advent of the Dont Tell
In fact, by a wide margin according to the gay discharge
statistics, most gay discharges over the past several
years have been triggered by soldiers and sailors making
coming out statements to their superiors.
In other words, unlike those kicked out 10 or 20 years
ago, most of the recent gay discharges result from troops
raising their hands and saying, in essence, Ive
had enough, get me out of here.
THE MEDIA, INCLUDING the gay press, has picked up on
the SLDN theory that the Pentagon has slowed gay discharges
because of the war on terror and in Iraq and has reported
that some gay troops sexual orientations are being
ignored or overlooked by the military.
SLDN cites as an example the story of Army Capt. Austin
Rooke, who works for the National Gay & Lesbian
Task Force. Even though the Army knew Captain Rooke
worked for the Task Force, it nonetheless called him
back to active duty and shipped him overseas to fight.
Maybe the Army was enlisting the service of a perceived
gay man because in times of national emergency it does
not care so much about sexual orientation. After all,
look at the lower gay discharge numbers during past
On the other hand, we are also being told that the
military has recently fired more than 30 gay linguists,
including several studying to become fluent in Arabic.
The widely publicized dismissal of the linguists creates
a tension with the argument that the Defense Department
is allowing gay troops to serve during this time of
AT LEAST ONE other reasonable theory could explain
why the gay discharge rate is falling. Since most modern-day
gay discharges result from coming-out statements, maybe
during this time of war gay soldiers are
not coming out as often.
In past armed conflicts, it may well have been the
case that witch-hunts were suspended so as to keep able-bodied
soldiers in uniform. But by SLDNs own admission
and due primarily to that organizations dogged
efforts, those days of fishing expeditions to purge
gays from the ranks are largely behind us.
Indeed, the experience of Captain Rooke stands for
this very proposition. He could have easily avoided
further military service by simply coming out to the
Army. They likely suspected he was gay by virtue of
his employment for the Task Force, but the apparent
choice not to investigate him speaks well of the Armys
adherence to Dont Ask, Dont Tell.
Captain Rooke chose instead to answer the call to duty
rather than come out.
As the mounting body count in Iraq shows, military
service is a deadly serious business. But the true untold
story regarding the recent decrease in gay discharges
is that, like Captain Rooke, gay and lesbian Americans
are answering the call to service during this time of
Our domestic enemies claim that the presence of gays
in the ranks undermines military effectiveness. Captain
Rooke, and thousands like him, are bravely proving the
lie that we know Dont Tell to be.