A sham and a shame.
It's hard to know who was more surprised at the way things turned out: gays and lesbians or the president. Clinton met with unparalleled resistance to overturning the military's ban on gay and lesbian personnel. His own lack of military experience was staring him in the face. He was presumed ignorant on the issues of privacy, esprit de corps, and discipline as they relate to the military. This presumed ignorance enabled military leaders to spurn his desire to change the policy. The result was a moratorium on the issue and sham hearings in Congress to determine how changes in the antigay policy should be implemented and defined.
During the debate in Congress, in the press, on radio and television talk shows, and in churches, there was never once a sexual scandal that took place within the military involving lesbians or gay men--only gay baiting, only the anguish following the murder of Allen Schindler. There was never any indication of sexual harassment being instigated by gays and lesbians. There was never any indication of predatory behavior initiated by gay men and lesbians in the military against heterosexuals within the military. Gays in the military was an issue for Congress and for those outside the military--not for those in the trenches. The whole fiasco was a sham and a shame. Clinton's "compromise" policy, "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue," doomed lesbians and gay men to silence until the law is overturned.
And even in silence, no one is safe. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which has been monitoring the implementation of "don't ask, don't tell" since the policy's inception, has recorded over 700 violations of the policy, over 2,000 discharges, and 28 witch-hunts. (The SLDN also provides advice and legal assistance to service members whose careers are put in jeopardy by military witch-hunts and investigations. They can be reached at  328-3244.)
Among those targeted by the illegal witch-hunts are women who may not be lesbians but who have been labeled lesbians after rebuffing a man's sexual advances. Indeed, women have been discharged for homosexuality in greater numbers than would be expected based on the percentage of women in the military. Occasionally vindication is achieved in the courts--as, for example, in the Navy settlement of a lawsuit brought by former seaman Amy Barnes, who was discharged as part of a witch-hunt Unfortunately, although the SLDN and others are certainly challenging the military to follow its own laws and regulations, not everyone can afford to sue.
Until recently women in the military who were sexually harassed faced a wall of silence like that confronting gays and lesbians, although for different reasons. Reporting of sexual harassment, rape, and assault is discouraged by the hierarchical nature of the system. The person doing the harassing is often the victim's superior in the hierarchy--to whom harassment is supposed to be reported. The problem is nothing new. The current scandal of sexual abuse of women throughout the military was preceded by the Tailhook scandal of 1991. But today, regarding the sexual harassment of women, the wall of silence is beginning to be broken.
With the breaking of the silence come editorials recommending that Congress and the country reexamine the role of women in the military. Some suggest that women should not be in the military or not serve in combat. Another editorial suggested that the problem would resolve itself if women were the only ones allowed in the military. Such "solutions," however, ignore the main point. The military is like a city, a community, with thousands of women serving as mechanics, pilots, health care providers, legal and administrative personnel, and commanders of ships and bases. Removing women from the military would reduce the size of the military, but it would fail to address the issue of sexual misconduct in a practical or meaningful way. Those who serve in the military today return to their civilian communities tomorrow. They represent America as long as they are in uniform. Permitting misconduct to go uncorrected will not help with the basic issue of misuse of power and inappropriate sexual behavior.
Four years ago opponents of allowing gays to serve in the military argued that their presence would lead to sexual misconduct and harassment. But today's sexual harassment scandal demonstrates what so many of us were trying to articulate then: that the issue is not the presence of gay men and lesbians, or of women, in the military. The issue is misconduct--whether by lesbians and gay men or by those who would abuse and harass them--and how it is tolerated or dealt with.
Cammermeyer, an officer of the Army National Guard, is the coauthor of the autobiographical Serving in Silence and the subject of a 1995 television movie by the same name.