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Military disorder.

Never mind national security. The issue that most worries top military officers these days appears to be their soldiers' privacy.

Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and his aides are considering whether they ought to build separate barracks and showers for lesbian and gay soldiers, or bar them from going into combat, "to respect the privacy of heterosexuals who feel uncomfortable sleeping in cramped bunk areas or showering with homosexuals," The New York Times reports.

"If you have a stateside circumstance where people's privacy can be respected, that's one thing," said a worried official who declined to be identified. "But on a field deployment overseas, that situation changes. What do you do?"

The military's deep concern for soldiers' privacy is out of character, to say the least. Where was it last year, for instance, at the Navy's annual Tailhook convention? Or during the Persian Gulf war, when the Army suppressed reports that enlisted women were sexually assaulted by their superior officers? Or, for that matter, when the Marine Corps conducted a witch hunt against suspected lesbians during the late 1980s - investigating personal phone calls, "overly friendly" hugs, and gifts of flowers, prosecuting eleven women for homosexuality, and purging them from its ranks?

But that was then. Today, as Pentagon officials brood over the prospect of lifting the military's ban on lesbians and gays, military leaders are plagued by visions of straight, male soldiers feeling uncomfortable when they get undressed, or worse, being sexually harassed.

The whole sorry spectacle of high-ranking officers wringing their hands and squirming at the thought of being ogled in the shower would be delightfully ironic (especially so soon after the Tailhook scandal) - if the implications for lesbians and gays were not so serious.

The uproar over the issue of homosexuality in the military shows how far lesbians and gays still have to go in their struggle for basic civil rights. What other group of people employed by the Government could be treated as if they needed to be quarantined because co-workers find their mere presence offensive?

To make matters worse, the religious Right has made persecuting homosexuals its central mission, and is distributing defamatory propaganda and promoting anti-gay legislation across the nation (see "Cruel Crusade," Page 18). To a frightening degree, Congress, the media, and the American public are willing to give serious consideration to such outrageous arguments as the idea that lesbians and gays must be separated from "normal" heterosexual people because they are more promiscuous, and more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases (this argument made it to the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal).

Despite the absurdity and offensiveness of the flutter that began when President Clinton announced his intention to lift the gay ban, the fact that the military is so open about its own homophobia marks a kind of progress. The problem, the top brass concedes, is not with gay soldiers but rather with intolerant heterosexual soldiers, who do not want to serve in an integrated military.

At least we've got that much clear.

As a Federal judge in California put it, "The Defense Department's justifications for its policy banning gays and lesbians from military service are based on cultural myths and false stereotypes." And the Defense Department virtually admits as much. The Pentagon concedes that homosexuals have served with distinction for as long as the U.S. armed forces have existed. But to openly admit that there are gay soldiers in the ranks would be too unsettling for straight troops - it would damage morale.

So the military acknowledges that its policies are hypocritical and is reduced to the absurdity of claiming the right to maintain that hypocrisy. It is an exceedingly pitiful argument stacked against the overwhelming legal and moral imperative of protecting the civil rights of lesbian and gay citizens.

The way to deal with homophobia in the ranks, of course, is not to bow to bigotry. (To suggest otherwise is to say that the way to deal with racism is to enforce racial segregation or repeal the Voting Rights Act.) But President Clinton made just such a bow when he gave the Pentagon a reprieve until July to draft a plan for dealing with lesbians and gays in the armed forces. In the meantime, military recruiters may no longer question applicants about their sexual orientation. But openly gay soldiers may still be suspended from active duty, and Sam Nunn and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have gladly announced that they will continue locking gay and lesbian soldiers in the closet.

So far, the President claims that he win stand by the principle of nondiscrimination. Clearly, such proposals as segregated barracks violate that principle. Come July, when it's time for Clinton to make good on his promise, only full integration of the military will do.

The struggle for equal rights regardless of sexual orientation is the last great struggle of the civil-rights movement. The ugliness of mounting homophobic zealotry, and the necessity of combating it in the military, in state and local governments, and in our daily lives, has never been more clear.

Now, more than ever, the Left must rally behind lesbians and gays.
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Title Annotation:lifting the gay ban
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:856
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