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Panic in the Pentagon.

Once upon a time, I was a pacifist, but during the past dozen years of the royalist regime I served in the queer terrorist underground, ever ready to publish those ancient secret photos of the Scarlet Starlet (a.k.a. Nancy Reagan),, or to sodomize that dreary mutt Millie and thus introduce AIDS into the House of Whiteness, or to air-drop 16 tons of used condoms on King George's ancestral home" in Kennebunkport, Maine. Ever ready--but we exercised restraint. My comrades in ACT UP, however, did succeed in wrapping just one enormous prophylactic around the abode of Lord Jesse Helms, situated in a lovely tobacco plantation.

A dozen years from hell. And now, for a change, we can have a free and open public debate about whether sodomites are a corrupting influence in the ranks of those trained to kill on command. I call that progress.

Certain stereotypes do seem unfair. For example, why are marines so famous for rolling over? True, the only one I ever got that close to preferred the so-called passive role, but only if he was riding on top and swearing up a storm. One of Camp Lejeune's finest. Deep, mature, committed relationships are well and good, but sometimes we want a carnivorous experience. Are you my love slave? YESSIR!

Military props and uniforms are sexy, powerful, and ridiculous--much like the costumes and hardware of sadomasochism and bondage. A good uniform form advertises a good body, as well as the depersonalized entity who gives or obeys orders. During the Vietnam era, a drill sergeant at the receiving end of a hippie's dick was one way to turn the world upside down, or set it right again. Reverse the roles, and turnabout is still fair play.

Nowadays, queers often sport hair, cuts straight out of the 1950s and foot, wear recycled from the Marine Corps, though the pierced ears and nipples, the Melanesian tattoos, and the anarchic garb signal other tribal loyalties. Queers agree with the Pentagon top brass that fashion is good for morale. At a recent ACT UP Uniform Drag Ball, a benefit party for the queer March on Washington in April, we paraded in army/navy surplus before a benign dominatrix in stiletto heels: The Few, the Proud, The Queens. Are these the sort of folks you would trust to fight for democracy? We already do, and by our own permission.

It's notable that gay culture often plays havoc with the "natural order" of masculine and feminine, heterosexual and homosexual, active and passive, top and bottom. Not always nor inevitably, but often enough to make militarists and fundamentalists nervous. Civil libertarians argue that queers have proven equal to all challenges in barracks and in battles and should have the right to serve. But such arguments are precisely civilian and secular and remain distinct and distant from that holy of holies: military morale. You may approach that inner sanctum by way of some facts and history, but you must do so on your knees.

In 1943, the Pentagon initiated its ban on gay and lesbian personnel. As documented by gay historian Allan Berube in his book Coming Out Under Fire, the lesbian and gay veterans of World War II were often "forced to fight two wars" and "perceived the military as acting in ways that resembled the fascism they were supposed to be fighting." The military's "extreme and some, times violent measures" destroyed some men and women, while others forged bonds of solidarity which lasted into civilian life.

In 1950, Congress created the Uniform form Code of Military Justice, whose regulations prohibited both homosexual and heterosexual oral and anal sex. "Perverts Called Government Peril" ran a headline in the New York Times on April 19 of that year--a sign of incipient McCarthyism. In 1957, federal courts ruled that military personnel could appeal military-court decisions to civil courts, and for the first time those dis, charged under the gay ban had a chance for justice. In the same year, a suppressed navy report concluded that there was no evidence for the contention that gays could not serve equally in the military.

In 1966, gay groups organized the first public protests against anti-gay discrimination in the military. In 1969, a "routine" police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, touched off a street rebellion and marked a new stage of militance for the national gay movement. In 1974 and 1976, respectively, the cases of Sergeant Leonard Matiovitch, a decorated Vietnam veteran discharged from the army, and of army reserve drill sergeant Miriam Ben-Shalom, who was denied reenlistment, gained great public attention.

In 1982, the Reagan administration affirmed and the Pentagon more strictly enforced the military ban against gays. In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled that African-American army sergeant Perry Watkins could not be discharged because his commanders had known he was gay through 14 years of service and reenlistment. In 1989, Representative Gerry Studds secured and publicized a study commissioned and then suppressed pressed by the Defense Department which concluded, "Now the military services are leaders in providing equal opportunity for black men and women. It would be wise to consider applying the experience of the past 40 years to the integration of homosexuals."

The sociological, psychological, and biological "evidence" used in this study was itself evidence of a well-intentioned but incoherent scientism; that the gay movement itself employs this strategy at certain junctures does not make the phenomenon less troubling. Whether such scientism secures or erodes democracy deserves more thorough discussion else, where, but a few comments are in order here. I do believe human beings can search out a common ground of reality, and I do believe reason and science can be useful in that venture. However, queers had good reason to distrust the gospel truth about sexuality, psychology, and society offered by science in the past; and we might be more skeptical even now, when the preachers in several professions appear to be on our side at long last.

Simon LeVay, the openly gay scientist who claims that sexual orientation has a biological analogue in the hypothalamus, argues that hostile citizens will grant us democratic rights if they can be convinced we have not freely chosen our nature. Democratic rights granted on the basis of biology are hardly secure, however, and the pendulum of eugenics which swung so far toward totalitarianism in the past may do so again in the future. Queers, I strongly suspect, will be cast as the prime problematic subjects and ideal test cases in reemergent eugenicism, since sexual eugenics do not yet carry the historical stigma of their racial equivalent.

Recent opinion polls indicate that many citizens part company on this issue of queer rights and origins, with the more hostile camp inclined to believe that sexual orientation is as simple as wicked will power, and the friendlier camp (in roughly equal numbers) inclined to believe that queers are simply born that way. But within such camps, there are diverse constellations of opinion. Edward Furton, philosophy teacher at a Catholic seminary, neatly summarized the "bipartisan" views of many citizens in a recent letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Either homosexuals choose to find

others of the same sex appealing

(for which they are morally culpable),

or they experience such appeal

apart from choice and so lack

control over their natural desires.

Whichever is true, both are good

arguments against openly

admitting homosexuals into the military.

Such logic is truly theological and, in this case, cultivates confusion about real choices and real power. Presumably men in the navy have a choice not to participate in the sexual hazing of women, but the Tailhook scandal demonstrates, many choose to do so anyway. Must we conclude that boys will be boys regardless of sexual orientation "and so lack control over their natural desires"? And in this case, do straight boys have a special privilege to be sexual predators? Why not try the experiment of banning the whole male sex from the military for at least three generations? If every nation then followed our example, our species might pick fewer fights. Or we might find that even if warriors were exclusively women they would be no wiser than men about preventing wars. Is military force possible without militarism--which is to say, without making citizens systematically brutal and stupid?

Christopher Jehn, former assistant defense secretary for manpower, wrote a response to the previously mentioned study stating that the ban on gays in the services is based on "military judgments . . . {and} that military judgments about overall combat effectiveness are inherently subjective in nature' " As re, ported in the Philadelphia Inquirer of June 19, 1992, Jehn added: "Scientific or sociological analyses are unlikely" to affect the policy. But this is somewhat disingenuous. If scientists had said once again that queers were deficient or sick, the high priesthood of military morale would have found that useful and raised it to the realm of dogma; and likewise, if sociologists had revealed a queer propensity toward insubordination, then that much more authority could be mustered behind military excommunications.

But by 1992, the "experts" were saying queers could do the job and join the club, and military leaders did not deny that many gays were already serving in secrecy. Why, indeed, is existing military morale so deeply dependent on the secrecy of queers?

When Clinton quietly promised gay supporters that he would sign an executive order ending the ban on gays in the military, he never thought this issue would dominate headlines and prime time even before he entered the White House. Like many straight liberals, he just didn't live daily and yearly with the same endangerment queers have experienced. He was taken aback--both by the homophobic ferocity of the right and by sharp gay demands that he honor his word.

In November 1992, Tom Bethel wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

It seems extraordinary that Bill

Clinton, on Veterans Day, in his

first policy decision as President,

elect, and having been accused in

the campaign of evading the draft,

should have promised to reverse

the ban on homosexuals in the


Bethell added, "The Dutch army's pigtailed, ear-ringed battalions do not inspire confidence. . . " To do what? Recolonize Indonesia? For Bethell, Britain's glorious adventure in the Falklands is proof of "combat-ready" morale, itself strengthened by the fact that "only Britain among NATO countries now excludes homosexuals from service."

While the Pentagon and the religious right rumbled about morale and God's wrath, Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, the Democratic chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, darkly warned of outright mutiny and violence against gays. This warning was echoed in all branches of the military and in all ranks, with variations on this theme documented in the daily news. "I hate to say this," an air force officer said with evident regret, "but if two guys are seen holding hands, I think something would happen to them in a physical sense. I think they'd get beaten up." On January 28, the New York Times quoted John Kaisner, a 22-year-old air, man: "If homosexuals come in, I'm going out. If they let gays in the military, there are going to be physical outbreaks " And Colonel Morris of the marines: "I also worry that gays will suffer too because there are some of our marines who might try to make gays part of the food chain, as we say, before we can stop them." The mere presence of queers in the military incites all-American males like red meat in a shark tank, so why allow queers to spoil a healthy appetite for the enemy? Queerbaiting is often part of military drills, so why allow open queers to disrupt such discipline?

A decade ago, Sam Nunn fired two aides because they were considered security risks by the CIA and the Defense Department, even though both were open about being gay. These facts were reported in the December 6, 1992, New York Times, along with this comment from Robert Bray, spokesperson for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: "If Sam Nunn's name is on the short list for Secretary of Defense, we hope it's stricken." When Les Aspin got the job, he and Clinton began diplomatic overtures toward General Colin Powell and other top brass.

General Powell took offense at any analogy drawn between the discrimination experienced by African-Americans and that experienced by lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. He stated his position to Representative Patricia Schroeder, a military reformer and Democrat from Colorado, in a letter dated May 8, 1992, and subsequently published:

Skin color is a benign, nonbehavioral

characteristic. Sexual

orientation is perhaps the most

profound of human behavioral

characteristics. Comparison of the

two is a convenient but invalid

argument. As Chairman of the

Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as an

African-American fully conversant

with history, I believe the

policy we have adopted is consistent

with the necessary standards

of order and discipline required of

the armed forces.

No analogy is absolutely true, yet certain comparisons are very striking. In 1948, President Truman issued an executive order ending racial segregation in the military. General Eisenhower had previously told the Senate Armed Services Committee that laws can't force "someone to like someone else" and pre, presented racism as an "incontrovertible fact" of life, best left unchallenged for the sake of peace in the ranks and discipline in war. An official U.S. army report to the Secretary of Defense stated:

The soldier on the battlefield de,

serves and must have the utmost

confidence in his fellow soldiers.

They must eat together, sleep together

and all too frequently die

together. There can be no friction

in their everyday living that might

bring on failure in battle.

General Omar Bradley, then army chief of staff, said, "The army is not out to make any social reforms. It will change the policy when the nation as a whole changes it." Opponents of military desegregation warned that blacks would spread tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases, and Senator Russell of Georgia warned that the policy could even lead to "intermarriage of the races'" A few days after Truman's orders, Representative William Lewis, a Kentucky Republican, orated upon the theme of racial purity and pollution on the House floor, urging colleagues to "imagine, if you please, a colored man sleeping in a lower berth in the same coach just opposite a white woman in easy arm's reach of each other. Does not such tend to encourage amalgamation of the races?"

"The military is not a social welfare agency," said then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney in 1992, adding, "We aren't there to run social experiments." In the February 9, 1993, issue of the Village Voice, Allan Berube wrote:

To resist change, the military

claims again that it isn't an engine

of social reform. Yet in the last 50

years, the armed forces have

evolved into this country's largest,

most powerful, and best-funded

machine for teaching antigay


In a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy on January 11, 1993, General Powell said, "The presence of homosexuals in the force would be detrimental to good order and discipline for a variety of reasons, principally relating around the issue of privacy." On January 18, Dr. William F. Gibson, chair of the national board of the NAACP, issued a press release endorsing the April 25 "March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights" and the effort to repeal the ban on gays in the military. "The alibis and excuses they're giving," he wrote, "are the same ones they tried to use to keep black Americans out of the military.... No citizen should be excluded from any aspect of life because of race, religion, or sexual orientation."

Privacy, by the military's all-too-common definition, entitles straight men to a great degree of sexual aggression without worrying that queers might exercise the same privilege. The obsessional fear of being observed by queers in the showers is a constant refrain--that, and the magical transmission of AIDS by the same evil eye. If miscegeneration is the ultimate fear of racists, the ultimate fear of the generals is that militarism will be eroded by men unworthy of the cult of masculinism. With all of its homoerotic initiations and social bonds, the military also takes great pains to stigmatize unsublimated, garden, variety homosexuality.

When stigma fails, as it often must, there are cruder rites of exorcism. Last October 27, navy seaman Allen Schindler, 22 years old, was beaten so severely in a public restroom near the Sasebo naval base in Japan that his mother could identify him only by the tattoos on his forearm. His skull had been crushed repeatedly against a urinal, most of his vital organs were damaged, all but two ribs broken, and his penis was slashed. Schindler was in the process of being discharged for being gay when he was killed. A shipmate of Schindler's on the U.S.S. Belleau Wood later identified himself as gay at a news conference and described the daily harassment of gay sailors, including death threats and anti-gay epithets spray-painted on bulkheads. Airman Terry Helvey, the sailor charged with Schindler's death, told navy investigators that he was "very surprised and frightened" by an alleged sexual approach from Schindler. So he killed him.

"It's a morale problem," pronounced the Reverend Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition in response to these events. "When you take these groups and they flaunt the behavior and life-styles in people's faces, that is what's going to happen." Schindler's mother joined gay groups at a public vigil and said, "You could accept it if he was killed in war, but what you can't accept is when the ones backing you in the war are killing you."

I confess I'm smitten by some of the superachiever poster boys who have marched in full uniform out of their closets and into the courts in recent years--including Joseph Steffan, expelled from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1987; ROTC cadet james Holobaugh, discharged from the corps and ordered to repay his $25,000 scholarship in 1990; Keith Meinhold, recently reinstated by court order to his navy assignment; and Airman Tracy Thorne, addressing the raving top brass "with all due respect, sir." The actions of these people and all the many others--like Margarethe Cammermeyer, discharged from the Washington national guard after coming out to her commanding officer--do command respect. But I hope queers may yet play some part in the demoralization7' of the military, to the very degree they have suffered under the worst kinds of militarist morale.

Let's say openly for the world to hear that the reform of military policy in the case of queers is indeed only one domino to fall on the way to full civil rights. Everything the priests, generals, and rabid pundits fear and predict we will demand ... we will, in fact, demand. Yes, our agenda includes equal domestic partnerships and benefits, equal rights to housing and health care, and equal right to the public world.

Scott Tucker is an artist, activist, and writer, as well as a founding member of the Philadelphia chapter of ACT UP.
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Title Annotation:gays in the military
Author:Tucker, Scott
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:Sexoids: better sex through genetic engineering?
Next Article:Deceived, again.

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