I recently read the book Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America by Nathaniel Frank. I took the book with me when I went to visit my family during Christmas this past December, and my parents, upon seeing the title, asked, “Why are you reading that? You’re too old to serve in the military.”
After returning all my parents’ Christmas gifts for store credit, I started to ask myself a number of questions: “Does the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell even matter to me?” and “Should I be worried that restaurant servers no longer ask for my ID when I order alcohol?” I never had much interest in the military when I was younger, because joining the military was something done by straight men with limited financial resources wishing to pay for college, and closeted gay men who felt the need to prove how masculine they were. I was neither of those people, and so whether gay men and women were allowed to serve in the military was really none of my concern.
I couldn’t have been more wrong if I had taken the LSAT while drunk after an all night study session with my study-partner, Sarah Palin.
The battles for gay marriage acceptance and gay military service acceptance, while both very important, are fundamentally different. Although the battle for gay marriage isn’t selfish, it is, however, a battle for a very personal and private right. The battle for allowing gays in the military, on the other hand, is a battle to allow gay men and women the right to sacrifice for others. Serving in the military is already one of the most noble sacrifices a U.S. citizen can offer to his or her fellow American; having to hide one’s own sexuality makes such a sacrifice incalculably more difficult.
Whereas the emotional toll Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell takes on closeted gay men and women in the military cannot be calculated, the price tag that this discriminatory policy has cost the U.S. military can be. A panel consisting of Lawrence Korb, a former assistant defense secretary from the Reagan administration; William Perry, a former defense secretary from the Clinton administration; and professors from the United States Military Academy at West Point, estimated in 2006 that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has cost the military over $363 million.
Or, to put the cost into perspective, half the amount that Joan Rivers has spent on her face.
Giving gay men and women the right to serve in the military impacts the entire gay community regardless of community members’ connection to the military. In the 16 years since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was implemented, it’s been estimated that over 13,000 gay men and women have been discharged from the military. These are 13,000 men and women who, despite their willingness to sacrifice for their country, will never receive the prestige that comes with a long military career. These are 13,000 men and women who will never be able to pass on the many benefits that come after serving in the military to their families. These are 13,000 men and women who, despite being more patriotic than most of us and, arguably, even more patriotic than most of the military, are now forced to enter the workforce with the red stamp of “discharged from the military” on their resume.
Why does this matter to you? Perhaps you’re a hair stylist or a bank teller or a lawyer or a teacher or a doctor or a bartender or an engineer or a hack columnist, and don’t feel as though discharged gay men and women have anything to do with you. But what happens if you live in a state that doesn’t protect gay men and women from workplace discrimination, and your employer happens to be homophobic? Not only could it happen, but it does happen. Now what happens if the United States military — one of the largest employers in the country — decides that it will no longer tolerate homophobia? Allowing gay men and women to serve openly and honestly in the military workplace will send repercussions throughout the country that will affect all other workplaces.
I’ve mentioned my frustrations with President Obama in the past. Nevertheless, I naively wish to believe that he will follow through on the promise he made in his State of the Union address, when he stated he would “finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.” Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is past its prime, and, like a party crasher who’s stayed way after the other guests have left and the alcohol has run out, it needs to go. I may be too old to join some branches of the military, or to even audition for American Idol, but I genuinely do hope that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will end sooner than later.
After all, I’m not getting any younger.