By Larryse Brown
“Because you’re gay! And I’m not gonna argue with you about this!”
Moments earlier, Mercy College sophomore Brentin Brown walked into an military recruitment office with Louis Vuitton bag in hand and make-up on.
“Now I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a lady said sitting at the front desk in response to Brown’s feigning interest in signing up for the military. Someone interrupted.
“Can I help you?” a man in uniform asked in mock politeness adding more tension to the what-the-hell-do-you-want aura. The room’s atmosphere finally broke into dead silence when he uttered the words and people’s jaws dropped open in shock.
“You can’t,” the soldier said.
“Why,” Brown asked, probing for answers he already knew. The soldier blurted it out, just in case he or anyone else in the vicinity missed it. The reason he was being denied to serve his country wasn’t because he was an ex-convict or a danger to society. He didn’t even have to be a good person: he was a homosexual.
This is the scenario for many Americans who have been reduced to hiding their sexual preference for fear of being stripped of their right to serve in the American military as American born and bred citizens. Oddly enough, groups like the Gay/Straight Alliance, which was just created at Mercy College by 20 year-old Brentin Brown, and other similar homosexual organizations are funded by the government, yet the people in these groups are not allowed the same rights as everyone else.
“The government is afraid. It’s all about political parties and special interest. They make the laws, and they can tweak them,” said Brown, who is majoring in criminal justice. “Ignorance, hatred and denial. They are willing to bury it; it’s easier to discriminate because if we put it to the side, then it doesn’t exist.”
Some would feel that sexual preference is irrelevant with regard to how one could serve the military, yet in 1993, President Bill Clinton passed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Law, which allows gay men and women to serve in the armed forces as long as they do not openly admit their sexual orientation.
This situation exposes deep wounds when a person finds himself judged solely on this criticism, said Brown. Being labeled with the title “gay” or “straight” holds heavy weight in the corporate, political, and military world, and the “wrong” title not only challenges a person’s right as an American citizen but challenges his rights as a human being.
“The fear I have of being gay in this society is the ignorance and hatred of some people. I’m afraid for myself or someone close to me getting hurt either physically or emotionally. The smallest thing can really do the most damage,” admitted Brown.
In the world outside the military, homosexuals have the freedom to openly and unashamedly speak about issues without pause to think of the repercussions they might suffer. Ironically enough, men inside the military who are directly impacted, gay or not do not have the same freedom to speak about the fear of homosexuals and the military without hiding some part of their identity as well. For straight men it is the fear of a commanding officer having a differing opinion, and then having the authority to put the soldiers’ job in jeopardy. For gay men, it is about being discovered and condemned.
The Impact recently made contact with a 21 year old soldier by trade who is also a gay man forced to keep his identity anonymous. While he said he was proud of who he was, he declined an interview, stating, “I can’t. Not because I don’t want people here to find out about me; it’s because I could get kicked out. Only two or three close friends know.”
Gays being chastisized in the military is far from a new concept. Reports as far back as 1778 report a Continental Congress soldier being discharged for homosexual actions. Starting in 1916, homosexuals were given a “blue ticket” discharge, which denotes neither an honorable or dishonorable charge. In 1957, the Navy issued a study, known as the Crittenden Report, which found that there was no real logic behind banning gays in the military, as it stated “gay-identified people were no more likely to be a security risk than heterosexual-identified people.” Yet the policy did not change.
In 1981, the Department of Defense issued this statement: homosexuality is incompatible with military serviceâ€¦The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the armed forces to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among service membersâ€¦ to recruit and retain members of the armed forces; to maintain the public acceptability of military service; and to prevent breaches of security.”
Brown feels the military’s dictatorship-esque rules are the reason why he and others have formed organizations such as Mercy’s Gay/Straight Alliance, in an effort to band homosexuals and heterosexuals on issues such as the right for gays to be in the military without secrecy.
A three year soldier and senior at Mercy College, also given anonymity, “Dave” is a heterosexual who puts responsibility not on the government, not on the soldiers, but on the people, to make a change.
“As a soldier it takes the fight out of you, all the questioning. I blame the voters for anything in the military that goes wrong. The common soldier doesn’t really have any power.”
The controversy of the “don’t ask don’t tell policy” stirs curiosity in many Americans about the treatment of soldiers or any records of homophobic behavior toward those who are known or rumored to be gay.
“Everybody talks tough in the armed forces; it’s just like out here. No one really cares what you are into, as long as you do your job,” said Dave.
Brown feels that many more people are opening up about their resentment of the law, and that it’s time for policy to change. Those who attend the Mercy Gay/Straight Alliance meeting discuss topics such as “if someone pays his taxes, he shouldn’t be denied the same rights as everyone else if he poses no threat to anyone.” However, in a land that still feels the ripples every now and then from boats brought in from the transatlantic or the after math of women’s rights resulting in their earning 75 cents to every dollar a man makes, Brown wonders how far the country has come to find yet another way to tip-toe a few steps back.
“America is still primitive. What should be a simple right and wrong isn’t, and we’re still finding some group of people to bear the brunt of it.”