Monday, December 20, 2010

Now Comes the Harder Part: Integrating "Don't Ask Don't Tell" Into Military Culture

The policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", allowing soldiers who are openly gay to serve without fear of expulsion, was finally repealed by the Senate on Saturday. It awaits the President's signature.

But even if the repeal is on the books, frontline combat culture wil take time to adjust. According to James Dao's article in the New York Times, who canvassed the views of some Marine Corps infantry troops, they expressed similar worries about serving with openly gay men: that they won't hold up well in front line combat units, that the units depend on cohesion and bonding over traditional "macho" pursuits, and that there is something too "feminine" about them.

An officer leading troops in Afghanistan said he anticipated that many openly gay soldiers would feel alienated from their straight colleagues.

Some Marines expressed the sterotype that a gay man is more like a female, a stereotype that not only distorts gay male contributions but also stereotypes female soldiers as weak.

Corporal Trevor Colbath, 22, a Marine who returned from Afghanistan in August said:

"Maybe they should just take the same route they take with females and stick them in noncombat units."

I think Colbath should ask some female soldiers if they fight and risk their lives similarly to his colleagues. He might be surprised at their responses. He might have to duck and cover.

Private First Class Alex Tuck, 19, had a different take. He said openly gay men would perform well and be accepted. But his friend Private Justin Rea, 18, echoed the "girly man" sentiment:

"Being gay means you're kind of girly. The Marines are, you know, macho."

The irony is that gay men already serve honorably and well in dangerous conditions. DADT kept them in the closet. Anthony Wilfert, 25, was trusted in combat. He said several colleagues, including superiors, knew he was gay. He was promoted to sergeant.

Eventually, though, he was discharged under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Now that the policy is one stop from repeal, he's thinking of re-enlisting.

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