As the discussion of gays in the military continues, many of us wonder just how many are actually on active duty, in harms way. By its very nature of not asking and not telling there is no way for the military to know. And there is certain to be a component of questioning service members who are not yet fully out.
According to organizations like the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the generally accepted number of gays, lesbians and bisexuals is in excess of 60,000. This conservative figure accounts for approximately 13,000 active duty service members, equal to less than 1 percent of those currently deployed. About 53,000 others serve in the National Guard and reserves, equaling about 3.4 percent.
The issue itself is expanding on the network and cable news, and will peak with the Senate committee hearing on Tuesday. Rosa Sow from Newsy sent along this clip which summarizes a lot of the debate. (Newsy has one of the best iPhone apps of any news site.) With the forward movement, the foes have been sharpening their attacks, and it is clear that many gays are disappointed at the glacial pace of progress.
The debate seems to center on why President Obama did not simply issue an executive order and be done with it. It is true that the devil is in the details. Part of the problem is resolving issues like where LGB military will be bunked. When women were integrated into the military, distinctly separate quarters were created. Do gay males get to bunk with other men, lesbians with women, or what? This is the nub of the debate, the source of much unease among the homophobic.
Ed. Note: In the original blog entry I stated that women were allowed to serve on US submarines, but that is not accurate. Though women have been on American warships since 1993, they are only rarely on submarines, and only under special circumstances. They allow women technicians for a few days at most, female midshipmen during summer training for both ROTC and Annapolis and family members during "fam" cruises. The policy is currently under active debate and the hatch is expected to open for women on submarines soon. Women have been successfully integrated on submarines in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Australia and Canada.
These are questions that will not be easy to answer, and Secretary Gates is sure to take hostile fire on Tuesday from both sides of these issues. The military has long had separate arrangements for officers and enlisted men and women. When I was in the Navy I was surprised to find a special section on each ship was called "Officers Country" where the enlisted personnel were not welcome. Officers usually do not have to line up cafeteria style for their meals. They have it served to them, by third world enlistees. Since I was a gay person booted out of the military, things may have changed. However, officers always have better food, transportation and living arrangements than the rank and file.
Other discrimination concerns are waiting in the wings, too. Things like whether gay service members will be passed over for promotions, or given the least desirable assignments, or even used for suicide missions to deplete their numbers. These are passive-aggressive ways that some might use to rebel against a federal mandate. It has happened before. It happens every day to gay police and fire fighters.
The macho male culture can make life a living hell even if the law is on our side. When the change is made, the full force and might of the military leadership has to stand behind it. Unlike the ban on torture which was a wink-wink arrangement that led to horrible abuses, the military leadership must be solid on this subject once it is decided. Abuses should not be tolerated, from either gay or straight.
For those who are gay and serving in the Middle East, the news of political action comes as long delayed good news. "I worry a lot about being outed and kicked out," says an email from a Marine in Afghanistan, "The military is my livelihood and I don't want that taken away and me being discharged anything but honorably."
There are real lives, real careers and our nation's security at stake here. Making lesbian and gays a regular part of the military is complicated and will not be easy, but must be done.