Only one right side in gay rights debate
There are some moments that make me think Wash. U. and the rest of the country are two entirely separate universes.
In the same week that I read the recent Student Life article about the Right Side of History, a new movement beginning at Wash. U. designed to engage straight youth in the struggle for gay rights, I also read a post on The New Republic’s Web site called “The Worst Argument You’ve Ever Read For Banning Openly Gay People From the Military.” The post was a critique of a recent Weekly Standard article written by James Bowman that argued, with no apparent sign of jest, that gay men and women should be excluded from military service because homosexuality contradicts traditional notions of masculinity.
Lest you think I am oversimplifying the argument, here is a direct quote from the article explaining its thesis: “This is not, of course, to say that homosexuals are weak or cowardly—only that the reputation of manliness, which we know to be an important component of military honor, is in practice incompatible with the imputation either of homosexuality or of weakness and cowardice.”
It was the kind of argument I find more appropriate for The Onion than for a leading conservative magazine, and its severe weakness only proves that there are no good arguments left in support of such bigotry and exclusion.
Bowman’s only answer for the obvious rebuttal that his conception of “manliness” (which is hardly an essential part of military service anyway, especially given the brave service of many women in today’s armed forces) is not inherent but rather socially contrived and can thus be challenged is to claim that such a challenge is not worth the minimal national security risk.
The truth, however, is that there is little reason to believe that the presence of openly gay soldiers would negatively affect military performance. In fact, the most compelling recent argument against excluding gays from the military was published last week in an official military journal. As its author, Air Force Col. Om Prakash wrote, “after a careful examination, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly.” As more and more military officials call for repeal, civilians have no legitimate reason to continue supporting our current flawed policy.
The real threat to national security is that our military continues to discharge qualified servicemen and women, whose skills and experience are badly needed in Iraq and Afghanistan, for no other reason than that they are openly gay. We should be thanking these individuals for their brave service and willingness to sacrifice for their country. Instead, we are firing them. Particularly troubling, we have discharged multiple Arab linguists despite the fact that they are critical to our mission in Iraq and are in short supply.
The reality is that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is not just a discriminatory policy that is unfair to LGBT individuals; it is a nonsensical policy that has negative consequences for all of us. It is also one of the most compelling of many reasons why the struggle for LGBT civil rights is one that should concern us all.
The Right Side of History has based its strategy on this premise that discrimination of one minority group is harmful to all and should thus be a universal issue. The group has yet to prove itself, and I am anxious to see the results that their efforts will hopefully produce. Meanwhile, however, I am glad to see students at Wash. U. standing up for what is clearly the right side of this debate.