Editor’s Note: Ron ‘Yana’ Self is a highly decorated Marine and a resident of San Quentin State Prison. During a battle, Self was saved by an openly gay Marine.
On April 28, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
King adamantly contended that all Americans should have equal access to the American dream. However, in spite of the great strides the Civil Rights Movement brought about during the 1950s and 1960s, many Americans still experience discrimination. While King was referring to people of color, his argument for inclusivity applies equally to other groups of people like gay men and women who are denied the same opportunities as heterosexuals. In many states, homosexuals are still fighting for the same civil rights given to heterosexuals.
At the Federal level, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been the policy and culture of the military for decades. In this ethos, gays are discouraged from disclosing their sexual orientation for fear of being dishonorably discharged. Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” enables the military to have a broader selection of eligible applicants from which to choose and will eventually eliminate this complicated and prejudicial policy. More importantly, it will aid in uniting all service men and women within the United States of America’s Armed Forces by lifting the invisible veil of discrimination.
DON’T ASK DON’T TELL
Those who support maintaining “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy often argue that allowing homosexuals to serve openly will undermine the unity of the military, and that asking heterosexual troops to work alongside those who are openly gay will prevent troops from trusting one another to the degree they must in order to be effective. This argument is baseless and unpersuasive. It has been my experience that some gays already do serve openly despite the official policy. While deployed overseas conducting combat operations, I was shot and knocked to the ground; only semi-conscious and immobilized, I was still under fire and unable to defend myself. Had rescue not come I would have undoubtedly been killed within moments. The marine that was to my immediate left just before I stepped into the clearing was openly gay. But that has no relevance in a firefight. He had the courage to come out in the open in a hail of gunfire and drag meto safety. He was shot 11 times doing so and died by my side shortly after reaching cover. Chuck was one of the bravest men I knew during my time in the Marine Corps. His ultimate sacrifice demonstrates that serving openly does not degrade the cohesiveness of military units.
“As time goes on military leaders are beginning to understand that excluding gays from the military is not viable”
During times of war, it would be wise for Americans to rally together and bring forth our best and brightest to assist the war effort. Allowing homosexuals to serve in the armed forces increases the number of talented men and women available. Additionally, those potential recruits would not be subjected to the demoralizing invisibility imposed by the veil of discrimination. As the United States approaches its eleventh year of war in both Afghanistan and Iraq, our troops are stretched beyond their limits. Most military personnel are going on their fifth and sixth tours of duty and there is no end in sight. It is common sense to permit gays and lesbians to serve openly with the honor and pride they deserve.
Of late, the movement to end “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” has gained a tremendous amount of momentum. During a recent press conference President Obama related what one of his generals had told him: “One of our Special Forces people is a gay man. He is big, mean, and kills lots of bad guys; we have no problem with his sexual orientation.” Military commanders, as well as political leaders, have stated publicly that the policy is antiquated and needs to end. On May 30, 2010 the House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal the policy.
As time goes on, military leaders are beginning to understand that excluding openly homosexual men and women from the military is not viable. We need as many good people as we can get to fight the two wars in which we are engaged. Most importantly, we need to encourage both our armed forces personnel and our citizens to live up to the values that this country is supposed to represent. For those doing the fighting on the front lines, the sexual orientation of the people on your left and right makes no difference as long as they do the job they volunteered for in a competent and proficient manner. Bullets flying through the air do not differentiate between gay and straight men or women; they kill indiscriminately.