I joined the navy in 1983, which means that I served for about ten years when it was illegal for homosexuals to enter the military.
Even though it was illegal, I think it is safe to assume that there still were homosexuals serving during that time; but back then since I was young and singularly focused on doing all those things that sailors have always been renowned for doing…you know what I’m talking about: a yo ho ho and a bottle of rum and all that other fun stuff (wink)…I did not pay the issue of homosexuals in the military much mind. And as far as I can remember, neither did any of the sailors I hung out with back then.
Thinking back, I remember working with several individuals during the first ten years of my enlistment who were assumed to be gay, but it was no big deal. It was no big deal to me, to my friends, or to the command where we all worked. The assumed homosexuals came to work and did their job the best they could, just like everyone else and that was pretty much it.
The only time when my group of friends and I did talk about homosexuals in regard to their homosexuality was probably when we were making juvenile fun of what we saw as their eccentricities.
I am sorry about that. I guess I could try to excuse my behavior back then on the fact that I was young and a victim of a cultural socialization process that bent toward homophobia. However, while my opinions and attitudes have evolved since then, unfortunately, I am still not completely guilt-free when it comes to occasionally behaving in a juvenile manner, even though I know that this type of “harmless” behavior may be enabling someone elses more aggressive, dangerous behavior.
Evolution is a slow process.
Still, as far as I can tell, for the first half of my navy career, most sailors really didn’t pay the issue of homosexuals in the military hardly any mind.
That all changed under President Clinton’s watch, however. Once he made allowing homosexuals to serve in the military an issue, it became an issue for all service members — a big one.
Prior to Clinton’s presidency, I have no recollection whatsoever of there being any open hostility or harassment towards homosexuals in the military. I am in no way saying that there wasn’t any open hostility or harassment towards homosexuals for the first ten years of my career, I’m only saying that if there was, it did not leave an impression on my internal google, for I cannot pull up any recollections; nor has it left an impression on the external google, for I cannot pull up any major stories or websites profiling open hostility or harassment towards homosexuals in the military prior to President Clinton making it an issue. (My definition for major is at least a story or a website that makes it on the first page of google’s search results. If I have to dig deeper than that then to me it must not have been a major event. I know, that’s a weak rationale for a lazy research method but it’s what I’m going with.)
But it seems that once homosexuals in the military became a national issue, folks of all over the country began to take notice, especially the closet homophobes.
Soon afterward, open hostility, harassment, and even assaults towards homosexuals began making the news.
Presidential candidate Bill Clinton made allowing homosexuals to openly serve in the military an issue throughout his 1990-1991 presidential campaign.
This sailor was stomped to death in October 1992.
President Clinton issued Defense Directive 1304.26 which became known as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in December 1993.
This college student was pistol whipped and tortured to death in October 1998.
This soldier was beat to death with a baseball bat in July 1999.
And now, with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and with the nation’s attention focused more than ever on the issue of homosexuals in the military, we may wonder if there will be additional hostility, harassment, and assaults toward homosexuals.
I am afraid we may already have our answer.
Presidential candidate Barack Obama made allowing homosexuals to openly serve in the military an issue throughout his 2007-2008 presidential campaign.
Democrats began ramping up their efforts to repeal the ban in Congress in March 2009.
This sailor was gunned down and burned in July 2009.
This civilian was beaten by two marines in July 2010.
Maybe it’s a stretch to try to link these deaths and beatings to the fact that the nation is focusing on the issue of homosexuals serving in the military, maybe it’s not. Regardless, we all should hope for the best when the repeal is finally lifted sometime this year and homosexuals are allowed to openly serve. But while we are hoping for the best, we should also remain vigilante to the possibility that the risks toward our newly liberated brothers and sisters in arms may significantly increase as the nation continues to focus on this issue for the foreseeable future.