Well, well – it’s Gay Pride month, and the Pentagon is holding its own gay pride event. I know this may surprise some, but it shouldn’t.
The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is going more smoothly than expected and the much feared damage to unit cohesion and retention has not materialized, despite all the dire predictions of people like Elaine Donnelly, who had no real stake in this anyway. (I mean it Elaine. If the national defense had were that important to you, you had every opportunity to enlist.)
This is not just a reflection of the military just doing as it’s told. The military did that with racial integration and that was anything but smooth. Truman ordered the military to integrate during the Korean War and there were still severe racial tensions in Germany, and probably everywhere else, nearly into the 80s. The integration of women into the military has been glacially slow and is not yet complete. This has been different, and for a couple of reasons.
This has been different from sexual integration because the concerns about physical capabilities don’t apply to gay men and lesbian women as gay. A gay man is quite often completely indistinguishable in that respect and every other one too from a straight man, and a lot of gay men are very skilled at maintaining that indistinguishability. It’s called the closet.
And I credit the closet for making this transition different from racial integration. Whatever negative attitudes you may have about gays and other races, the difference is you can see that someone is racially different from you immediately and your prejudices kick right in. But with a gay man you don’t see that; all you see is another soldier, good, bad or indifferent, and you judge him on that basis. Then later even when you somehow find out he’s gay, your opinion of him is already formed, and in the absence of your prejudice.
There are swarms of anecdotes to that effect. “Him? He’s gay? How about that…Give a fuck less; he drove us up out of that ambush. You got a problem with him? Fuck you.”
This kind of attitude goes way back and you hear stories like this from decades ago. The Special Forces – Green Berets – in particular were generally known the be quite breezy on the topic of homosexuality in their units. (And who knows, they may even have enjoyed having yet one more way to affront the sensibilities of the stodgy old conventional forces they loved to look down on.)
But on this mainstream a scale, something else is going on beyond this. I think a lot of the difference is generational. MTV did a lot of heavy lifting in the 90s with this generation of what are now mid-grade officers and NCOs. Times have really, really changed when it comes to general acceptance in society.
But it’s not all generational across the board. It may be generational for the generation that is in mid-grade positions now, but that doesn’t account for the change of heart among generals. When someone like GEN Colin Powell says in the mid-nineties, after he has retired, that DADT is good policy and then later, like last year, reverses himself, that’s not generational. And let’s be sure here to get some level of detail here – these attitudes may or may not have reflected these people’s personal opinions or attitudes about gay people; they much more likely reflected their assessment of what civilians and soldiers in the ranks would think. (And generals generally have only a faint idea of what civilans other than Congressmen think. IIlustrative story available upon request.) In fact it is almost certain that by the time a person makes general he has worked with, and knows he has worked with, gay and lesbian soldiers, and probably has always thought the ban was stupid. For instance it was obvious to anyone who cared to look that GEN “Mad Max” Thurman was playing on the team.
Now if the military could start figuring out how to deal with trans soldiers with some degree of humanity…
So history moves on without raising much dust. I just wish Randy Shilts could have lived to see the day.
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