The War at Home

Michelangelo Signorile weighs in on 'Don't ask, don't tell.'



So excuse some of us veteran reporters for being fearful of a similar scenario playing out when we hear about another review now under way. (Substantial research has already shown that unit cohesion is unaffected by allowing gay soldiers to serve openly.) Massachusetts representative Barney Frank, who was there as well in 1993, said as much on my radio program in February regarding a Pentagon review of the policy. “I was actually a little troubled by some of Gates’s approach,” Frank said. “I have no idea what he plans to study when he talked about housing. I’m not aware that they had double beds in the military.”

Frank certainly remembers what the hysteria over sleeping quarters and showers did back then, and surely he’s worried about how the 24-hour news cycle might focus on those matters now. So far, it’s not been encouraging. Like junkies who fell off the wagon, the media were once again in full lurid form following President Barack Obama’s pledge to end DADT in his State of the Union address. They were happy to float supposed problems posed by the presence of openly gay men in the military and paraded religious moralists back on the airwaves. CNN anchors routinely raised the issue of “showers” and “separate barracks” throughout the day of the Senate hearing—red herrings disrespectfully thrown at several openly gay discharged service members invited on as guests. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution actually claimed young recruits couldn’t handle gays because they tend to be “testosterone-laden” and cannot accept “alternative forms of lifestyle.” Later that day, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council popped up on the network to argue against what he has called the “sexualization” of the military—as though he’s a military expert.

MSNBC, the supposed “liberal” network, invited Perkins’s Family Research Council colleague Peter Sprigg, on Chris Matthews’s Hardball to debate Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Why are religious ideologues from a conservative Christian group positioned as authorities on the military and sexuality? Even Matthews was forced to question why his own guest was on the show after Sprigg couldn’t offer some basic statistics on gay soldiers. By the end of the segment, Sprigg said, “I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.”

Almost immediately after the hearing, the Associated Press and other news outlets began reporting that, though public opinion has shifted in favor of DADT ­repeal, attitudes within the military are split. In fact, we don’t have enough recent polling to make that conclusion. A 2006 Zogby International poll found that two thirds of soldiers who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and knew a gay person serving with them said there was no effect on unit cohesion. On National Public Radio, California representative Duncan Hunter claimed that “transgenders” and “hermaphrodites” will soon invade the military. Though at first it seemed to ignore the hearing entirely, Fox News surely didn’t disappoint its anti-gay base. By the end of the week, Lt. Col. Oliver North was on Hannity asserting that allowing gays to serve openly would open the door to “NAMBLA members.”