Caught in the Crossfire
BY Advocate Contributors
October 12 2009 9:00 PM ET
Army sergeant Manzella, originally from Portland, N.Y., was deployed in 2004 to Iraq, where he provided emergency treatment on the streets of Baghdad, earning him the Combat Medical Badge. Now 32, he was discharged last year after two tours of duty in the Middle East.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was supposed to preserve critical talent and allow gays and lesbians to serve their country honorably. Instead, gay discharges skyrocketed as those who were ready and willing to put their lives on the line were ousted simply because of whom they love.
The effect of discharge—and fear of discharge—on gay troops is immeasurable, causing financial hardship, family strain, anxiety, and depression. Deployed service members have it especially hard, as support networks outside the military are limited while overseas. The conditions of war are difficult for every service member, but the unique burdens faced by gays and lesbians have driven their suicide rate well above the already high military average.
For those who leave families behind, including children, partners, and spouses, stresses run particularly high. DADT strains family connections by punishing gay and lesbian service members for keeping family photos or e-mailing their loved ones. Because gay troops are forbidden to reveal their sexual orientation, their partners and families have no way to access the vast resources offered to most military families. They are also denied access to crucial information about deployed family members, including their status, condition, return dates, or even whether they have been killed.
But the price of the ban is not paid by gays alone. In addition to the national security costs of throwing out badly needed military personnel, DADT has cast a pall of suspicion over the private lives of gays and straights alike, encouraging conformity to damaging and outdated stereotypes of “proper” gender behavior. Whatever one’s actual orientation, the easiest way to convince others that one is straight is to exaggerate traditional hetero roles, which too often means disparaging women and gays. This pressure to conform and the need to lie to one’s peers to stay in uniform are hardly recipes for unit cohesion, morale, or readiness. They’re the ingredients of ignorance, harassment, and repression. And they’re the price we all pay to prop up a policy that reflects moral animus and political expediency, and was never based on sound research or military necessity in the first place.