Gays in the U.S.
military face continuing hostility on some bases and
ships where commanders fail to prohibit harassment more than
a decade after "don't ask, don't tell" was enacted,
although seeds of greater tolerance may be taking
root, a Reuters investigation reveals. While some
leaders have created environments in which harassment
is not tolerated, others have not, and the evidence,
according to witnesses, is both verbal and visual.
On the Navy's USS
Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, for
example, antigay statements and jokes are on display and
have been incorporated into a video about the F-14 Tomcat
fighter aircraft, recently shown to reporters on the
carrier. Pilots on the Roosevelt sported T-shirts,
also shown to reporters including this Reuters
correspondent, that said, "I'm a Tomcat guy and you're
a homo." The commander of the fighter squadron, in
fact, wore the shirt.
"The line between
that and threats and violence can be quite thin," said
Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of
Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of
California, Santa Barbara.
Openly gay people
are prohibited from serving in the U.S. military under
a 1993 policy known as "don't ask, don't tell." The military
can't ask if a service member is gay, but those who say they
are gay are discharged. The U.S. military argues that
barring gays from the military is critical to
maintaining a unit's "cohesion," the trust among
service members crucial to combat effectiveness.
gays, however, is prohibited. The Pentagon, in a 2000 memo
to the armed services and commanders, said "mistreatment,
harassment, and inappropriate comments or gestures"
based on sexual orientation were not acceptable. That
followed a report from the Defense Department's
inspector general that found that 80% of service members
surveyed had heard antigay comments and 37% had
witnessed harassment against people thought to be
displays aboard the Roosevelt should be seen as
harassment, said Steve Ralls, communications director
for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy
group working to see "don't ask, don't tell" repealed.
"That type of behavior has real consequences," Ralls
said, pointing to the antigay graffiti allowed at Fort
Campbell in Kentucky before the 1999 murder of Pfc.
Barry Winchell, thought to be a gay soldier.
In response to
questions from Reuters, Navy rear admiral Denby Starling,
commander of the Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, said
the antigay messages witnessed on the Roosevelt
are "contrary to Navy policy and core values and have
no place within Naval Aviation or the Navy."
notification of your observations, Naval Aviation
leadership engaged to take corrective action," he said via
e-mail. "Steps have been taken to ensure that the
offending messages have been removed. Squadron and air
wing leadership have been counseled regarding the
inappropriate tone set by such messages and poor judgment
demonstrated in allowing their display." (Reuters)