Hear Me Out
|by Mubarak Dahir|
Two recent contrasting news stories about gays and lesbians in the military struck me as sadly telling.
The first was a story about how American soldiers are being outedand dischargedwhen their superiors notice online postings that somehow give away the fact that the soldiers are gay.
In fact, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington D.C.-based organization that helps gay and lesbian soldiers navigate issues around Don't Ask, Don't Tell, said that it spent about a quarter of its time and energy so far this year working on outing cases that involve the Internet.
In response to the apparently growing problem, SLDN just came out with a guideline for gay and lesbian military personnel who go online.
The second story that caught my attention about gays in the military had this headline: "Thailand Oks Gay, Transsexual Soldiers."
On August 10, Thailand lifted its restrictions on gays and transsexuals serving in the military.
Thailand has a mandatory draft registration system for all young men. Soldiers are chosen on a lottery-based system.
But until recently, gay men and transsexuals had been barred from the military due to a "mental disorder" rule.
Now, Thailand's military has removed gays and transsexuals from its list of mental disorders, and will no longer prevent them from serving in the military.
Gay rights activists, who had been lobbying for years to have the rule rescinded, hailed the move as a huge victory.
Though the fight to lift listing gays and transsexuals as mentally disordered is one that activists in Thailand have been fighting for years, the battle got a punch, so to speak, from Parinya Charoenphol, a celebrity Thai-style kickboxer who underwent gender reassignment surgery to become a woman.
A film about Charoenphol's life, titled "Beautiful Boxer," was released earlier this year.
Charoenphol generated renewed interest in Thailand's ban on gays and transsexuals when she complained on Thai national TV about the rule.
"The words 'mental disorder' marked on the [exemption] certificate seriously affects our lives," Charoenphol said.
Other gay activists have said that getting the label of having a mental disorder makes it extremely difficult for gays and transsexuals to get jobs in Thailand.
Now, gay and transsexual Thai citizens won't have the stigma of being classified as mentally ill.
The American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders more than 30 years ago, back in 1973.
But that hasn't stopped the American military from preventing gays and lesbians from serving openly in the Armed Forces.
According to a study by the Government Accountability Office, more than 10,000 gay and lesbian military personnel have been discharged since the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy was introduced in 1993.
Discovering people are gay through the Internet, and discharging them for it, is just the latest twist in the American military's ongoing battle with homophobia.
Last month, Jeff Howe, a 32-year-old in the U.S. Army who was stationed in Iraq, was discharged after his command found out he was gay through his online profile.
The military began investigating Howe when he posted photos on his blog of an American Army vehicle blown up by rocket fire in Iraq.
Howe, who had already served one tour in Iraq and was on his second, joined the Army after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Unites States.
But apparently, his homosexuality is more urgent than the war in Iraq.
The irony about Howe's case is that he is the exception rather than the rule to Don't Ask, Don't Tell during a time of war.
According to SLDN, there has been a 40 percent drop in gay or lesbian discharges from the military since September 11. The organization also says that servicemembers who are deployed in a war zone are far less likely to be discharged than those serving on bases at home.
In response to the recent Internet outings of military personnel, the SLDN issued some guidelines for servicemembers who may go online.
Most of the guidelines seem like common sense advice: Don't use your real name in a profile.
Don't say what branch of the military you are in. Don't show your face or identifying features, like unique tattoos. Don't use military computers when going to gay sites.
While these tips may seem incredibly logical, the main point may be in the fact that many members do not even realize that going online is such a risk to their careers.
It's not something a lot of them think about. They shouldn't have to. But if they want to stay in their jobs, they better. Meanwhile, in Thailanda country that is not embroiled in a foreign wargays can now serve freely.
Mubarak Dahir, editor of The Express, the GLBT newspaper in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, may be reached at MubarakDahir@aol.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 12 August 26, 2005