Taking cover

Bill Newcom joined the Missouri Volunteer Infantry in 1847 to serve his country during the Mexican-American War. Something, however, seemed incredibly odd about Bill Newcom. He was not like the other men in the unit because, as it turned out, he was not a man. Bill Newcom was actually Elizabeth Newcom; she hid her gender to join the military and was discharged once she was discovered because women were not allowed to serve in the military. The story of Newcom, a woman who loved her country dearly, seems uncomfortably familiar. Her story reminds me of a modern story - that of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Just as women throughout the 18th and 19th centuries pretended to be men to enlist in the military, gays and lesbians now pretend to be straight to serve their country.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell was instituted in 1993 by President Bill Clinton as a compromise in his attempt to end the ban on gays and lesbians in the military. The policy states that gays and lesbians are allowed in the military, but cannot serve openly. The phrase "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" implies that officials in the military cannot "ask" about the sexual orientation of service members and service members cannot "tell" about their sexual orientation. The military has the right to discharge those who reveal their homosexuality and has already dismissed 12,500 members.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell perpetuates a legacy of discrimination in the military. Just as women and blacks were institutionally discriminated against in the military, now homosexuals are discriminated against in the military. The policy feeds off of fear and ignorance. Military officials once feared women serving alongside men for concerns that the military would turn into a huge cesspool of sex and distraction, yet women were integrated and the world still turns. Similarly, military officials were once wary of black people serving alongside white people because they believed it was abnormal, yet blacks were eventually integrated and the military remains a cohesive unit. The same arguments that prohibited women and black people from joining the military are now being used against gays and lesbians. If the same arguments are being employed - arguments that have been proven to be of ignorant origins - it is only logical to argue that the integration of gays and lesbians in the military would not lead to the demise of American military strength.

If the open service of gays and lesbians would cripple military strength, then why have the United Kingdom,, France, Germany, Israel and 25 other nations retained cohesive militaries with homosexuals serving alongside their heterosexual counterparts? If America is the beacon of equality and liberty, then why does it uphold a policy that aligns America with some of the least tolerant regimes in the world like Sudan and Iran, where homosexuality is a capital crime?

This policy contradicts the concepts of American equality and liberty and has wasted over a quarter billion dollars. Moveover, the policy discharges some of the most qualified people from the military during a time of war. Last year alone, the policy discharged "eight linguists, 20 infantrymen, 16 medical aides and one member of the Army's Special Forces," according to a Washington Post article. It is irrational to discharge such skilled and committed service members when they are needed most. Our military is stretched so thin that service members like Army Ranger, Sgt. First Class Lance Vogeler was on his 12th deployment when he was killed in Afghanistan this month. It is indefensible for the military to discharge qualified and devoted members who happen to be homosexual when the armed forces have dwindled to the point where it must deploy its service members 12 times.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a terrible policy that must be repealed to allow the full, open service of gays and lesbians in the military. The policy continues a legacy of discrimination in this country and is not only an international embarrassment to the integrity of equality in this nation, but is also a waste of limited financial resources and manpower. Just as Elizabeth Newcom no longer has hide under the guise of a man to serve in the military, gays and lesbians should no longer have to use heterosexuality as a cover to serve their country.

Jamie Dailey is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily.

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