GOP’s Dehumanizing of our LGBT troops

Posted on 02 Dec 2010 at 10:44pm

There are much to say about the Senate hearings that just concluded. I was quite taken aback to see Sen Evan Bayh emerge as a full-on gay rights hero. Ok, he’s not back up for re-election. But neither is Blanche Lincoln and she’s as useless as ever. So, good for him.

And there was a lovely irony seeing Lindsay Graham describe findings that most people are OK with gay people as “astounding.” Even more so, by the testy exchange he had with Admiral Mullen, where Mullen seemed frustrated with his fruitless attempt to impress on Sen. Graham that there is value in treating gay people with respect and dignity.

But I want to speak to a particular tactic I saw the GOP engaging in: the denial of gay as being a facet of a person’s identity. The idea, that being gay is only what goes on in the bedroom.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos, give a rec if you got it please.
We saw Jeff Session push this very overtly. He objected to comparisons to race, saying that gay people are defined only by acts not the color of their skin.

But to anyone who ever adjusted to the idea of accepting a gay brother, sister, son, daughter, mother, father, we know this to be abjectly false. If all that mattered what what someone did in the privacy of their bedroom it wouldn’t be a significant revelation, anymore than you’d concern yourself if they liked it cowboy or reverse cowboy.

In truth, we recognize, it realigns our ideas, our expectations, our understanding of people who we’ve known and loved for years. More often than not, the revelation is overblown. But there are adjustments, the expectation of grandchildren, the challenge of welcoming partners into family gatherings that may not be exactly what were expected. There are concerns for their safety, employment, happiness.

The hypocrisy of this was in full display when Senator Scott Brown used the heart-rending episode of visiting a soldier in Walter Reid Hospital as a backdrop for his remarks. He described seeing a paraplegic veteran doing ab crunches.

Brown said, “I never asked if they were straight or gay.”

Fair enough. That might have been a out of bounds question.

But ask yourself, Senator, as you sat next to that soldier’s bed, did you ask him, “What’s next soldier? When you get home, do you have someone to care for you? Do you have someone who will help you dress your wounds? Do you have someone that may cook you meals, help you get onto the toilet? Do you have someone to drive you to physical therapy?”

Did you concern yourself for more than a passing instant for the reality of these soldier’s lives? Because for the LGB servicemembers, the difference in their coming home experience will be stark.

  • The partners of LGB servicemembers will not have access to VA support groups.
  • They will not be visited by most military chaplains.
  • The LGB servicemembers compensation will be different. The financial burden for a non-working partner will be greater for LGB families.
  • The partners of LGB servicemembers will not be ignored and forgotten. And the whole family will suffer.

We are bonded by more than acts in a bedroom. We are bonded by love.

The discrepancies will continue, until the Defense of Marriage Act falls. In the meantime, the gay community has stepped up to fill the void (see Servicemembers United’s new Millitary Partners program.)

We are family. Military prides itself on taking care of families, as they do the servicemembers. But DADT forbids that. DADT leaves LGB servicemembers’ families locked out, in the dark, without recognition or support. Active duty LGB servicemembers risk discharge every time they reach out an even so much as speak to their partners on the phone or send them an email.

America has moved on. America increasingly recognizes gay people are family too. Just yesterday Illinois passed a civil unions bill that will soon be signed into law, affording the LGBT families of Illinois a measure of legal recognition and the protection of the state on some of their interests.

It matters. Admiral Mike Mullen gets that. I was so pleased to see him engage passionately with McCain and Graham, defending the dignity of his LGB soldiers, and as he himself said, the integrity of the armed forces itself. He’s also conceded the military, which a proud tradition of leading on social issues, is “clearly not leading” on this one. He wants to play to catch up, the Senate needs to let him.

“We treat each other with respect or we find another place to work.”–Admiral Mike Mullen.

Photos courtesy of Jo Ann Santangelo, from her new book, Proud to Serve portraits of LGBT servicemembers. A great Christmas gift, available for here.
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