Anti-gay bias indefensible (Boston Herald)

As a prior service Marine, I know a few things about following orders. When I served as a Marine Embassy Guard in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and India, my unit did what we were told and we did it well. One of the things we also obeyed was “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” and if that law were to be repealed, I can say assuredly that we’d obey a policy that doesn’t discriminate. I didn't know of any gays or lesbians while I was serving but I’m not sure if any of my fellow Marines would have been comfortable telling me. My civilian sister however was – coming out to me and my family a few short years before I was deployed. While I was fighting abroad I wasn’t able to offer as much support as I would have liked, but her coming out allowed me to clearly see the discrimination that was taking place right in front of my eyes.

Gay and lesbian service members are forced to lie about themselves day in and day out. Imagine not being able to say a single word about what you did with your wife or husband over the weekend. In our conservative Portuguese-American family, imagine the pressure my sister went through concealing her identity and now imagine multiplying that by thousands of soldiers. We need our service members to perform, not worry about hiding.

While protecting diplomatic missions abroad, I was sustained in part by falling in love and sharing stories of my relationships with my fellow Marines. I think about the toll it must take on those in my unit who are hiding who they are, forced to create stories of loved ones that do not exist and having to say “she” instead of “he.”

Opponents of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” argue that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military would be detrimental to unit cohesion. But what is unit cohesion? It's the relationships between service members that facilitate the effective execution of missions. For those of us who have been in the military, unit cohesion is the bond between you and your brothers- and sisters-in-arms whom you trust with your life. Nothing in the world could break those bonds. In fact, a fellow Marine hiding something from the rest of the unit is what would damage our cohesion.

The assumption that straight service members like me would be unable to serve side-by-side with openly gay soldiers is insulting. It assumes that I am too unprofessional and intolerant to serve next to somebody who has a different sexual orientation than me. The policy doesn't take into account the lives and experiences the current generation serving has outside of the military.

Allowing gays to serve openly is sometimes mistaken as a moral issue but it’s really a national security issue. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is responsible for discharging nearly 14,000 service members. As many as 800 of these discharged service members were military specialists, such as medical and intelligence specialists, Arabic translators or Korean linguists, and fighter pilots.

Congress will have the chance to vote in the next week whether or not to improve our military readiness by repealing the failed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. We cannot wait one more day to end the law that hurts gay and lesbian service members every day and weakens the ability of our armed forces to focus on the mission at hand.

Published in the Boston Herald (May 25, 2010):