Surprise, surprise, surprise! Fort Campbell had the second highest discharge rate in the nation of soldiers under the failed “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy. Clarksville’s neighboring Army base, the site of the brutal 1999 murder of Pfc. Barry Winchell, is still cashiering people out of the service at an alarming rate. According to information obtained by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, 49 soldiers were discharged from the base. That’s up from 19 in 2004.
On a national scale, 782 were discharged, which is up from 668 in 2004. The only base that had a higher number of discharges was Ford Leonard Wood with 60.
The Pentagon has a long history of being resistant to showing any kind of tolerance for GLBT people. In fact, they didn’t even consider removing “homosexuality” from their list of psychological disorders until this year. It wasn’t until they were forced to reconcile their documents with long-standing APA guidelines that top brass even bothered to make the needed adjustment.
In the meantime, able-bodied and honored soldiers still have to live under the threat of being outed and ejected. Recent polls have indicated that most Americans support an end to the ban, and there’s even been talk in Congress about it, even from a few Republican members. As of right now, 110 congress members support an end to the ban.
I’m greatly encouraged by the fact that so many of our neighbors support letting GLBT people serve openly in the military. And the 49 people who were discharged from Fort Campbell last year can take comfort in knowing that the ban will indeed end in the not-too-distant future.
In the end, there is one man who has the capability of striking down the ban outright. Sadly, he is showing no sign of even considering such an executive order. President Bush has pandered to the right-wing so much that he has destroyed any hope of fair and equal treatment of GLBT people under his administration.
When will we have a President that had the backbone, integrity, and courage of Harry Truman? When will we have someone who will stand in the face of religious and institutional bigotry and outright ignorance—and do the right thing for once? President Truman signed two executive orders back-to-back in 1948 which called for the integration of the armed forces and ended racial discrimination in Federal employment.
This was sixteen years before the civil rights act of 1964, and long before Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks ever came on the national scene. Segregation was still in full swing. But Truman saw a different future where people were treated equally no matter what. Why is this so difficult for the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to understand? Alas, there is no courage, no backbone, and a dark cloud of despair still lingers over bases like Fort Campbell for gay and lesbian soldiers.
One of the greatest tragedies is that so many Americans believe the lie that “the homosexual activists have hijacked the civil rights movement.” Sadly, this is especially true in the African-American community where black gay men and lesbians are treated with incredible disdain. Thankfully, organizations like the NAACP are speaking out the truth that civil rights include ALL civil rights, including the civil rights of GLBT people. As a result, more and more people are getting the message.
One person said to me recently that they felt that “sexual orientation is not a race, so it can’t be racism to be against it.” Of course, he’s absolutely right. It’s NOT racism. But it IS a civil rights issue, which covers a plethora of struggles: racial equality, religious rights, women’s rights, and of course, GLBT rights.
Equality is a message that is being shouted from the rooftops now, and sooner or later we’ll have someone listen. Sure, it didn’t help those soldiers that were kicked out of the service last year. But even their ejection might some day provide hope that the American public will finally say, “enough is enough. Let them serve!”