I was waiting for a streetcar yesterday after work when a man came over and sprung upon me one of the bigger topics in the news today. He seemed like a nice enough man, and I could tell by his wounded veterans T-shirt that he’d served at some point, so I didn’t mind giving him some time.
The conversation started about Portland, in general, and how people here are so rarely rude. He mentioned having lived in the Old Town/Chinatown district, where he saw some rather interesting people and things during his stay. The subject somehow shifted to a gay pride parade, at which point he launched into his diatribe.
He spoke about the danger of waiving “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy whereby homosexuals are allowed to serve in the armed forces, but they must keep their sexual orientation private. It appears this policy is on the way out, and this man was seriously opposed to it. He reasoned that most of the people who serve in the armed forces come from rural areas and haven’t been exposed to different lifestyles. He predicted openly gay soldiers would be subject to harassment, beatings and even murder, which would be swept under the rug even by the highest ranking officers.
“I’m not getting stuck in a foxhole with some faggot,” he so eloquently said.
This is normally where I’d walk away, but we were waiting at the same stop for the same street car. So I tried to remain civil.
I explained to him it was my feeling any American should be free to serve in our armed services. If one feels the calling to defend our country, that should be enough. And if those serving our country are defending our freedom, as it is so often said, shouldn’t that mean also defending the freedom to be gay, as well?
He gave my opinion a moment as the streetcar rolled in to our stop.
“Can I tell you something personal?” he asked.
“About six years ago, I was wounded in a tank explosion. While I was in recovery, I was raped by a homosexual. They can’t control themselves,” he said.
This is where the conversation was left as we dispersed onto the streetcar. I couldn’t be sure if that experience shifted his perspective on homosexuals serving, but my sense is he was probably opposed to it beforehand. I couldn’t even be sure his story was true. That was beside the point.
I went to the gym, tried my best to blow off some steam, but couldn’t shake the idea the man’s opinion — albeit hateful and ill-informed — may have had some truth to it.
I called the one friend I have who’s served. He could also provide some interesting perspective because he’s the farthest thing from a bigot. In fact, he has many close homosexual friends. I knew his opinion was better informed, even if he was from a more rural part of the country that the other man had referred to.
Surprisingly, my friend agreed with the man’s sentiment. He felt it in the best interest of homosexuals to keep their orientation private, at least while in training. Once in the field, where bonds have been formed and trust has been earned, homosexuals may be in a better place to admit their sexuality. He agreed this was wrong, but it was a matter of mass ignorance and misunderstanding that’s very real.
I feel a little insecure about espousing my beliefs on gays in the armed forces when I have never and will never serve. However, honoring the First Amendment — one of the many freedoms our soldiers continue to protect — I say I hope for a military that reflects the population which it defends. That means gender, race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation should have no bearing on one’s right to serve. It’s plainly wrong to disallow homosexuals to be openly gay in order to protect the insecurities of some fellow soldiers. That’s not what equality is about. That’s not what America is about.
If I would’ve written this last night, it would’ve been thousands of words longer. It seems like a natural topic to opine on, but again, as a civilian, I feel my grasp of reality — from a military culture standpoint — leaves me limited at best. Maybe someone reading this has a better take. What’s yours?
Note: Respecting this is a controversial topic, I encourage anyone feeling anxiety responding to simply post anonymously. I’m more interested in discourse than disclosure.