“That’s so gay,” is something sailors hear more than ten times a day. Whether people intend to offend homosexuals or not, this and similar comments are indicators of ongoing discrimination against homosexuals in our armed forces. Like sayings that are offensive to any other minority, words attacking gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) shipmates should not be tolerated. Although rules to address this issue already are in place, they are not strictly enforced or taken seriously. Because homosexuals are disliked by many, our problems often are swept under the rug or dealt with in an unprofessional manner. We fight for everyone else’s freedoms, yet we are treated like second-class citizens.
In 1942, psychiatric screening was added to the recruiting process, and it listed homosexuality as a disqualifying trait. In the years following, service members who were discovered to be homosexuals were court-martialed, evaluated by psychiatrists, and discharged for lying. It was not until the wars in Korea and Vietnam that the military “lightened up” on its criteria. Some notable servicemen were “salvaged” because of the shortage of well-trained combat personnel. Unfortunately, as soon as the need for these warriors diminished, the military discharged nearly 17,000 homosexuals. The Department of Defense formally excluded homosexuals in 1982, issuing a policy stating that “their presence would be detrimental to the high standards of morale, good order, and discipline that the military upholds.”
Attempts to repeal these policies were unsuccessful until the American people elected Bill Clinton President in 1994. His “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” put into effect on 28 February 1994, relaxed the rules. While it prohibited individuals from discriminating against closeted homosexuals, it still banned these individuals from disclosing their homosexuality. Unfortunately, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” regulations were twisted and used to discharge an estimated 13,000 people. Thankfully, following the reelection of President Barack Obama in 2012, this policy was repudiated, and constraints on homosexuals serving were lifted.
Despite this progress, the approximately 66,000 homosexuals serving in the military still are treated differently. The Navy’s guidance regarding one’s sexual orientation states, “Enforcement of standards, including those related to public display of affection, dress and appearance, and fraternization, will be sexual orientation neutral.” Essentially, this means men must dress in men’s clothing and women must dress in women’s clothing. Gay male sailors are not authorized to wear short shorts, apply make-up, or wear earrings in or out of uniform.
While in uniform, just like women, men should be allowed to wear make-up that complements their skin tone. It is inconsistent and hypocritical that on some installations male makeup is ignored or accepted and on other installations it is prohibited. Preventing men from wearing earrings is another sexist rule. Men wearing small studs in their ears is no more prejudicial to good order and discipline than women doing so. Men should be authorized to wear simple stud earrings while in uniform or in civilian attire. They should be authorized to wear any type of jewelry women wear.
Military rules tend to accept masculine women while remaining intolerable of feminine men. Female sailors rarely have been stopped at a front gate or quarterdeck for wearing baggy cargo shorts, extra-large t-shirts, and tennis shoes—an outfit originally intended for men. Women can shave their heads, but the second a man puts on concealer and wears thigh-high shorts, he is reprimanded for failing to meet the old, conservative regulations. If a man wishes to express himself in a feminine way, it should not affect his career in the military.
Rules targeting gays cause additional stress, depression, and isolation in the work center. Since sailors are “entitled to an environment free from personal, social, or institutional barriers,” gender-specific regulations must be repealed. These rules do not allow the tens of thousands of LGBT members to live and serve without constantly being ridiculed for their lifestyles. Discrimination ensures many LGBT service members will continue to lack the confidence to be themselves because they fear backlash. Any sailor operating with confidence is going to be a stronger asset to the military than one without it.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s recent announced changes to the military’s LGBT policies hold promise if they do not fall short in implementation. Current regulations need to be rewritten so they clearly state the rights of homosexuals. Writing regulations with vague terminology, such as “this is authorized only when in good taste,” leaves the decision up to someone who may not be open minded to LGBT individuals. If such regulations are to be instilled, they need to be respectfully applied to all minorities—not just gay men.
After revisions are made there needs to be meaningful training—just like for drug and sexual assault prevention—on how to properly address LGBT issues. Superiors also need training regarding these issues to properly assist and advocate for affected sailors. I have been told many times that I would not last long in the military because of the way “my people” are treated. This is not something military leaders should ever say, or even think.
To make the naval profession stronger, we must fix our equality problems for all minorities. We are encouraged to recite the Sailor’s Creed often to reinforce the ethos of our service to the nation. Yet, do all sailors accept its full meaning? We must stop allowing so many to ignore the last line; “I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.”