Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell brings back memories

Herewith an excerpt from this morning's Washington Post:

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 19, 2010; 12:10 AM
The U.S. military will for the first time in history allow gays to serve openly after the Senate voted Saturday to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," the policy that has required such troops to hide their sexual identity or risk being expelled from the services.

I am carried back to the 1960s. October 10-11, 1966, to be precise. A fraternity brother and I celebrated my 19th birthday with drivers' licenses borrowed from frat brothers who looked a little like us. Gloriously tanked at 2:00 AM, we worked our way back to the frat house --- Phi Kappa Psi --- jeans draped over our arms and mooning traffic as we went. A Lancaster (PA) cop arrested us. Ultimately we pled guilty to disorderly conduct and spent a year on disciplinary probation at Franklin & Marshall College.

Fast forward three years. I had enlisted in the Coast Guard, passed the exam for OCS, completed boot camp at Cape May (NJ)(I was my company's Honor Man), and was stationed on Governor's Island in New York Harbor... awaiting selection for the Spring 1970 OCS class. One day, I was summoned into the exec's office. He advised me that the FBI background check had turned up my Lancaster police record. Embarrassed, he inquired if I was a homosexual. I assured him I was not.

Breathing a sigh of relief, he pushed a sheet of paper across his desk to me. It was a statement that under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it was a crime for a gay man to serve in the military, and a crime for me to falsely assert I wasn't gay. I signed the paper. And to my surprise, I was selected into the Spring 1970 OCS class despite my "criminal" record.

Fast forward another 20 years or so. Clinton is in the White House. Typical of the man who would later claim that oral sex in the Oval Office didn't amount to sexual relations, Clinton came up with "don't ask, don't tell." Outraged, the main academic governance body at the university where I work withdrew course credit from military science courses being taught by the ROTC program on campus. Not long after that, the ROTC unit was combined with those of two neighboring colleges and began drilling elsewhere.

Now, four decades after my Coast Guard brush with the US military's homophobia, Uncle Sam is finally doing the right thing. I never thought I'd live to see a black face in the White House. Nor did I think I'd see this eminently just reform in military law. I am happy this morning that I have lived to see both. (This old cynic needs all the encouraging news he can get in order to march into the second decade of this nasty century.)

U.s. Military Justice Handbook - Uniform Code of Military Justice, Title 10, U.s.c. Chapter 47

Index-digest and annotations to the Uniform code of military justice

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