Category Archives: Gays in the military

A quick update on the Holsinger confirmation hearings

The AP filed a story this afternoon that was then run on the New York Times web page. It’s a disconcerting story in its utterly bland representation of the 1991 paper that Holsinger wrote on homosexuality. Here’s a quote:

Committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said he was worried that Holsinger would let his own ideological beliefs cloud his scientific judgment. He referred to the paper that Holsinger wrote on homosexuality for a study committee of the United Methodist Church.

”Dr. Holsinger’s paper is ideological and decidedly not an accurate analysis of the science then available on homosexuality,” Kennedy said. ”Dr. Holsinger’s paper cherry picks and misuses data to support his thesis that homosexuality is unhealthy and unnatural.”

Holsinger said the 1991 writing was not intended to be a scientific paper and relied on the information available to him at the time.

”First of all, the paper does not represent where I am today. It does not represent who I am today,” Holsinger said.

Holsinger said he was personally troubled by allegations that he harbors bias against gays.

”I’ve worked diligently to provide quality health care to everyone regardless of personal characteristics including sexual orientation,” he said.

As I wrote two days ago, the problems with Holsinger’s paper go beyond the views he expressed on homosexuality, and go beyond what Kennedy claims is a cherry-picking and misusing of data. The problem in that paper, which Holsinger says was not intended to be a scientific paper, is that he doesn’t even cherry pick the data well, nor does he misuse the data in a way that really supports his arguments. The whole paper (which you can find here) is poorly reasoned and weakly written. Whatever it’s intended purpose, it does not represent the quality of work I’d have expected of a 52-year-old doctor (Holsinger’s bio on Wikipedia indicates he was born in 1939).

The article goes on:

Holsinger’s paper is interpreted by gay groups and others as saying that homosexuals face a greater risk of disease and that homosexuality runs counter to anatomical truths.

In the paper, which focuses extensively on human anatomy and the reproductive system, Holsinger said the ”varied sexual practices of homosexual men have resulted in a diverse and expanded concept of sexually transmitted disease and associated trauma.”

Health and Human Services officials said Holsinger wrote the paper when he was asked more than 17 years ago to compile a survey of peer-reviewed scientific data on health issues facing homosexuals.

”Since then, the science has deepened with continued research on these issues. Dr. Holsinger remains focused on addressing the health of all in need, including gay and lesbian populations, consistent with sound science and the best medical practices,” said Health and Human Services spokeswoman Christina Pearson.

It isn’t that gay groups and others interpret the paper to say that homosexuals face greater risk of disease or that homosexuality runs counter to anatomical truths. The paper does say those things. Explicitly. It isn’t a question of spin or interpretation. It’s a question of basic reading comprehension.

And it isn’t okay to explain the paper away by saying it was written more than 17 years ago as a review of peer-reviewed literature on homosexuality, and that the science has deepened since then. Of course the science has deepened since then, but Holsinger’s use of the science that existed when he wrote the paper is poor at best and ideologically driven at worst. It’s nice to say that Holsinger is committed to “addressing the health of all in need…consistent with sound science and the best medical practices” but his paper doesn’t instill confidence in his ability to parse sound science or appropriately evaluate medical or scientific literature.

Meanwhile, HRC reports on the organization’s blog that Holsinger was temporarily stumped today when asked about the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that keeps gays in the military closeted, or fires them if they come out:

Got this email a little while ago from Lara Schwartz, our legal director, on Holsinger’s stance on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

Sen. Sherrod Brown mentioned the 52 fired linguists and asked Holsinger whether homosexuality is more dangerous than untranslated documents and he actually floundered! He eventually stumbled to Al Qaeda being more dangerous, but it took a while.

It’s disconcerting to say the least that a nominee who knows his views on homosexuality are going to be questioned would be unprepared for such a question. It is even more disconcerting that a doctor could possibly believe, or be tempted to believe, that the presence of openly gay members of the military could cause more harm to the military or to the country than might the presence of untranslated intelligence.

It’s not too late to call the Senate switchboard and encourage your senator to support science, intelligence, expertise and experience over loyalty and ideology.

P.S.: According to the AP/NYT article linked above, Holsinger did say he’d resign rather than submit to political pressure to censor his science and his public health program agenda. But he hasn’t convinced me his science-and-health agenda isn’t already in line with the politicians that have done the censoring in the recent past.

 

 

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“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a hateful policy and must be undone

First of all, a big thanks to Tom Joaquin, guest contributor, for his excellent post on General Pace’s disgraceful comments. Such moments of bigotry and immorality on the part of public figures need to be pointed out. There is often too little public outrage about such important issues.

I want to add some of my own thoughts to Tom’s. And I’d preface them the way Tom ended his: I don’t support the war in Iraq. I don’t support war as a solution to international conflict in general. I do, though, believe that the institutions of this society need to be arranged according to principles of equality and social justice. If we are to have a military, it must be on that does not depend on bigotry and hatred and discrimination. All must have an equal chance to serve.

It often surprises me that, given our society’s blatant and persistent discrimination against gays and lesbians, that they want to serve in the military in the first place. But it is naive of me to wonder about that. Gays and lesbians, despite being targets of discrimination, despite increasing antagonism toward them, are just as likely to feel called to defend their country as anyone else is. In addition, the military has become, for many poorer and working class young people, a route to college in a society that makes higher education increasingly unaffordable. For those reasons, it is extremely important to change the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that currently forces them into the closet and reinforces homophobia, heterosexism, and hatred.

The “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is hateful in a number of ways.

First, it says “sure, you can serve, and you can offer your life, but only if you hide who you are.” This is a policy that contributes to homophobia and heterosexism while still accepting the sacrifices made by gays and lesbians. It’s like saying “come, serve in a system that hates you and will not acknowledge you, but will happily take your life.”

Second, it says “discrimination against gays is okay, while discrimination against other groups is not.” The military has been one of the best institutions at providing equal opportunity regardless of race or ethnicity. We went from a segregated military to an integrated one relatively quickly, and now the military – and I don’t say this enthusiastically by any means – is one of the most reliable (and dangerous) ways for young men and women of color to get training, get access to college, and to move up the economic ladder. Racism is no longer systematically tolerated in the military. But gay and lesbian soldiers are subjected to institutional closeting and to individual harassment and abuse because of a system that is based on homophobia and heterosexism. (It is interesting, and probably connected to this, that the military has done a better job at integrating racially and ethnically than it has done at integrating genders. While women are technically allowed to do nearly all the same jobs that men in the military can do, they are quite often targets of individual violence and harassment. That connection is perhaps best explored in another post.)

Third, it says “we’re so invested in our homophobia and heterosexism that we’ll put our military at risk in order to reinforce our biases.” I remember my shock when I read a story back in 2002 about linguists being dismissed from the Army because they were gay. This was at a time when, as a nation, we were focused on the problems our Military Intelligence units were facing because of their lack of linguists fluent in the languages of “the war on terror.” Recent articles describing the shortages in mid-level officers, and the difficulties that the branches of the military are having in recruiting enough soldiers to fight our misguided wars also point to the risk that the military puts itself in when it excludes groups who want to serve. It is shocking to think that we are willing to put our national defense, and our soldiers’ lives at risk in order to maintain our systematic discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Fourth, it insults our allies, who nearly universally allow gays and lesbians to serve without question. It would seem to be evidence of a lack of confidence in their militaries when we say that we think our own military would be weakened if we did what they’ve been doing for many years.

There are those who would say that “as a country we’re just not ready yet” for gays in the military. They might even say that to allow gays to serve would be to create conflict among troops who need instead to have great trust in each other. They might try to argue that it is wrong to “force” people to accept gays and lesbians because some religious traditions say that homosexuality is a sin. To those people I would say this: Religion has been used to justify horrors in the past, and we have learned from those incidents. Mainstream Christians wouldn’t think of using the Bible to justify slavery today even though that might have been a common strategy not so long ago. We were not ready for racial integration when Brown v. Board of education was decided but we got ready in a hurry, at least in some institutions. We still aren’t an integrated society, but we’ve made some progress, and the military in particular has done better than most sectors of society. They can do the same in this case. We should not cater to individuals’ discomfort, bias, or hatred in our social policies. We should create policies that work at undermining those biases, not policies that support them.

I echo Tom’s call to write to your representatives in the House and Senate, and to write to local papers (click here for some advice if you need help getting started), and to write to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Pace, himself.

Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chairman
9999 Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon
Room 4E873
Washington, DC 20318
Fax: (703) 697-8758

Feel free to use any part of this post, non-commercially and with attribution, in your efforts.

Onward!

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Filed under culture, Don't ask don't tell, Gays in the military, Homophobia, News and politics, sex, sex and the law, sexual orientation, sexuality

Speak out on General Pace’s disgraceful words!

This post, by Sex in the Public Square contributor Tom Joaquin, was originally published on his blog, The Free Lance.

General Peter Pace, the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced on Monday his personal opinion that simply being a gay or lesbian person is immoral, and that the military should therefore continue to refuse gays and lesbians the opportunity to serve in the military. Well, to be more precise, he supports the official military policy, that gays and lesbians can sign up, as long as they’re willing to crawl into the military closet and deny who they are.

The current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is immoral because it openly requires dishonesty, and treats gays and lesbians as second class citizens. It is unconstitutional because it punishes by exclusion gays and lesbians, not because of what they’ve done, but because of who they are; this type of “status crime” was years ago determined unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.

General Pace’s delicate moral niceties are archaic. Barry Goldwater, the bastion of all that’s conservative, and 37 year veteran of the military, announced years ago his support of the right of gays and lesbians to be in the military:

The big thing is to make this country, along with every other country in the world with a few exceptions, quit discriminating against people just because they’re gay. You don’t have to agree with it, but they have a constitutional right to be gay. And that’s what brings me into it…. why the hell shouldn’t they serve? They’re American citizens. As long as they’re not doing things that are harmful to anyone else.

Vice-President Dick Cheney, while Secretary of Defense under the first President Bush, called security concerns about gays and lesbians an “old chestnut” and referred to the idea that “a gay lifestyle is incompatible with military service” as “a policy I inherited.” These comments were made by Cheney just after his assistant secretary of defense, Pete Williams was outed as a gay man.

The world has moved on ahead of the US. There are at least 26 nations that allow gays and lesbians to serve, including Israel, Australia, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Columbia, and every country in the European Union, which requires all members to abolish any bans on open service.

Pace’s comparison with adultery is specious. According to files received by Salon pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request the military, under General Pace, is currently providing waivers for at least 17% of incoming recruits, accepting recruits with civilian criminal records including domestic abuse, assault, breaking and entering and auto theft. An outstanding article by Helen Benedict, also published in Salon, documents the pervasive threat of rape and sexual harassment women soldiers in Iraq live with daily. Perhaps General Pace should focus his moral concerns on matters of real substance existing within the scope of his responsibility.

The Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has let the world know what he thinks Department of Defense policy should be, based upon his morals. He has also provided encouragement and cover for the continued harassment and abuse of men and women by their fellows and those in their chain of command. Sounds pretty damn immoral to me.

Please note: I am personally against the action in Iraq and support plans to withdraw troops now. I am not advocating for the war in Iraq, but for the right to openly serve in the military without regard to sexual orientation. Tom

IMPORTANT: If you agree with me, write your representatives in Congress and the Senate as well as General Pace, and write your local papers. Register your disapproval with General Pace’s remarks and your support for changing military policy to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. General Pace can be reached at:

Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chairman
9999 Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon
Room 4E873
Washington, DC 20318
Fax: (703) 697-8758

All or any part of this post can be used, with attribution, for any non-commercial purpose to help spread the word.

-Tom Joaquin, The Free Lance

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