I was reading through Towleroad today here at work, and came upon his entry on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He posted a video from Robert Greenwalds Brave New Foundation regarding the firing of gay Arabic linguists and the U.S. military's shameful policy.
There's a shortage of military translators who know Arabic. One of the translators who is fluent in Arabic was discharged from the military in March because he's gay. Stephen Benjamin was a petty officer second class in the Navy, stationed in Fort Gordon, Georgia. He attended the Defense Language Institute, graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, and spent two years in the Navy as an Arabic translator. He violated "don't ask, don't tell" by instant messaging his former roommate who is also gay and was stationed in Iraq. The message, which made reference to their sexual orientation, was on the military's chat system. The system is monitored on government computers and randomly checked. After their message was read by inspectors, Benjamin was given an honorable discharge. His former roommate was allowed to finish his tour in Iraq before getting his honorable discharge.
Stephen Colbert interviewed Stephen on The Colbert Report last week.
It sucks knowing someone in the military that is gay and that they can’t express who they are. Some don’t want to be out while they serve, and I have no problem with that. I am by no means saying that these young soldiers should be out. If a soldier does want to serve openly gay, they should be allowed to.
In an interview Stephen says, “when I first joined, I was pretty paranoid. I just didn't tell anyone, I kept to myself. And then once I finally got to Georgia, which was my duty station after my training, I met a lot more gay people and I met a lot--just a lot of friends. And, you know, we all hung out together, and it's kind of hard to hide that. And it was never a big deal. No one ever cared. So I guess I kind of just fell into that and just got lax with, you know, which people I told or which people--I didn't guard myself as much.”
The interview went on: “Now, the way you've described it, you were a part of a circle of gay people where you were stationed who hung out together. And you kept each other secret. So now that you're out, does that mean they've been outed, too? Do you know what I mean? Does it become clear that they're gay because you were part of that circle, and are they worried now about getting discharged themselves?
Mr. BENJAMIN The group I was in was kind of interesting because most of us were out to our peers and our officers for the most part. And there are plenty of street people in our group as well. So I don't necessarily think an association with me means, `Oh, hey, that person might be gay.' But rumors aren't enough under the policy, usually, to kick someone out. I mean, that's not really stopping someone's command from going to check out their MySpace profile to see who their friends are or, you know, just starting an impromptu kind of under-the-table investigation. But I don't really see that happening because for the most part, the senior leadership don't want to kick people out under this policy. But they're still kicking out two or three a day military-wide because they're forced to.
GROSS: Is there a whole code that gay people speak in the military so they can talk about being gay without using the word gay, and without therefore violating policy in an overt way?
Mr. BENJAMIN: Yeah, actually. We use the word family to describe ourselves. `Is he family?' That kind of thing. It's kind of amusing, because we really were family. I mean, they're some of the closest people--some of the closest relationships I ever had were in the military.
Anyone who wants the entire transcript can E-Mail me here. killerblender [at] gmail dot com