Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Talkin' 'Bout A Revolution That Needs To Be Put On Hold

I voted for Ross Perot in 1992. The reasoning was simple: although I am morally opposed to everything the GOP- more accurately, the neo-con idealogues who've hijacked the party- stands for, I sniffed Bill Clinton out as a carpetbagger long before Stuttering John asked Gennifer Flowers if she would sleep with any of the other candidates.

One thing that Slick Willie advocated that I actually liked was his promise to allow gays in the military. For the record, I am not a homosexual, but I don't agree with the Armed Forces policy towards gays in the military. The argument that gays and lesbians in uniform would be bad for morale was the same argument the top brass used to disallow blacks, Latinos, and women from serving for so long. In the years since, it's also been proven to be an unfounded argument.

So, after Clinton won in '92, took office, and immediately waffled on that campaign promise with the inane "don't ask, don't tell" policy, I decided to speak my mind. It was March 1993 and I was due for an annual performance evaluation. Back then it was customary for the end of an evaluation form to contain some space for the one being evaluated to express some feelings about shipboard life under the assumption that it would not be counted against him in evaluation. I had just finished reading Randy Shilts' book on gays in the military Conduct Unbecoming and was feeling pretty emboldened.

So when I came upon the question I wrote, " I believe that the President should not have waffled on his stated campaign promise to allow gays and lesbians to serve proudly and openly in the United States armed forces. I believe that the discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military is a contradiction of the basic Constitutional rights and freedoms of expression we have sworn to uphold and defend with our very lives. Such discrimination makes me ashamed to put on a Navy uniform at times."

Apparently my division officer didn't see things my way. A easygoing Vietnam veteran and chief warrant officer, he pulled me aside three days later and asked me to have a word with him and the Chief Engineer, a short balding man with a Napoleonic complex and a stickler for military bearing. We clashed a lot.

"I read your comments at the end of your evaluation," said Warrant Officer. "Care to explain?"

"It's pretty straighforward, sir." I said.

The Chief Engineer, who didn't like me because I was pretty straighforward, cleared his throat and spoke in his Kermit the frog croak. "So you're saying that you think two hundred years of policy should be thrown away-" he snapped his fingers- "just like that?"

"Yes, sir," I replied. "I do."

"Why would you write something like that? Do you have some of these tendencies?" The Chief Engineer became agitated. "Are you a homosexual?"

I stared at him with a poker face and answered, "Not that it's any of your business, Commander, but if you don't ask I won't tell." Then I winked at him and blew him a kiss

His face grew redder than the red trucker hat he wore that designated him as a member of the engineering department. He ran up to me and got in my face, our noses almost touching. Behind him, my division officer didn't know whether to laugh or pull the Chief engineer away. The chief engineer screamed, "I know you only have a year left on your contract, but I'm letting you know that I'm watching you and if you so much as breathe wrong I will bring charges up against you so fast that your head will spin." He backed away from me, smugly assured in his authority.

I raised myself from the desk I was leaning against. "I heard that all the time in boot camp, sir. And I wasn't scared of it then, either." As the chief engineer left the office Warrant Officer put an arm around my shoulder and asked, "Why do you pull this shit? Why do you insist on speaking your mind all the time. You'd be on the fast track to an officer candidacy if you just keep you mouth shut, you know that?" I looked at my reflection in my boots and said, "Sometimes you have to speak your mind in order for things to change, sir."

"Okay I agree with you, off the record." Warrant officer had a sober expression on his face. "But do you think that'll change things overnight."

"I never thought it would, Warrant," I replied. "But I guarantee you'll never forget that I showed the fortitude to stand up for what was right even when it was wrong to do so."

Four years later I filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain my military records in order to use my GI Bill. While reading my records and letting the memories flow back like a swelling river I came across some information I never knew. The Chief engineer filed a complaint against me and asked that I be investigated by Naval Investigative Service for alleged homosexual activity. The complaint was never acted upon as it never went past my ship's Commanding Officer.

I remembered that today when I heard that the Shrub proposed a Constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriages. If there is anyone who reads this who still doesn't think that we are entering a cold Civil war, now do you believe me?

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