Current Affairs

Dismissal of gay linguists riles US Congress

PinkNews Staff Writer May 24, 2007
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Members of the US House of Representatives have requested an investigation into Arabic speakers dismissed from the Army for being gay.

Around 40 Congressmen and women signed a letter to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, that the continued loss of such “capable, highly skilled Arabic linguists continues to compromise our national security during time of war.”

Representative Marty Meehan, a Democrat from Massachusetts, serves on the House Armed Services Committee and has led the fight for repeal of the current policy towards gays in the military.

He organised the written request after it emerged that 58 Arab speakers had been dismissed under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

The policy, introduced in 1994, states that gay, bisexual or lesbians can serve in the Armed Forces as long as they conceal their orientation.

If they are discovered to be LGB then they are sacked, but commanding officers are not allowed to ask military personnel about their sexual orientation.

“At a time when our military is stretched to the limit and our cultural knowledge of the Middle East is dangerously deficient, I just can’t believe that kicking out able, competent Arabic linguists is making our country any safer,” Congressman Meehan said.

A Pentagon spokesman said the military is enforcing the law.

“The Department of Defence must ensure that the standards for enlistment and appointment of members of the armed forces reflect the policies set forth by Congress,” said Marine Major Stewart Upton.

A February 2005 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the Pentagon has fired 322 language specialists who “had . . . skills in a foreign language that Department of Defence had considered to be especially important.”

A poll of Americans released earlier this year revealed that nearly half do not support the current US military policy of barring openly gay people from serving.

The Harris Interactive survey, conducted in February, found that 55% of the 2,337 people questioned felt openly gay, bisexual or lesbian personnel should be allowed to serve.

Only 18% of respondents said that gay people should not be allowed to be in the Armed Forces at all.

In January an Army general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the US military has called for a change in attitude towards gay and lesbian soldiers.

John Shalikashvili was chairman from 1993 – 1997, and it was during his tenure that the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was introduced.

At the time he argued that had argued that openly gay and lesbian personnel would hurt troop morale and undermine the cohesion of combat units.

President Bill Clinton had promised to open the military to openly gay and lesbian people during his successful 1992 campaign for President, but caved into pressure from the Army – the compromise was the current policy.

Conversations with gay service members, “showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers,” the general said.

Since 1993, more than 11,000 service members have been dismissed under the gay ban, according to the Department of Defence.

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