The following is a commentary by Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director, National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC)
WASHINGTON - My husband is a proud member of the United States Air Force. A military career man. While he was stationed in Iraq, the moral support that helped him survive came through our letters, our calls, our communications, our connection. He had something magical to hold onto as he moved through every moment unsure that he would live to see the next. Without our mutual support of one another, the daily uncertainty about his safety and well being would have been more debilitating than any human should have to endure. In all of America’s wars, men and women have relied upon partners back home to keep their spirits up, to keep their sanity intact, to remind them that they are loved dearly, and to inspire them to conquer the inconceivable.
But what if I were a man and we were a gay couple? How could I then reach out across the miles to offer comfort and support? He would have to conceal our correspondence for fear of being outed and then fired. Sometimes we’d be forced to forego speaking to one another for his own security.
This is the reality of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), a U.S. military policy that bars openly gay men and women from serving in the armed forces. The thought of not being able to talk to my husband--or for him not to be able to communicate with me because of an unjust military law--is unconscionable. Brave men and women who are gay and lesbian are being pressured to suppress their identity and to compromise their personal integrity under DADT. They are barred from discussing their family life and their partners.
They are required to lie about who they are everyday in order to protect and serve their country, and this act would take a tremendous toll on anyone. Adding insult to injury, the Department of Defense (DOD) has issued an offensive survey to spouses of servicemembers to determine the impact on our desire to be in social settings with gay men and lesbians serving openly, i.e., honestly, in the military. Personally, I don’t see what all of the excitement and concern is about. I can’t wait to welcome my gay and lesbian servicemembers and their spouses over for dinner.
Seriously, we are all concerned about the mental health of our servicemembers. Too many have returned with post-traumatic stress disorder or worse, resorting to suicide as a means of coping. But what about the traumas that are being inflicted by our own government against people who have boldly chosen to defend this country? For gay and lesbian servicemembers, there is the added stress and psychological damage from living a lie, serving in fear that they will be discovered, outed, and then fired for who they are. And if they tell the truth, there is hell to pay--loss of employment, benefits, career, status, and possibly something even more injurious, loss of faith in America.
So where is the humanity in DADT? My husband hung on my every word, spent hours in the internet cafe connecting with me, looked at my photo as much as possible just to get through each day. What if I were a man? He would have been forced to duck into corners to talk to me and to sometimes forego any form of communication to protect his job. Isn’t it enough to endure the stress of war? Should our servicemembers also have to endure the stress of government-sanctioned identity suppression?
When the military integrated to include women, they figured out how to accommodate bathrooms for men and women. When the military integrated to include Blacks, they figured out how to house everyone together. Surely, the Department of Defense can find a way to support the integrity of men and women who have already enrolled in the armed forces without sending out offensive surveys.
We worry about terrorists and meanwhile some of us think it’s appropriate to require those who defend this country to suppress and lie about who they really are.
How dare any of us rob our active duty brothers and sisters of mental and emotional support from family, loved ones and spouses, be they gay or straight.
This is about love, integrity, self-respect, self-worth and most importantly, this is about family and support.
As a military spouse, I stand with every servicemember and their loved ones, especially my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, who are putting their lives on the line just like my husband has done for 25 years of active duty.
As the Executive Director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, an organization dedicated to eliminating racism and homophobia in America, I affirm the just cause of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I want to thank all gay and lesbian servicemembers for their fortitude and patriotism. Thank you for remaining faithful to America and the promises of the United States Constitution, despite your lack of freedom to serve openly and honestly.
Secretary Gates, put that on my survey!
Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks is the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), which is a national civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people. NBJC's mission is to eradicate racism and homophobia. For more information about NBJC, visit www.nbjc.org.