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Trashing Good Soldiers

June 26, 2004

While military leaders are extending tours for troops already exhausted after months in Iraq and calling up more units for active duty, a new study finds that 770 otherwise qualified soldiers were drummed out of the services last year because of their sexual orientation. The hypocrisy of the 1993 compromise that allows homosexuals in the military as long as they stay in the closet was obvious from its adoption. The damage this policy is now doing to stretched-thin units and to gay men and women who want to serve is inexcusable.

About 10,000 military personnel have been discharged under "don't ask, don't tell" since it took effect. The policy forbids gay soldiers to declare their sexual orientation or to act on it. In many cases, commanders and fellow soldiers have forced these declarations by spying on off-duty colleagues, rummaging through their personal journals or simply by taunting them into an admission. Discharge automatically follows.

In their study, researchers at UC Santa Barbara analyzed federal discharge data from between 1998 and 2003. They found that among the 6,273 soldiers the nation fired during those years under this policy of legalized discrimination were these highly trained men and women: 88 linguists, including several Arab-language specialists; 49 nuclear, biological and chemical warfare experts; 90 nuclear power engineers; 150 rocket, missile and other artillery specialists; and 340 infantrymen.

Jadon Hartsuff is among them. The Los Angeles-area man was learning Mandarin Chinese at Monterey's Defense Language Institute last summer, training to be an Army interrogator. After enduring questions from his sergeant and humiliating rumors, the 26-year-old admitted he was gay. He was put on a cleaning detail until his mandatory discharge, on Halloween.

He now works in food sales and marketing -- another man whose talent and skills the Army has wasted.

The rationale for this mean-spirited policy is that openly homosexual soldiers would undermine unit cohesion. Straight men and women would fear sexual intimidation from their gay colleagues, eroding the trust necessary among buddies in combat.

The potential for coercion was always a flimsy excuse for what is really homophobia. And in the wake of the very real coercion, sexual humiliation and abuse that heterosexual U.S. soldiers perpetrated on Iraqi detainees in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, it makes no sense at all.

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