Living With Gays in the Military

Postcard From Boot Camp:

My day at Quantico Marine Base began at 4:30 A.M. with the wailing of an electric gong supplemented by the ferocious yelling of a platoon sergeant about three inches from my ear. After a wake-up run through the dark streets of the base, we were herded back into the barracks.

Within minutes I was on my feet with my towel in one hand and soap in the other, standing at attention on the harshly cold tile floor. After several minutes of being told how pathetic we were, my platoon was hustled into the shower. We held our towels outstretched in one hand and walked under the screaming nozzles in formation, your typical 15-second military shower.

The rest of my time at Quantico went by in a similarly frantic fashion: marching, running, polishing, screaming answers to platoon sergeants.

Would I have cared if one of the members of my platoon was openly gay? Looking back now, I don't think it would have mattered to me that my bunkmate was gay, a Yalie or anything else. There was no time to worry about that kind of thing. All that mattered to me was that a fellow platoon member would help me when I needed it, and we all needed help at some point.

My impressions from boot camp are a factor in my thinking about the ban on gays, but the issue is a complex one, with a multitude of opinions emanating from all sides.

Arguments for maintaining the ban on homosexuals based on their supposed "inherent" characteristics are fallacious. Study after study has shown that gays who have served in the military have done so as well as anyone.

The old argument that gays are a security risk is clearly ridiculous, since only people who have something to hide are susceptible to blackmail.

An argument based on morality is also flawed; the military does not choose its members based on their morals, as the military "traditions" of promiscuits and carousing demonstrate.

And on the issue of trust, my own experience leads me to believe that when the pressure is on, military people will count on gay soldiers as they would any one else.

Yet my experience as a Navy ROTC midshipman was a very limited taste of military life. Except for the hectic boot camp at Quantico, I lived like any other college student. Regular active-duty military personnel live full-time in barracks racks, ships and submarines. And although all military personnel go through some kind of boot camp, subsequent service life is generally more normal (a relative term), allowing the common worries and concerns of life to creep back.

These common concerns of life underlie the only valid arguments for maintaining the ban: privacy and morale.

The separation of male and female facilities throughout both the civilian and military worlds is widely practiced and widely accepted. Though it is difficult to say exactly why such separation is customary, a central reason is the element of sexual tension. That same element of exists between men if some are gay, especially if they are open about their orientation.

The tighter the quarters, the more this lack of privacy between openly gay and straight men could cause problems and discomfort, leading eventually to a diminishing of effectiveness.

Those who dismiss this argument as simply homophobic are not taking into account either the lack of privacy on a submarine, surface ship or combat unit or the extended periods of time in which the same people must live and work together.

Morale problems could result both from this lack of privacy and another factor: romantic relationships between personnel in the same unit. The military does all it can to keep an often tense working environment free from other strains. This concern is one of the reasons that women are not allowed on combat ships and submarines.