Every month is pretty much some kind of diversity celebration in the military. Even folks that aren't in the military will probably be familiar with Black History Month. But there's also a Hispanic heritage month, Asian and Pacific Islander month, Women in the Military month, and so forth. To celebrate these events we usually have at least an assembly with a guest speaker, and possibly a party or a few other events.
I've been in the military proper or a DoD civilian job for...wow, over eleven years now. I just made myself feel old. Thanks a lot, blogging! But anyway, the point is this is all rather de rigueur at this point for me. Eleven years and something like six or seven events a year, so at this point I've been invited to on the order of seventy or so diversity events. At this point I usually just click "add to calendar" and then decide the day of whether I'm too busy to attend or not.
Then, the other day, something struck me. I walked by a flier advertising LGBTQ Pride Month, which was June. So, not the other day, I guess at least two weeks ago, but I didn't blog about it until now, so, whatever.
It suddenly struck me that I was on a naval base and I had been invited to a public, command-sanctioned LGBTQ event. A two-star admiral was going to be there to make opening remarks. Senior officers and civilians would sit in the audience and clap politely. There might be a barbecue afterwards. People like me would click "add to calendar" and not give it another thought.
It further occurred to me that this was entirely possibly the fourth time we had done this. And not just us, but every naval base and army post in the world. I can't speak for every person in a uniform (well, nobody can) but as far as the DoD was concerned, gay pride was de rigueur.
Another author asked me the other day if I knew any gay vets who served under Don't Ask Don't Tell. The answer is (obviously) yes. But the other answer is, perhaps just as obviously, I have no idea. There were guys we all assumed were gay, of course. But it wasn't just official policy not to ask people about their sexual orientation, it's also not my style. It's not really my business, honestly.
But I served during DADT and I remember what a pall it cast over us. There was a certain sense that no one was quite being honest. The guy next to you could be gay but you couldn't ask him and he couldn't tell you, so you never quite knew. A Soldier's word - and an officer's word, especially - is supposed to be sacrosanct. There's supposed to be no room for dishonesty in the military. And then there was this weird, quasi-religious, quasi-political rule that basically insisted everybody lie and be complicit in a culture of lying.
I can't say I blame any of the gay Soldiers I served with for not coming out. Of course, we've all heard the apocryphal stories of Soldiers who came out to their units and nobody cared. I hope that's true because it gives me hope for humanity, but it wasn't my experience in the military. I can tell you about my experience in the military.
I remember arriving at Officer Basic Course, where our battery commander was a nasty son of a bitch called Janis Mikits. CPT Mikits didn't have time for anybody or anything, and seemed to want to be almost anywhere but in command of two hundred brand new second lieutenants. I can't say I blame him for feeling that way, but I do say I blame him for making it clear to every single one of us, every single day just how much he resented us.
One day we were learning about the Combined Federal Campaign, the military's only sanctioned charity fundraiser. CFC has a listing of thousands of charities across the country which you can donate to specifically, or you can just put your money into a general pot and it's distributed to every charity in the list equally.
Or, as CPT Mikits shouted at us in a crowded amphitheater, "So if you don't want a bunch of fucking fags in San Francisco to get your money, you'd better mark down which charity you want to donate to."
I did indeed immediately mark down which charity I wanted to support. I seem to recall it was supporting LGBTQ rights, and it may or may not have been located in San Francisco.
In any case, in an environment like that, I wasn't particularly surprised at the furor that arose when the president announced he'd be repealing DADT. Do you remember those days? All the frothing at the mouth and arguments about how unit cohesion would dissolve? How no one would know what bathroom to use and our proud two-and-a-half centuries of military tradition was giving way to politically correct hogwash shoved down our throats by pencil-necked civilians? Oh, the children, would no one think of the children?
I knew at the time it was all quite stupid. Stupid on the scale of the arguments about how desegregating the army would lead to similar apocalyptic, dogs and cats getting along type events. Or how letting women in the military would screw it all up. Or presumably any other number of times when the military's needed to put on its big boy pants and realize not everybody looks and acts the same, but somehow they can still yank on a uniform and show up to formation on time.
Which brings me back to today, or rather, a few weeks ago, staring at a poster for LGBTQ Pride Month, and realizing that the military, had, in fact, somehow, not collapsed into a singularity in the wake of people coming out. The past few weeks have been a bad time for diverse voices and national cohesion. We're reminded every day how Dr. King's dream is, sadly, still deferred. Equality and unity are elusive, and sometimes seem impossibly far off. But it's nice to remember that we've come a long way, too. Eleven years ago if you'd told me I'd see a rainbow flag on a naval base, I would've laughed in your face. Now it's all quite de rigueur.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
Enter your e-mail address in the box below and click "Subscribe" to join Stephen Kozeniewski's Mailing List for Fun and Sexy People. (Why the hell would anyone ever want to join a mailing list?)