The Army Times ran this AP story last night:
WASHINGTON — Last summer, gays in the military dared not acknowledge their sexual orientation. This summer, the Pentagon will salute them, marking June as gay pride month just as it has marked other celebrations honoring racial or ethnic groups.
In the latest remarkable sign of change since the military repealed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the Defense Department will soon hold its first event to recognize gay and lesbian troops. It comes nine months after repeal of the policy that had prohibited gay troops from serving openly and forced more than 13,500 service members out of the armed forces.
Details are still being worked out, but officials say Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wants to honor the contributions of gay service members.
“Now that we’ve repealed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ he feels it’s important to find a way this month to recognize the service and professionalism of gay and lesbian troops,” said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman.
This month’s event will follow a long tradition at the Pentagon of recognizing diversity in America’s armed forces. Hallway displays and activities, for example, have marked Black History Month and Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.
This is most certainly a welcomed sign of progress. Obviously ‘having a gay month’ is not the end of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement in the military. I’m glad that the article went on to mention some of these serious issues.
It still needs to get better.
“We are seeing such tremendous progress in how much the military is accepting us, but not only that — in how much the rank and file is now understanding the inequality that’s existing right now,” he said.
That’s a reference to the fact that same-sex couples aren’t afforded spousal health care, assignments to the same location when they transfer to another job, and other benefits. There was no immediate change to eligibility standards for military benefits in September. All service members already were entitled to certain things, such as designating a partner as one’s life insurance beneficiary or as designated caregiver in the Wounded Warrior program.
As for other benefits still not approved, the department began a review after repeal with an eye toward possibly extending eligibility, consistent with the federal Defense of Marriage Act and other applicable laws, to the same-sex partners of military personnel.
The military lifestyle is very transient. I can expect to move around to a new base (possibly in a new country) every 2 or 3 years. In most cases, I’ll be able to take my wife with me. The only time I’m apart from my loved ones is pretty much when I’m deployed. It’s still rough to be in a constant flux of ‘long distance relationship’ and then in an awkward re-adjustment phase. Many ‘straight relationships’ don’t make it through this cycle.
Conversely, every gay and lesbian relationship is physically torn apart every few years – on top of the already grueling deployment cycle. This is especially true in ‘dual military’ setting, where both partners are service members. Many gay relationships have to operate with a built-in expiration date.
Straight dual military couples are typically afforded the privilege of being moved around together. It’s not a perfect system, but straight couples can realistically operate as a long-term family unit. Gay and lesbian relationships are not even an after-thought!
*(More below the fold)*
Think about the effects this has on suicide rates and mental health issues for gay service members. Broken hearts and broken relationships are often cited as the reasons why service members ‘lose it’ and take their lives. A few years ago, the military developed a new (and entirely useless) online ‘suicide prevention training’ including a religious ‘spiritual fitness test’. They even opened up a really stupid ‘Virtual Spiritual Fitness Center’ as part of their (unsuccessful) effort to curb the suicide rate.
The army spent more money on that goofy ‘Spiritual Fitness Test’ ($125 million) than the entire DoD did on rape prevention and reaction. So the military clearly wants to spend money on lowering the suicide rate. Well here is one area of improvement that should not wait.
“The department is carefully and deliberately reviewing the benefits from a policy, fiscal, legal and feasibility perspective,” Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Thursday.
Try reviewing it from an ethical perspective.
Lastly, the military still hasn’t meaningfully addressed transphobic policies and atmospheres. I’m betting that progress on trans issues will be made at a much slower rate. That’s unfortunate, because there is already a ‘social change momentum’ going.