By Patrick F. McCann
The recent killing of Houston native and sailor August Provost III while he was apparently at his post on base in San Diego provides the most tragic and poignant illustration that it is well-past time to cast the discredited policy of “don't ask, don't tell” on the trash heap of history. This sad and pointless incident ought to have something good come from it.
Although one hesitates to speak about any criminal matter before the investigation is complete, and the accused in this case has now apparently taken his own life and we will never know his side of this sad tale, his family asserted that Provost had been harassed for his sexual orientation for nearly a year. They stated that though he lived an openly gay life with them, he feared bringing this to his command's attention for fear of being kicked out of the Navy.
Yet by all accounts this was a good and decent man, a sailor who enlisted out of a desire to serve his country, and was honorably at his post when his killer or killers struck. Perhaps his attack might not have been prevented, as no one knows what lurked in the attacker's heart. Whatever his orientation, though, this man deserved better, from his service, and from the citizens he swore to protect.
I urge President Barack Obama to honor his memory by finally casting aside the disastrous “don't ask, don't tell” policy that has oppressed gay and lesbian service members and actually undermined our national security.
Not one American life has been saved by this policy, which forbids gay service members from honestly declaring their orientation while in the service. In fact, in a time when we are using Coast Guard members to guard land-based supply convoys, and when our active and reserve and guard service members are stretched to the breaking point, our various services spend an enormous amount of time trying to expel good, honorable soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines whose only crime is that they may be gay.
One wonders how many posts go unfilled because they were held by a perfectly competent and diligent soldier whose service suspected he was, or he admitted he was, gay? Can our country truly afford this kind of foolish short-sighted behavior in a time of war, when we need every skilled medic, nurse, infantryman, pilot, navigator and ship's crew member?
Perhaps more important than the simple fact that this policy does not work is the fact that it is fundamentally unfair. If a nephew or cousin or relative of mine, or anyone's, wished to serve the country that gives them shelter and freedom, what man or woman has the right to deny them because they are gay? Are we to deny them the right to vote as well? To run for office? There are a few special times in life when one knows, deep in one's heart, that one is a citizen of a democracy; when one votes, when one stands for public office, or pays taxes, and finally, perhaps, most importantly, when one dons the uniform of one's country. We should not deny our neighbors the right to stand up for the very freedom they enjoy.
There are those who will raise their voices and say others will not serve with gays. They are wrong, because our service men and women, for the most part, serve with them now, and for the most part, this recent tragedy notwithstanding, respect them and leave them in peace.
There are those who say it will affect retention and recruitment. They are wrong. No man or women looking to undertake the enormous risks and hardships we now demand of our service members in facing two wars gives a tinker's damn whether or not they will work alongside gay men and women. Younger people in this time simply do not think in this old and hate-filled way. Moreover, they know full well that they will work alongside them in civilian life, so why should it make a difference?
Our military places Jews and Muslims together with Christians and Wiccans, atheists and animists, blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians and expects them to work together. So far that has proven remarkably successful, so much so that the military is often held up as an example to others in our society. The voices that say no to this change are the voices of timidity and cowardice, of fear and unreason.
I urge President Obama to display the courage that Seaman Provost did in joining the service. I ask that he show the same fortitude that Harry Truman did when he integrated the armed forces more than 60 years ago by executive order. I humbly ask that he formally and forever discard the failed policy of “don't ask, don't tell.” This policy has hurt our sailors, our airmen, our Marines and our soldiers. It has torn good men and women from the service life they chose and love. It has only wounded, not strengthened, our country. Don't keep “don't ask, don't tell.”