I’ve just been pointed in the direction of a story by Steve Williams on care2.com (read story) which tells how an American soldier, Private Bethany Smith, who after allegedly suffering intense homophobic bullying, including death threats, within the ranks and being refused a discharge despite admitting to being gay, felt she was forced to go AWOL and seek asylum in Canada.
Of course, you could wonder why any gay person would want to joint an army with a policy like ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’. This is the system actually designed to allow gay people to be in an army which still officially prohibits homosexuality. A soldier found ‘guilty’ of homosexual conduct will still be discharged. So the idea is just don’t talk about it and no-one will know.
I don’t want to comment on Private Smith’s case in particular, other than to say I am appalled that, in these apparently modern times, that anyone is bullied for their sexuality – or anything else that sets them apart – in their workplace, and that their employers do nothing to resolve the situation. Just because being in the army – any army – equates with being tough, it should not be a place where bullying is acceptable.
What I do want to talk briefly about is my own astonishment when I discovered what ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ means. The first time I heard of it was during the episode of (that wholly accurate reflection of lesbian society) ‘The L Word’ where the character of Tasha is charged with homosexual conduct. I wondered what her girlfriend Alice meant when she used the phrase ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. Once I found out, I was astounded.
This attitude, that homosexuality can exist, as long as no-one talks about it, is exactly what society has been trying to escape from for the last century. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ makes ‘gay’ a dirty word in a way that society in general has left behind. Have the American military not noticed that we’re in the 21st century now? I don’t pretend that the army will ever be an easy place for gay people, but to have an official policy which condones making homosexuality effectively a dirty secret, in this day and age, frankly horrifies me.