The Pentagon study on gays in the military released Tuesday shatters what little was left of the flimsy arguments in favor of maintaining the abhorrent "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Beyond that, the survey of military personnel offers an important lesson that applies to our society as a whole -- to know someone who is gay is to no longer fear gays.
The extensive survey conducted by an independent polling firm found that only 30 percent of those surveyed predicted negative consequences from ending the policy in which gay soldiers are expected to keep their homosexuality a secret. The survey reports that military commanders have found that gays and lesbians fit in well with their units, are accepted by their fellow soldiers and are motivated by patriotism. It concludes that no policy changes are needed to integrate gays into the military. What goes unsaid here is that in spite of "don't ask, don't tell," soldiers and officers already know who are the gays among them -- and they don't care. They have already been successfully integrated into the military, and with apparent ease, as is the case with the armies of many of our allies.
The Pentagon hierarchy, military commanders and the majority of rank-and-file soldiers are now on record as having no issues with the gay soldiers that right-wing politicians are trying so hard to protect them from. "Don't ask, don't tell" is hypocritical, unconstitutional and deprives the military of many capable soldiers it desperately needs. The policy's termination, however, will likely still be blocked by Republican congressmen who use fear of the other to attract campaign donations and votes. This includes the likes of Arizona Senator John McCain who argues that the Pentagon command should have whatever it wants in terms of personnel and funding but cynically ignores those same leaders when they request an end to "don't ask, don't tell."
The study won't change the minds of those secure in the belief that gays join the military and risk being killed in Afghanistan in the hope that they will get to see a naked guy in the shower. They know nothing beyond their prejudices and whatever Internet mythology they use to reinforce them. It is extremely revealing that only 8 percent of the soldiers surveyed said that they had served with someone who was gay and believe that soldier's presence had impacted their unit in a negative way. Soldiers who have come to know gays have come to respect them, and if society's homophobes do the same they will find their prejudices to be without foundation.
In urging Congress to end "don't ask, don't tell," Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen predicted yesterday that a judge will inevitably overturn the policy anyway because it cannot pass constitutional muster. That's what happened in Massachusetts, where laws preventing gay marriage were found to be unconstitutional. Massachusetts is better for this change, not worse as the gay-bashers had warned, and the military and our society will be better when "don't ask, don't tell" is eliminated. The fight has been long and it is far from over, but the civil rights battle being waged by gays will inevitably be won. Enlightened future generations of Americans will wonder what the fuss was all about in the first place.