Burying the lede

The Washington Post, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the inability to catch a break even when numbers are on your side, for once.

Today in The Washington Post‘s political blog, a report on The Pentagon’s survey of military personnel on the implications of rescinding the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. And the testimonials from some in the military paint a grim picture of pervasive apprehension:

Some expressed fears about contracting AIDS or getting leered at in the showers. Others worried that it would get in the way of critical bonding at barbecues and bar outings. Still others said it would be an affront to their religious beliefs and harm the military’s credibility.


Overall, the study showed that about 70 percent of active-duty and reserve forces saw little or no problem with ending the 17-year-old policy, which critics have said is discriminatory, harmful to troop readiness and at odds with the military’s emphasis on honesty. But in a 13-page section of the report, dozens of quotes reflected the attitudes of the remaining 30 percent.

(bolding mine) That’s three paragraphs in.

I’m not going to belittle the opinions or concerns of people in the service. And I definitely don’t want to suggest that 30% of any population should be ignored. That’s one of the most infuriating things about the same-sex marriage debate, where the numbers are closer, but opponents insist that a simple majority means ignoring the opinions of millions in support.

But when 70% of the respondents say they don’t see a problem, and you put the focus on catching a fatal disease or getting leered at in a shower, that’s kind of a sign of a deeper problem. Hang on, it’s not just an over-reaction. It’s a problem of who’s given a voice and how much weight is given to that voice. It reinforces the idea that a minority’s desires — and not just desires, but rights — are subject to the comfort level of everyone else.

The most ignorant opinions — and “ignorant” isn’t used here as a pejorative, but simply a lack of awareness or exposure — are given the most importance. We’ve seen it in cases of civil rights, we’ve seen it with the rise of the Tea Party and cries of socialism. The media treats the fringe as a majority, and reinforces the notion that in a democratic society, we’ve got to get the support of everyone before we can move forward. But on some issues, you’re never going to get the support of everyone. There will always be opposition, going based on ignorance, fear, or prejudice. How long do you emphasize the importance of that opposition, instead of just doing the right thing?

2 thoughts on “Burying the lede”

  1. Reading what the fears are, I can’t help but wonder. Stop me if I’m wrong, but the DADT policy means there are still gay people in the military, they’re just not allowed to say they are, right?

    So, being leered at in the shower can still happen, except potentially by anyone if you don’t know who’s gay and who isn’t (for that matter, being looked at and desired in the street by people you’re not attracted to has always been a risk wherever you go. I’m not sure I understand what the concern is here. And if it’s about the nudity aspect of it, well I’d rather have people see me naked and think I’m hot than see me naked and laugh to my face. I wish I could talk to these people and try and understand where they’re coming from.)

    The fear of getting infected by HIV is often a mark of total ignorance by people who think it’s contagious through touch or through saliva or even by breathing in the same room it seems at times, but I guess in the army there is more potential for wounds getting in contact with other people’s bloods and things like that.
    Then, though, wouldn’t you want to know who’s at risk? (by which I mean getting people tested, not checking who’s gay. I don’t think straight people’s HIV is any less contagious or dangerous, and I doubt that nowadays gay people are more likely to be infected if they’re young enough to be in the army) And why limit that to just one virus anyways? Sometimes it feels like people are treating HIV/AIDS like “gay cooties” or something.

    (If I can go off-topic for a second, I’m actually curious if, due to a deeper knowledge in the gay community and a lack of information in… some other communities, the people who are the most at risk nowadays aren’t the kids who practice “abstinence” by having unprotected non-reproductive sex. Seems to me that two boys are more likely to use condoms than a boy and a girl in this day and age.)

    Basically, my problem is that apart from the fears of things being awkward at barbecues, these fears don’t have much to do with the fact of knowing that someone is gay. Or is it okay if people lust after you as long as you don’t know it? Is it less offensive to your beliefs if the people who offend them are there, but in hiding? Is there a lower risk of catching gay cooties from gay people who aren’t out? And does anyone really believe that DADT is making the army more credible?

    It just reeks of hypocrisy. “Let’s pretend everyone is straight even though we know it isn’t the case”. Ignoring the issues won’t make them go away (by issues, I mean the fact that 30% of the people are apparently uncomfortable with the idea of working with people they know not to be straight).
    In view of what the fears are, it seems to me even more important to drop the masquerade here. Face it and learn how to deal with it, rather than just avoiding a situation that would require you to admit that people are who they are.

    I’m also curious, when they asked the military, did they only ask males in the military? I mean, I guess the shower and barbecue things aren’t gender dependent, but there is no way people think lesbians are more likely than heteros to carry HIV, right?

    Good to see a strong majority in favour of dropping the policy though. I agree it’s BS that they focus on the irrational fears of the few, which could make it seem like they’re the majority rather than under a third. And that’s the main problem here, as you pointed out. Fears that stem from ignorance can only be reinforced by hearing them over and over again. Really, at this point it feels more like propaganda than anything.

  2. The DADT policy says that openly gay people can’t serve in the military; if it’s revealed, they’ll be discharged. And yes, it’s idiotic for all the reasons you mention, and several more. It does nothing to reduce cases of sexual assault, it hampers the trust that respondents talked about with the “critical bonding” comment, and it adds the stress of having to stay closeted to gay service people already under the stress of being in combat. (And that’s bad enough as a civilian).

    The issue it really serves to address is that last comment about religious beliefs and damaging the military’s credibility. In other words, it serves as a punishment. Similar to the same-sex marriage bans, it gives people a chance to say “we do not approve of you.” You can still put your life in the line, you can still pay taxes, etc, but we’ll be damned if we acknowledge you as an equal.

    And as far as I can tell, the survey went to both men and women, both gay and straight. Also to spouses of military personnel, so there was likely a higher percentage of women respondents than you’d get just by surveying active-duty people.

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