Frontlines: The Latest from OutServe-SLDN
The new PBS documentary Carrier
set sail this week and the third installment of the series exposes viewers to the "Super Secrets" which exist aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Nimitz -- including what life is like for the lesbian, gay and bisexual sailors living under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
SLDN sat down with series producer, Jeff Dupre to talk more about his experiences shooting the documentary, his observations on ship and his thoughts about what life is like for gay service members who live each day with their own "Super Secret."
Jeff, you and your crew lived and filmed aboard the U.S.S Nimitz for 6 months. During that time you encountered a number of gay and lesbian sailors. As a third party, watching the way they interacted with their shipmates, did you draw any conclusions about the toll "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" takes on these sailors?
From my own personal experience, I would say that homophobia must take a toll on them. In the hangar bay and on the mess decks, you'd often hear people use the word "gay" to mean "lame" or "bad." It was always jarring to hear people talk like that—a flashback to high school. As an outsider, I always had the option to call someone on it but the sailors I knew couldn't do that without putting their careers in jeopardy. I heard horror stories about friends of friends on other ships who had been kicked out of the Navy. One sailor told me his best friend could not go home on leave to be with her partner when she suffered a death in the family.
On the other hand, I was surprised to learn that being gay is for the most part a non-issue for many of the enlisted gay and lesbians sailors I met. Their friends knew, the people they worked with knew. It was an open secret and not a big deal.
It's a generational thing and the next generation by and large does not care so much if you are gay or straight. So from what I experienced, I think the military is better prepared to have the ban lifted than some of the senior military and government policy makers would have us believe.
What impressed me the most about the Navy was the camaraderie and the bonds that form between sailors. The sailors and marines I met really took care of each other. They were like family. For some of them, it's the only family they've ever known. Because the gay and lesbian sailors on the ship are forced to lie about who they are, they're not able to really bond with and be supported by their Navy family in the same way that their straight shipmates can. They probably weren’t out to their biological families at home, then they join the military to serve their country and are once again denied those family ties that we all need to get by. We honor the men and women who serve because of the sacrifices they make to defend our freedom. To me, there's a whole other level of sacrifice that gays and lesbians make when they sign up to serve their country.
SLDN: Brian Downey
, one of the sailors you interviewed for your third episode entitled "Super Secrets," which deals in part with being gay aboard ship, has left the service and is talking about his experience serving as a gay sailor. Did you follow up with any of the other gay sailors you interviewed? Do you know if any of them are still serving? Have they left the service? Have any been discharged for being gay?
A number of sailors came out to me over the course of the deployment. As far as I know, with the exception of Brian, they are all still in the military, which is why I needed to blur their faces and electronically alter their voices. Having to sit there in the edit room and obscure their identities made me feel terrible -- like I was complicit in a policy that says they don't really exist. From what I observed, if they were to suddenly remove all the gay and lesbian sailors from the Nimitz, they would have a difficult time replacing them. There were a lot of them and as Brian says, they are good at their jobs.
Can you describe for us a little bit about the command climate aboard the Nimitz regarding treatment of gay sailors or those who were perceived to be lesbian or gay? Can you tell us about the attitudes of their straight colleagues towards these gay and lesbian sailors?
The commanding officer of the U.S.S. Nimitz at that time, Ted Branch (now a Rear Admiral) is a great guy. I consider him a friend. I never once heard any sailor complain that homophobia was coming from the top down on the Nimitz. All the sailors I met - straight and gay - thought very highly of Captain Branch, Strike Group Commander Admiral Peter Daly and the Commander of the Air Wing, Rear Admiral Select Tom Cropper. I observed them working with people I knew to be gay and it was a complete non-issue. I don't know if they knew or not - and honestly if they did know I do not think they would have cared. We were headed to the Persian Gulf so believe me, they had bigger fish to fry.
Did you see any interactions between the crew of the Nimitz and foreign militaries who allow gays and lesbians to serve openly?
No, I did not observe this. A bunch of us hung out with sailors from the Australian navy on a port call in Perth. But the American sailors were more agog and envious of the Aussie sailors' daily ration of beer than anything else
Did the crew of the Nimitz have any problems working with you as an openly gay man?
I don't think so, but you would have to ask them. I tried to make it a non-issue. The film is not about me; it's about the crew of the Nimitz.
There were times when it was hard for me to reconcile my admiration for who they are and what they do with the painful awareness of DADT and all the needless destruction it has wrought. But as I got to know many of them better it became easier to separate the policy from the people.
I am sure you and the camera crew talked about some of the personalities and experiences you encountered while on the Nimitz. Did your time aboard ship change the way you view the Navy? Did your time aboard ship change the way you view the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law?
I think it's important that we don't conflate this terrible policy with the men and women who serve. They did not create the policy but they must adhere to it. Unfortunately, DADT makes it seem like everyone in the military is homophobic. That is just not the case.
to visit PBS online and find local listings. Click here
to read Towleroad.com's interview with series producer Jeff Dupre.
04-29-08 Comment (1)
Sunday night I sat down to watch the new PBS documentary Carrier
which is a multi-episode documentary looking at the lives of the sailors and Marines serving aboard this floating city. I must say that the first two hours was a fascinating view into this close-knit community, especially because it seems clear that the producers are going to focus on the humanity on board the ship. As one sailor mentioned in the first segment, on board a carrier “you see the best of the best and the worst of the worst.” I anticipate seeing what this actually means as the documentary episodes unroll this week.
Tuesday's episode, entitled “Super Secrets,” is said to address the many secrets existing aboard the ship –both official and unofficial. This includes, apparently, touching on the lives of lesbian, gay and bisexual sailors serving on the ship and the secrets they must keep in order to continue serving. With more than 5,000 sailors and Marines on the USS Nimitz, a conservative estimate (5%) would put the LGB population around 250 sailors. That is 250 people carefully negotiating the minefield of what personal information to share with their friends and coworkers and what information to keep absolutely secret. I will be interested in seeing how the service members respond to this issue. From the first two episodes aired we have already been introduced to the premise that it is still okay for male pilots to make fun of each other through gay jokes or intimating another male pilot is acting like a girl. Those jokes were clearly said without malice but it does set a tone. As an outside observer I cringed a little when I watched a female pilot hearing these remarks.
I am hoping that tonight’s episode will reflect where I think today’s sailors and Marines are regarding this issue – which is that we are leaps and bounds past the homophobic attitudes outlined in the 1993 Congressional testimony about DADT. That unlike Senator Nunn’s publicity stunt filming on board a submarine in 1993, this PBS documentary will be an unbiased window into the attitudes of the sailors and Marines currently serving. I truly think the Will and Grace generation could care less about the sexuality of the service member to their left or to their right as long as the job is getting done right.
to visit PBS online and find local listings. Click here
to read Towleroad.com's interview with former Third Class Petty Officer Brian Downey, one of the sailors featured in Tuesday nights episode. Brian shares his thoughts about why he enlisted, his experience aboard the Nimitz, and descibes life aboard a ship, living under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
04-28-08 Comment (0)
The terrible shark attack that killed one man Friday, closed the beaches, and sent San Diego into a state of justifiable shock filled the local news and didn’t leave much room for us, but we got our message across as best we could.
SLDN board member Mike Magee
had set up a meeting with Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray and we met with him yesterday afternoon in his district office. Another board member, Tom Carpenter
from Los Angeles, and Military Advisory Council member Keith Kerr
joined us for the meeting.
We were there to ask the Congressman to join with 142 of his House colleagues to become a co-sponsor of HR 1246
It didn’t seem as if we succeeded. The time is not right, he said. He wasn’t sure if the time would be right next year, or the year after that. There were a lot of other things pending before Congress. The political system moves slowly. That’s how it’s designed. He thought we ought to continue working quietly for the bill--but as anyone who’s been involved in the struggle for civil rights knows, if you work too quietly nobody hears you. Noise isn’t always polite but sometimes it is necessary. We're out here trying to make noise politely.
Rep. Bilbray did say that he listens more to the rank and file than he does to the generals. That's good news for us, because the evidence indicates that it doesn’t matter much to the rank and file whether their buddies are gay or straight. It shouldn’t matter to anyone else, either, but it does.
With Mike Magee’s help, we’ll keep working on the Congressman, reminding him that poll after poll shows the American people favor lifting the ban. In the Congressman’s own district of San Diego there are more than 21,000 lesbian and gay veterans. (The estimate comes from Gary Gates at UCLA’s Williams Institute.) If even ten percent of those 21,000 voices speak out, you can be sure that Rep. Bilbray will hear them and soon Congress will not be able to ignore them. Change begins with the people, but it doesn’t happen until Congress makes it the law.
and Aubrey Sarvis
Labels: On The Road
04-27-08 Comment (1)
I am really looking forward to watching the new PBS documentary Carrier
starting this weekend, Sunday April 27th for two reasons. First, the filmmakers spent an entire deployment aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier the USS Nimitz and that should be something to see. Second, one of the episodes contains interviews with sailors regarding their attitudes about serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and serving with lesbian, gay and bisexual colleagues. This multi-episode documentary appears to cover a large number of issues and I am more than heartened that one of the issues included is this one.
In his blog “The Tattler
,” Julian Ayrs gives a great description of the recent premier of the documentary’s first episode in Washington, DC. Apparently, there was a Q&A period after the first episode was shown where “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was raised as a question to the Navy command of the USS Nimitz as well as to the producers of the documentary. It came as no surprise to me that the pointed reaction of the producers was that the situation made them sad. Specifically, that lesbian, gay and bisexual service members – in particular those sailors aboard the USS Nimitz – are “left out in the cold and unable to participate in those moments” when sailors talk about their families and their personal lives.
The enforced silence about such a significant portion of someone’s life is one of the most difficult aspects of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to get people to understand. I have often heard from self-identified straight people that they do not understand why lesbian, gay and bisexual service members need to talk about their sexual orientations. In reality, most lesbian, gay and bisexual service members don’t want to talk about their sexual orientations. What they do want to be able to do is to share with their friends and colleagues in uniform the little pieces of their lives that their straight counterparts do every day. Something as simple as showing their crewmates a letter from their significant other announcing a new job or new neighbors or posting a picture drawn by their 4 year old in daycare showing a family with two mommies or two daddies. This is the type of information shared on board a ship all the time and it is taken for granted by straight service members. This is not the type of information shared by lesbian, gay and bisexual service members without fear.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is obsolete, unnecessary and out of touch. No one serving aboard a ship or on a plane or in a tank or Humvee in the desert should have to fear sharing the little tidbits of their personal lives which can make them closer to the service members they work with and rely on daily. I hope the episode of “Carrier” dealing with serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” can help to put a face to this incredible strain. I encourage everyone to watch this series and I thank PBS and the producers of this documentary for caring so deeply about our men and women in uniform.
to visit PBS online and find local listings. Click here
to read Towleroad.com's interview with series producer Jeff Dupre.
04-25-08 Comment (0)
The dogwoods and azaleas were in full, glorious flower in Washington yesterday afternoon -- one of those exhilarating spring days which too quickly fade into the heat of summer here -- and David Hall and I were heading to Dulles Airport for our flight to San Diego, the first stop on a nine-day tour of six Western cities.
Yes, we’re taking SLDN on the road again, telling the story that’s familiar to most of you but that most Americans aren’t really aware of. In radio, television and newspaper interviews, and in community forums we’re spreading the word about how the sad chapter in American history entitled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” came to be written.
It all started just over 15 years ago, when President Clinton said it was only fair that gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly in the military along with everybody else. He would issue an executive order to make that happen.
As we all know, it didn’t happen. The president’s announcement caused quite a stir, especially on Capitol Hill. Secret meetings were held in the corridors of power. Action would have to be taken. Congressional hearings were hastily arranged. Key players in the Pentagon testified openly and said “no way.” Key Congressmen and Senators were saying the same thing.
Right away it was clear where the votes were, and they weren’t with us. All that was left for Congress to do was to dress this ugly “no way” in something more presentable. How did they make this discriminatory and un-American policy look like something other than what it was? Here’s how. We’ll let gays and lesbians serve in the military. That’s fine, that’s fair. In America we respect the civil rights of everybody. We don’t discriminate. But there was one small proviso: if you’re gay or lesbian, you must keep quiet about it. No problem. Stay in the closet. Come out of the closet and you’re out of the service. We’ll make it the law of the land.
Eager to move on to other things, the president gave up the fight. He hurried to point out that the proposed new law was much better than the status quo.
Compromise was the word. A majority of Senators and House members liked the sound of that. Compromise is the American way. They congratulated themselves and moved on. Fortunately, some saw this law for the shameful thing it was. Unfortunately they did not prevail and the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became the law of the land.
It was unfair, totally against the nobler aspirations of this country. (You remember: “All men are created equal.”) It was wrong and foolish and unfair. It did not serve the best interests of the nation and of our military then; it does not serve their best interests now.
Between then and now thousands have been kicked out of the military, and thousands more said they’d had enough and left of their own accord. Careers were ruined and our national security was weakened.
The absurdity of this law became painfully obvious again this week when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released Defense Department data showing that the armed services, in order to meet their recruiting goals are issuing an increasing number of “moral waivers” to felons convicted of serious offenses and others who would otherwise be ineligible.
What’s the message here? That most service members would rather share a foxhole with a violent convicted felon than with a gay man or woman? That seriously dangerous lawbreakers are more desirable than gays and lesbians?
That’s why we’re on the road: to spread the word among the American people and to raise money to get this offensive law repealed.
We’ll provide you with an update from San Diego later in the week.
Labels: On The Road
04-25-08 Comment (5)
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today released data
showing a dramatic rise in the number of moral waivers issued to recruits joining the Army and Marine Corps. The number of waivers granted to recruits convicted of manslaughter, rape, kidnapping and making terrorist threats, doubled between 2006 and 2007. During that same time, the Pentagon continued discharging service members under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law banning lesbian, gay and bisexual personnel from serving openly in the military.
This data shines a bright light on the outrageousness and absurdity of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." On the one hand, the Pentagon is discharging highly-qualified, honest, law-abiding men and women because they are gay, while on the other hand granting waivers to rapists, killers, kidnappers and terrorists. Repealing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" will reduce the need to grant felony waivers.
Keeping "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" on the books hardly helps the military’s personnel crisis. In fact, if Congress got rid of the law there would a need for fewer waivers. Click here
to learn more.
Labels: recruiting, waivers
04-21-08 Comment (3)
Testifying today before members of the House Armed Services Committee
, SLDN Military Advisory Council member and Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb urged lawmakers to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and “open up the military to all Americans who possess the desire, talent and character to serve.”
“The ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy is counterproductive to military readiness. Over the past 10 years more than 10,000 personnel have been discharged as a result of this policy, including 800 with skills deemed ‘mission critical,’ such as pilots, combat engineers, and
linguists. These are the very job functions for which the military has experienced personnel shortfalls. General John M. Shalikashvili, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993 when the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy was enacted, no longer supports the policy because he now believes that allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the military would no longer create intolerable tension among personnel and undermine cohesion. A recent Zogby poll supports this view. It found that three-quarters of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans were comfortable interacting with gay people,” Korb testified .
Mr. Korb’s testimony highlights the fact that the defense community is reevaluating the effectiveness of this law and many are concluding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is counter-productive to America’s national security interests. Our country has already lost 12,000 service members to this law and there is no reason why, given that we are at war, we should continue discharging more linguists, pilots, medics, and intelligence officers simply because they are gay. It hurts our ability to field the best fighting force possible and as a result weakens our national security.
To learn more about the proceedings visit SLDN online
or to read Lawrence Korb's full written testimony click here
04-16-08 Comment (0)
Dear Mr. Sears:
I have read your article entitled SLDN Bashes Straw Man on Capitol Hill
and am totally disappointed in your inability to hear what was being said by those of us that were participating in the SLDN event. One member of the panel was gay, and that person was not discharged for being gay. My personal comments focused on my knowledge of the performance and behavior of gay men in the military, both as an enlisted man serving as their peer, and as an officer serving as their superior.
I am not gay. Therefore I did not have anything to conceal. My position always has been and still is: those who are qualified to serve should be permitted to serve based on performance, not sexual orientation.
Labels: Military Advisory Council
04-14-08 Comment (0)
This week the Advocate
magazine published its recent interview
with presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) during which he and Advocate
news editor Kerry Eleveld discussed, among other issues, the need to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.
When asked “if you were elected, what do you plan to do for the LGBT community -- what can you reasonably get done?” Senator Obama replied, “I reasonably can see ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ eliminated.”
I am extremely encouraged by Senator Obama's
optimism to get "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repealed. He, like Senator Clinton
, wants this terrible law repealed sooner rather than later. It is also my hope we can persuade Senator McCain
this inequitable law must go. Our opportunity to repeal this law is in the next Congress -- with a new president in the White House demonstrating leadership in the repeal fight.
Later in the interview Eleveld returns to the issue of gays in the military asking, “you’ve said before you don’t think that’s [ repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”] a heavy lift. Of course, it would be if you had Joint Chiefs who were against repeal. Is that something you’ll look at?” Senator Obama responded saying he, “would never make this a litmus test for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Obviously, there are so many issues that a member of the Joint Chiefs has to deal with, and my paramount obligation is to get the best possible people to keep America safe. But I think there’s increasing recognition within the Armed Forces that this is a counterproductive strategy -- ya know, we’re spending large sums of money to kick highly qualified gays or lesbians out of our military, some of whom possess specialties like Arab-language capabilities that we desperately need. That doesn’t make us more safe, and what I want are members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who are making decisions based on what strengthens our military and what is going to make us safer, not ideology.”
SLDN applauds Senator Obama’s support for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and, likewise, we appreciate Senator Clinton’s commitment to get this done. I hope the next president will expect everyone on his or her leadership team to be on the same page on major public policy initiatives, including “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I believe we have all learned tough lessons from what happens when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is not aligned with what his Commander in Chief wants to do. Unfortunately, that kind of disconnect is one of the reasons we got “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” fifteen years ago instead of an executive order permitting open service.
Labels: 2008, barack obama, Hillary Clinton, McCain, presidential candidates
04-11-08 Comment (4)
General David Petraeus testified yesterday before the Senate Armed Service and Senate Foreign Relations Committees on the state of America's efforts in Iraq. Feelings about our military presence in the Middle East run high, and the presence of all three presidential candidates certainly added a level of political tension to the setting, but it is important that Congress and the American people not overlook the fact that Iraq is only one theater in which American service members are stationed. It is now painfully obvious to all that the global war on terror has stretched our military capabilities to the limits. If Congress is clear headed about addressing this problem it must repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
In his testimony General Petraeus told senators, "the strategic considerations include recognition that: the strain on the U.S. military, especially on its ground forces, has been considerable." He went on to recommend a 45-day "period of consolidation and evaluation" once the extra combat forces associated with the surge complete their pullout in July. He did not commit to a timetable for resuming troop reductions after the 45-day pause.
Under questioning by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), General Petraeus said he could not predict when troop reductions would resume or how many U.S. troops would remain in Iraq by the end of this year. There currently are 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and the pentagon projects that when the scheduled troop withdrawals are completed in July about 140,000 troops will remain.
Senator Levin asked General Petraeus when he would recommend further troop cuts, once the 45-day evaluation period ends in September. "It could be right then, or it could be longer," the general said. He declined comment further, saying he would recommend more cuts when conditions were right.
General Petraeus’s comments on troop reduction underscore the reality that America’s military personnel are stretched to their limits. Yet, the federal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute still requires military commanders discharge troops if they are honest and open about their sexual orientation. As a result of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law 12,000 troops have been dismissed from the military since 1994.
Congress needs to give all commanders every opportunity to recruit train and retain the best troops needed to accomplish the mission. Congress needs to change the law to ensure that military readiness is more important than promoting prejudice towards lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
To ensure military readiness and enhance our national security Congress must finally repeal the terrible “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” federal statute
04-09-08 Comment (0)
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