Awaiting the Military's 'Coming Out Day'

Finally, gays can serve openly in the military… right? Not exactly. After decades of discrimination, there's the glimmer of a future. Even though we should celebrate a great victory in the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, there is a long way to go. First, and most obviously, the military must prepare and implement a plan to integrate gays into the military. A long period of reviews and reports and sensitivity training will precede the actual freedom to serve openly. We should all look forward to the first military Coming Out Day, but if we are realistic, we will plan for October 12, 2012 rather than 2011.

This great celebration that we await only celebrates federal, administrative authorization to serve. It is important to remember this is only the authorization to be out. As an atheist in the military, I can be “out,” but that certainly doesn't mean there are no issues. For newly-out gay service members, we should expect accusations from all sides – sexual harassment, harassment about sexual orientation, freedom of speech, freedom of religion. The military is trying to mitigate issues through its sensitivity training and implementation plans. I hope that military and LGBT support organizations are ready for a lot of counseling, advocacy, and litigation.

Internal harassment problems are only the basics. At the federal level, there could be months or years of delays or even re-implementation of DADT from a conservative majority in the Congress. Another concern is blockage at the state level. While the active duty and reserve military components are controlled by the federal government, the National Guard is controlled at the state level. DADT relates to state and federal regulations, housing benefits, veterans benefits, spousal benefits, religious freedoms, and interactions with local national populations during deployments. All of these areas provide legal end-arounds to restrict LGBT rights despite the general repeal of DADT.

There has been, throughout history and around the world, prejudice against homosexuals. That prejudice persists in many parts of the world. Fortunately in the US, with the benefit of a free society and some confirmation from science, much of that prejudice has been washed away. Zoology teaches us that homosexual relationships are not uncommon in nature. Psychology teaches us that sexual orientation is neither a choice nor simply male-female. Heterosexual relationships teach us that gender combination is no determiner of parenting quality, sexual deviation, or good citizenship. The problem is that some people have old books (a.k.a. scriptures) and religious leaders insisting that homosexuality is sinful and should be open for ridicule and ostracism.

The military has an entire professional clergy – 3,000 senior officers and thousands of veterans. There is great power among this government clergy, through rank, special access to commanders, and confidential access to troops. This will continue to amplify the loudest prejudices at all levels of the military. Factions of chaplains are organizing for internal resistance. With 66% of chaplains from just evangelical Christian denominations (excluding other Christian denominations), it is fair to expect strong dissent from chaplains. The interfaith community, civilian and chaplain, needs to organize to ensure that religion has a voice in support of LGBT rights, not just against. Hopefully Christian denominations that accept the DADT repeal can, from within, reform or dismiss from service those chaplains that are not fit to serve with homosexuals.

DADT has been repealed, but the wheels of bureaucracy will turn slowly. We can expect years of problems internal harassment and strong chaplain opposition as well as internal and external attempts to undermine the new law. That having been said, we should all put on our calendars that "Coming Out Day" and plan for a big celebration. It may take years, but for the first time, the military will cease to be a haven for discrimination.

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