Gay Medic Discharged after ’60 Minutes’ Appearance
A group “dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell'” reports that Darren Manzella has been discharged under said policy.
Decorated Army Sergeant Darren Manzella has been discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law banning lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans from military service, effective June 10. The Iraq war veteran was one of the first openly gay active duty service members to speak with the media while serving inside a war zone. In December 2007, Manzella was profiled by the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes. He told correspondent Lesley Stahl that he served openly during much of his time in the Army, with the full support of his colleagues and command.
Sergeant Manzella said, “My sexual orientation certainly didn’t make a difference when I treated injuries and saved lives in the streets of Baghdad. It shouldn’t be a factor in allowing me to continue to serve.”
This is causing a stir in the blogosphere.
Steve Benen notes that Manzella was serving quite openly, “even introducing his Army buddies to his boyfriend.” His bosses knew, too, and didn’t care. But “now that Manzella’s revelations have become embarrassing to the Army, he’s been discharged.” Pam Spaulding goes further, claiming, “The Pentagon has decided that it was time to boot yet another decorated service member from its ranks not simply for being gay — but for exposing the fact that the boots and the ground and most COs don’t give a damn about someone’s sexual orientation.”
Well . . . not so much. By going on “60 Minutes” and drawing public attention to the fact that his commanders were breaking the law, of course they were backed into a corner.
Benen asks a reasonable question, though: “Which poses the great risk, Manzella being deployed and serving honorably, or Manzella not being deployed? Which is better for the troops? Which does more to help those in uniform? Which leaves the military stronger, and which leaves it weaker?”
The countervailing argument, which struck me as perfectly reasonable when DADT was passed in 1993, was that openly gay personnel, especially males in combat arms specialties, would disrupt unit morale. Having recently left the Army at that time and quite cognizant of its organizational culture, I had no doubt that this was the case. Recall, too, that DADT was actually criticized as a liberal social experiment on the part of the dope smoking (but not inhaling!) draft dodger Bill Clinton. Prior to DADT, soldiers were subject to being asked, for no apparent reason, whether they were gay. (Indeed, one of the more surreal experiences of my military career was going through the interrogation for my Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information clearance and being asked a whole host of questions along the lines of whether I was gay, had ever been gay, or thought it conceivable that I might at some point in the future become gay.) DADT was designed to end the witch hunts.
That was fifteen years ago and society’s views on homosexuality have changed dramatically. The military is more socially conservative and slower to change its culture than the society as a whole but the vast majority of the enlisted soldiers and most of their officers have joined the Service since DADT was passed. As Amanda Terkel points out, such luminaries as JCS Chairman Mike Mullen and* former Senator Sam Nunn (a DADT sponsor) have indicated that the military might be ready for rethinking this policy. She even cites a recent Zogby poll [PDF] showing 73 percent of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan being “comfortable with gays and lesbians.” Then again, only 26 percent in the same survey thought gays should be allowed to serve, compared to a plurality of 37 percent opposed.
It should be noted, too, that the number of people being discharged under DADT is less than half what it was during the last year of the Clinton administration. Still, 612 people (the number in 2006, the last year for which data are available) is a lot to lose during wartime when we’re struggling to meet recruiting and retention goals. One highly qualified medic who wants to stay in, whose unit members and leaders want him to stay in, is too many.
As to Manzella, personally, though, it’s not unreasonable to ask why the hell did he go on “60 Minutes” to talk about this if he wanted to remain in uniform?
* UPDATE: Actually following the link, I see that Terkel merely links to her own account of Mullen’s remarks. What he actually said was that the military is following the law now and, if Congress changes it, they’d follow the new law. That’s hardly advocacy for changing the law.