You are free, you are free before the noon day sun and you are free before the moon

By Michael Kozuck
Published: November 2009

“You are free, you are free before the noon day sun and you are free before the moon. It is with this stanza, (shown above in Arabic) from a Kahlil Gibran poem that Lieutenant Dan Choi started his speech at the National March for Equality in Washington, D.C. in October.
Lieutenant Choi, Iraq combat veteran and West Point graduate, worked for the military as an Arabic translator until he was kicked out because of his sexual orientation. He represents the more than 12,500 men and women who have been discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that was put into place in 1994 and that President Obama and the Democratic Congress have yet to end.

The policy makes coming out (telling someone you are gay) in the military an offense equivalent to drug abuse or even murder. Many who have been kicked out are deemed “mission critical: intelligence analysts and translators, people like Choi, who we need in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The primary reason the policy was put in place was a homophobic notion that if gays, lesbians, and bisexuals were to serve openly in the military, there would be chaos. The cruel irony to this specious argument is that once the so-called “War On Terror started, discharges under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy actually went down. Apparently, in times of peace, the military wants to kick out as many gays as possible, but in times of war, when order and discipline are most critical, it is acceptable for gays to serve and potentially die for their country.

I got involved in the issue in 1992 when I met Rob, a fellow college student, who came out of the closet and then was kicked out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Reserve Officers Training Corps program (ROTC). The US Government then told him that he had to pay back his scholarships, which totaled over $40,000.

Rob grew up in a small town in Ohio and joined the ROTC program as a way to pay for college, escaping the small town mentality of his high school. Once in Cambridge, his gay identity was an issue he could no longer ignore. Like many of us at the time, college offered an opportunity to express an identity that was just not possible in high school.

The U.S. military described homosexuality as, “incompatible with military service. Once Rob was kicked out of the ROTC program, his story and many others like it, galvanized college campuses around the country.

President Bill Clinton’s promises to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military further emboldened us.

Although many of us activists rejected militarism and even marched against the first Iraq war in 1991, we believed that denying people an opportunity to serve their country is a civil rights issue, similar to when African Americans were forced to serve in segregated military units.
Additionally, I saw exclusion of gays in the military as a class issue. Since many working class families do not have the money to send their children around the world or to pay for college, ending the ban would give working class gay kids an opportunity to do both.

“You don’t need to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight, Clinton when campaigning for the presidency in 1992. He promised to lift the ban on gays in the military.

Once in office, however, he caved, and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was put in place. A compromise to end the witch-hunts against gay people in the military became enshrined into law. While the situation improved, the Department of Defense has still wasted $363 million by kicking out highly trained and qualified service members.

President Barack Obama also promised in his campaign that he would end the discrimination against gay people in the military. I agreed with him when he said, “the key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve.

One year after his election, however, the policy remains, and people like Choi are denied the opportunity to protect our national security by translating Arabic (and other important languages) and going after terrorists. If Choi had sexually harassed someone or tortured detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, I would be in full support of his discharge. All he did was say he was gay.

Where is the justice? Where is the change I can believe in?

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