Still No Gay Linguists

EDITORIAL, April 16, 2003

THE UNITED STATES may be at war -- both with al Qaeda and in Iraq -- but the military still knows a domestic threat when it sees one: gay linguists in training. Last year, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), an advocacy group that represents gay men and lesbians trying to serve their country despite the military's irrational "don't ask, don't tell" policy, disclosed that the military had discharged at least 10 linguists, seven of them Arabic-speaking, because of their sexual orientations. The military preferred to exacerbate a governmentwide shortage of Arabic-speakers rather than relax its gay ban, though the policy stigmatizes patriots and injures the military's readiness. You might think the Pentagon would have responded to the negative publicity. But apparently it has been undeterred.

In fact, the SLDN now informs us that the discharge of gay linguists has actually accelerated. The group has represented 24 linguists -- nine speak Arabic, eight Korean, three Farsi, two Chinese and two Russian -- and knows of at least one other case. According to Steve Ralls, the group's spokesman, 22 of the discharges are complete. (The Defense Department did not respond to calls seeking comment regarding the SLDN's claims.) Overall, gay discharges actually declined last year -- as they typically do when the country faces war and cannot afford to spend its time on witch hunts. But the progress has been spotty. So even as some gay men and lesbians are being tolerated temporarily while they help liberate Iraq, others are being kicked out of military language training. This is an enormous waste of human resources, at once self-destructive and unjust. The military cannot afford to brand as unfit for service qualified men and women who wish to put their talents -- whether those lie in combat roles or languages -- in the service of their country.


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