Lily Burana, author most recently of I Love a Man in Uniform: A Memoir of Love, War, and Other Battles, and married to an Army intelligence officer, had a terrific column in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Timesin support of efforts currently underway in Congress to repeal the discriminatory and counterproductive policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).
For once, the Department of Defense asked me, as a military family member, what I think — specifically about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, via an online questionnaire. Since I’ve got the DOD’s ear, here are my two cents — or rather, my two words — on the matter: Good riddance.
I come to this view not just as someone who married an Army intelligence officer in 2002. My closest military friend, now deployed, is a lesbian soldier. I, like her other friends in the community, show my love for her in varying degrees of plausible deniability. We get that we can never publicly mention the girlfriend — not at an Army event, on Facebook, certainly not in an e-mail sent to her AKO address. She goes to even greater lengths: no public displays of affection with her partner, constantly qualifying herself as a “confirmed bachelorette.” Covering up requires a shamefully large amount of brain share — mental energy that could be better spent on her duties as a soldier.
Is she distracted by this charade? No. But she is burdened. When I dropped her off for her deployment, I said to some soldiers from her unit that I was “just doing my Army wife duty,” and she quickly stressed, “But she’s not my wife.” DADT requires such CYA (cover your ass) measures. She is the proud soldier of a nation built on diversity’s bedrock. Can’t we do better than this?
In just a few paragraphs, Lily succinctly captures what is so fundamentally wrong and backwards with our current policy. Everyone understands that there are gay people serving throughout our armed forces; there always has been. In fact, the Urban Institute has estimated that there are at least 65,000 gay and lesbian individuals currently serving on active duty. DADT forces these service members to jump through elaborate hoops of deception simply in order to serve their nation. As Lily writes, wouldn’t it be better to have these dedicated individuals actually using their mental energy on their duties as a soldier, sailor, airman, marine, coast guardsman or reservist?
In writing her column, Lily is no doubt giving voice to the views of many other spouses, children and family members of those very brave men and women who willingly risk so much to protect all of us. It would seem that the least we could do for those who both wear the uniform and happen to be gay is to stop asking them to lie about who they are and forcing them to deny their families in order to serve.