It Takes a Felon To Raise an Army

The armed forces use “moral waivers” to let convicted felons in, while using morality to throw gays and lesbians out. Where is the logic in that?

Oh, right, I’m talking about the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. It’s not about logic. It’s about men being macho. Queers in their ranks make them go soft. Rapists, child molesters, and murderers, on the other hand, make military men harder, tougher, more able to kill.

Sorry if my sarcasm is getting the better of me, but it just really pisses me off that competent gay men and lesbians who actually want to serve their country are being discharged, while the door is open to convicted felons.

I’m not alone in my anger. The other day, I spoke with Joan Darrah, a retired naval captain, about this. We met in 2006. I was working for Outgames in Montreal, and she was a runner whom I helped promote as one of the Games “poster children.”

Darrah retired from the Navy as an Intelligence Community Manager after 29-and-a-half years of service. The reason was 9/11. She walked out of a meeting at the Pentagon about 10 minutes before one of the hijacked airplanes crashed into it. She lost a number of colleagues that day.

Knowing that if she had been killed, no one would have known to contact her partner, Darrah decided it was time to retire not only her captain’s uniform, but also the professional closet she was living in. She is now one of the poster children for the Service Members Legal Defense Network (SLDN).

“Well, you know, the Army needs a few good felons,” Darrah told me with that edge of sarcasm I have come to love in lesbians and gay men. “Every day, I’m happier than ever that I’m not in the military. I’m now really angry and even embarrassed that this country has gone so Neanderthal. John McCain and his cohorts say Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is working. That’s the same group that years ago said that segregating black and whites in the military was working, and that having women doing administrative and not active-duty jobs worked. Racism and sexism were the only explanation then. Homophobia is the only reason now.”

The “felons-over-gays” controversy erupted recently when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Congressman Henry Waxman (Democrat-California), a longtime GLBT ally, released data that showed the number of Army moral waivers granted to felons increased from 249 in 2006 to 511 in 2007, and Marine waivers increased from 208 to 350.

Among those given Army waivers were three soldiers who had been convicted of manslaughter, one convicted of kidnapping, 11 convicted of arson, 142 convicted of burglary, three convicted of indecent acts with children, seven convicted of sexual assault, and three convicted of making terrorist threats. According to a military spokesperson, one of the “terrorist” threats was that of a 14-year-old threatening to blow up his high school.

“This data shines a bright light on the outrageousness and absurdity of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis stated in a press release issued in response to Waxman’s report. “On the one hand, the Pentagon is discharging highly qualified, honest, law-abiding men and women because they are gay, while on the other hand, granting waivers to rapists, killers, kidnappers, and terrorists. Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will reduce the need to grant felony waivers.”

So, while the Army and Marines are welcoming this cadre of guys of moral turpitude with open arms, the Pentagon used Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to discharge approximately 700 gay or lesbian service members in 2006. These are law-abiding, love-my-country, want-to-protect-it folks who never committed a felony offense in their lives. Their only offense is wanting to wake up with someone the military considers the “wrong” person.

With the end of this senseless war nowhere in sight, and the military in a personnel crisis, it just makes sense that keeping felons out and gays in is a much better strategy. But because the military has a commander in chief who would rather have a “strategery” rather than a strategy, it’s not surprising that rapists, murderers, and child molesters are more valued than linguists, intelligence officers, and decorated soldiers.

Libby Post, the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda, is a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication, or at [email protected].

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