Monday, July 21, 2008

Families on the Frontlines: Discipline, Structure & A Sense of Family

PFLAG's 'Families on the Frontlines' series continues with this guest post from Naval Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Knight. He served two tours, from 2001-2005 and 2006-2007.

Jason, a trained military linguist who served in Kuwait, was dismissed from the Navy after he spoke out publicly in response to remarks by former Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace, who referred to LGBT military personnel as "immoral."

In 2001, at the age of 18, I found myself in a Navy recruiting office in Newark, Delaware making a decision that I never would have seen myself contemplating before; to finally step out into the world.

Coming from a broken home, and being moved in an out of foster care, I thrived on the discipline, the structure, and the sense of family the Navy instilled in me. I quickly found myself accelerated to the top one-percent of the Navy, stationed in Washington, D.C. as part of the Navy Ceremonial Guard, of which I was privileged to perform military funerals, including those who died on September 11, 2001.

After completing my tour, I trained as a Hebrew linguist, working with the National Security Agency, and continued to pave a promising career in the Navy. Nevertheless, it came to a screeching halt when my commander received annulment paperwork from my spouse that revealed that I was gay. When questioned about my own sexuality, I could not compel myself to break the military's code of honesty and integrity and was quickly discharged and removed from the base. I had become a casualty of a policy that enforces discrimination solely based on who I was.

After only a year, I was recalled back to service and shipped to Kuwait where I experienced a very different situation, serving openly with the support of my command and colleagues for nearly a year.

Despite promotion and accolades (and even a recommendation and pending package for Officer Candidate School), I was discharged again under the law known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for speaking out against former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace when he stated that gays were 'immoral' in March 2007. My experience is Kuwait was certainly not unique or unparalleled to the shift in attitude toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans that serve in our military today.

Supporters of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," many of whom have never served in the military, are clinging to their only argument - allowing homosexuals to serve would undermine unit cohesion and disrupt good order and discipline. However, this claim has never been substantiated. In fact, there is mounting evidence that proves just the opposite. With countless polls showing that nearly 80% of Americans are in support of repeal, and a drop of nearly 50 percent in discharges since the start of the war, it is clear that this counterproductive law that only perpetuates hatred and discrimination.

On Wednesday, Congress will reassemble after more than a decade to discuss the impact of "Don't Ask, Don' Tell." The hearing, held by the House Armed Services Committee, is a critical moment in the efforts to repeal the failed law that has ended more than 12,500 careers, over 800 personnel who were in mission critical job fields such as linguists and medics. The repeal of this law would finally end a legacy of intolerance, afford opportunities to young adults to pursue a fulfilling career, and express the respect that Americans have for our lesbian, gay, and bisexual troops.

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