The Disgrace of Misplaced Priorities

What does it say about this country—in particular, its military—when homosexuality is somehow viewed as a greater threat than terrorism? When fighting a war is deemed subordinate to cleansing the ranks of gay soldiers? When an individual’s skills and experience—no matter how crucial or rare—take a backseat to their sexual orientation and would be cast aside because of such? What lessons can be gleaned from the tale of Sgt. Bleu Copas, as reported here by the Associated Press?

Army dismisses gay Arabic linguist

A decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was dismissed from the U.S. Army under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, though he says he never told his superiors he was gay and his accuser was never identified.

Bleu Copas, 30, told The Associated Press he is gay, but said he was “outed” by a stream of anonymous e-mails to his superiors in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“I knew the policy going in,” Copas said in an interview on the campus of East Tennessee State University, where he is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling and working as a student adviser. “I knew it was going to be difficult.”

An eight-month Army investigation culminated in Copas’ honorable discharge on Jan. 30 — less than four years after he enlisted, he said, out of a post-Sept. 11 sense of duty to his country.

Copas now carries the discharge papers, which mention his awards and citations, so he can document his military service for prospective employers. But the papers also give the reason for his dismissal.

He plans to appeal to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records.

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, established in 1993, prohibits the military from inquiring about the sex lives of service members, but requires discharges of those who openly acknowledge being gay.

The policy is becoming “a very effective weapon of vengeance in the armed forces” said Steve Ralls, a spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington-based watchdog organization that counseled Copas and is working to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Copas said he was never open about his sexuality in the military and suspects his accuser was someone he mistakenly befriended and apparently slighted.

More than 11,000 service members have been dismissed under the policy, including 726 last year — an 11 percent jump from 2004 and the first increase since 2001.

That’s less than a half-percent of the more than 2 million soldiers, sailors and Marines dismissed for all reasons since 1993, according to the General Accountability Office.

But the GAO also noted that nearly 800 dismissed gay or lesbian service members had critical abilities, including 300 with important language skills. Fifty-five were proficient in Arabic, including Copas, a graduate of the Defense Language Institute in California.

Discharging and replacing them has cost the Pentagon nearly $369 million, according to the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara. [full text]

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