LGBT

Fired Navy Translator Speaks

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Writing in the New York Times, former Navy petty officer and Arabic translator Stephen Benjamin explains his dismissal under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy:

I was an Arabic translator. After joining the Navy in 2003, I attended the Defense Language Institute, graduated in the top 10 percent of my class and then spent two years giving our troops the critical translation services they desperately needed. I was ready to serve in Iraq.

But I never got to. In March, I was ousted from the Navy under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which mandates dismissal if a service member is found to be gay.

….

My supervisors did not want to lose me. Most of my peers knew I was gay, and that didn't bother them. I was always accepted as a member of the team. And my experience was not anomalous: polls of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan show an overwhelming majority are comfortable with gays. Many were aware of at least one gay person in their unit and had no problem with it.

Note that Benjamin wasn't asked and didn't tell; Naval authorities discovered casual—not explicit— instant messages indicating that both he and his roommate were gay.

Whole frustrating story here.

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  1. Cut military spending.

  2. Most of my peers knew I was gay, and that didn’t bother them. I was always accepted as a member of the team.

    That sentiment has always struck me as rather sad. This man has to worry about “acceptance” based on whom he loves? That’s how it is. And this moose doesn’t like that.

    It really bums this moose out that he has to worry about “bothering” coworkers.

    And that he has to hide it, or get (or got) fired.

    And that there’s a whole series of things he may not do.

    etc. etc. etc.

    All based on his love. Or, rather, all based on others’ inability to handle/comprehend (or ability to twist, distort, and misunderstand) his love.

  3. I was in the Navy back in the 80’s when Helms launched he witch hunt. My ship had a 1200 man crew, so there were enough gays to have their own social clique. One day the Master At Arms (shipboard cops) cut the locks off a dozen guys’ lockers. They read all their love letters and used them as evidence to get them discharged.

    Fags were never a problem. You just put them in the same uniform and you treat them like everyone else. Female personnel OTOH were (and I believe still are) a big problem. We try to pretend they’re soldiers and sailors same as the men, but they have an entirely different set of rules.

  4. Guess the right wingers haven’t decided which war they are really committed to.

  5. Stiff upper lip, chap!
    We may have a long way to go, but think how far we’ve come.

    “We shall not, we shall not be moved.
    Like a tree that’s planted by the water,
    We shall not be moved.

    Gay and straight together,
    We shall not be moved.”

  6. That’s right acceptance. It is the same thing that goes through the mind when someone has an ugly wife or a smelly beast of a husband.
    “This person enjoys sleeping with someone that I would need the bag over my head to touch.” Either I can let the “yuck factor” overcome your manners or let live and let live.

    That said when I was in college I thought it was a little unfair that homosexuals could have their sex partners stay in the dorms overnight or even be roommates without breaking the rules.

  7. The war on terror takes a back seat to homophobia. I didn’t realize our military men were tough enough to take on IEDs and armed fanatics but couldn’t deal with a gay guy translating documents next to them.

  8. On the bright side…

    At least they can’t hate us because of our un-compromised freedom to join the military!!!

    Doesn’t this reek of labor market failure to anyone?

  9. JParker:

    WTF? Ick factor? Comparing two men or two women who love each other with superficial traits?

    Don’t drown in an eyedropper, there, friend.

    WTF?

    So you’re one of those types who can’t get beyond the sex? It’s not love. It’s sex. That’s bullshit. Heteros probably practice stuff that’d give you an “ick”, but there’s probably nothing to overcome.

    It’s about love. It’s not about sex.

    how is your college experience at all relevant to a “that said”? Did I misread you? It seems as though you’re doing the (per the H&R drinking game rules) “two shots, two snaps, and a bier” formulation:
    “I am for [x], BUT…”

    If that isn’t what you’re saying, in either case, I apologize.

    Still, there is no ick factor, because it’s about love.

  10. My dream ever since elementary school was to join the military. I actually got all the way through the ASVAB and MEPS and the underwear olympics and the whole thing. Then I got to the point where they make you read the part of the UCMJ about being gay, “We’re NOT ASKING, we just WANT YOU TO KNOW.” And it’s ridiculous. “Don’t fuck, kiss, or hold hands with anybody of the same gender. Don’t say you’re gay. Don’t joke about being gay unless you know everybody in the room knows it’s a joke.” Etc. I had to tell my recruiter and back out. I love my country, but I can’t stay that far in the closet.

    Anyway, the whole thing pisses me off more than I can possibly articulate. Stupid, bigoted, hateful jerks at the top.

  11. I could have written a statement denying that I was homosexual, but lying did not seem like the right thing to do. My roommate made the same decision, though he was allowed to remain in Iraq until the scheduled end of his tour.

    That’s the best part of the whole article. “Oh, you’re a danger to unit cohesion and a disgrace to the uniform…but we’ll let you continue risking your life until the end of your tour.”

  12. Yes, it’s very unfortunate. Luckily, I think attitudes are changing rapidly and I doubt “don’t ask don’t tell” can’t last another 5 years. As a Ron Paul supporter I’m a bit dissapointed he didn’t do more to oppose that policy in the 3rd debate.

  13. Ellie

    Thank you for your story.

    True, true, true, and sad.

  14. What Ellie said.

    What kind of sick, twisted fucks are out there that look at two men who are in a committed, loving, supportive, long-term relationship and immediately imagine sex?

    Would these people have an “ick” factor when they look at a female couple? Or do they get all Cliff Clavin and Norm when they watched the scrambled “female prison” movie in the latter half of the Cheers run?

    But Ellie – those stupid, bigoted, hateful jerks at the top are supported by the lack-of-balls support given by those who have an “ick factor” or those who don’t even have the stones to admit they’re homophobic and make up some other bullshit excuse.

    Goddammit. Now I’m pissed off. And it’s a Friday. (think: beginning of “Ruthless People” where Danny DeVito’s character is telling his mistress about his plan. The waitress comes up, “more coffee?” Devito snarls “NO!”. Kinda like that)

  15. Duckman, I agree that his answer to DADT was the worst answer he’s given to date.

    The funny thing is that he started out saying that the policy was working, then goes out to say that we should only kick people out of the military if their sexual conduct constitutes an actual disruption, and that that standard should be applied to both straights and gays.

    So basically he said, “I don’t think we should get rid of the policy, but we should get rid of the policy and do the complete opposite.” It didn’t make any sense.

    It’s too bad, because this could have been another point on which to differentiate himself from the other candidates.

  16. Incidentally,

    I know off hand that gays have been openly serving in both the British military for several years and the Israeli military for quite a while. They don’t seem to have collasped.

    I served with homosexuals in the US military and had no issues with them. Well, there was one guy who was a bit of a tool but that had nothing to do with his sexuality. 😉

  17. VM,
    I think JParker was saying that for some people there is an “ick” factor whenever they see anyone engaging in the physical act of love with someone that they don’t find attractive. He was commenting on the shallow reaction that some people have. I don’t think he was having that reaction himself.
    A quick test may be applied:
    Have Mr Crane send JParker his porn. Observe his reaction. “Ick” “Oh, yeah!” or “Meh.”?

  18. Moose,

    I know this isn’t what you want to say but, when I read your comments I hear “Homosexuals are not like ugly people because they love each other. But no one could love an ugly person. That’s just icky.”

  19. The anti-gay crowd just needs to frame the issue better. After 9/11 it became clear that we had to fight a war against the Taliban. Then we had to fight a war against Saddam, and now we’re at war with Iraqi chaos. We’ve also got the global war on terror, to the extent it isn’t covered by Afghanistan and Iraq, and may end up with a war against Iran. But we also have a war on drugs, a war on Christmas and a war going on over immigration policy. A war on gays fits right in because, as you can see, we’re not fighting a bunch of poorly planned, ideologically bankrupt wars. Nope. You see, we’re fighting a war against evil.

    [cue Ministry’s “No W”]

  20. Hokae – apologies for what I messed up in phrasing.

    thanks for the adjustment!

    sorry, JParker. I apologize for misreading you!

  21. Or, in other words:

    Swamp Castle, Scene 17.

    ” LAUNCELOT: Sorry, sorry. See what I mean, I just get carried away. I really must — sorry, sorry! Sorry, everyone.”

  22. So, if Democrats run the table in ’08 and get the presidency, control of both houses of congress, and nearly 60 votes in the Senate so they can stop a filibuster, do y’all think that they will allow gays to serve openly in the military while ending the Iraq war?

  23. I honestly don’t understand how a gay person could even consider joining the service under these circumstances. The brass clearly doesn’t want you, so why bother?

  24. do y’all think that they will allow gays to serve openly in the military while ending the Iraq war?

    No on both counts. The Dems have so little political capital on all issues related to the military and national security that they can’t afford to do much on either front.

  25. Rhywun,

    That’s the $60,000 question, isn’t it?

  26. I agree that this is a stupid and harmful policy that needs to be changed.

  27. As a Ron Paul supporter I’m a bit dissapointed he didn’t do more to oppose that policy in the 3rd debate.

    I too was disappointed. Imagine how great it would have looked had Ron Paul been the only one on stage to raise his hand when asked if gays should be able to serve openly. He would have pissed off even more Repubs, but he would have received more attention, which is what he needs more than anything in this campaign.

  28. “It’s about love, not sex.”

    I don’t believe this is true.

    A lot of us have been programmed with certain “ick” responses that are hard to shake off. Imagine watching a movie, and in that movie two “friends” are out for a day of fun. At first, they’re talking and really enjoying each other’s company. Then, you’ll see them occasionally patting each other on the back. Maybe even helping each other out of the car, or whatever. But at some point, you realize that they’re not just friends – and depending on how you’ve been programmed – you say “ick”. It’s not because you realize they love each other – you knew that all along. It’s because you realize they’re willing to take it to the next level. Now imagine that the “friends” I’m talking about are in fact a woman and her father, and in fact they’re “in love”. Many of those who haven’t been programmed to say “ick” to two men who are in love, will still say “ick” if it’s a man and his (adult) daughter. But — don’t all fathers and daughters love each other? So why the “ick”?? Because it’s moved from “love” to “love with benefits”.

  29. You have a point heffer. Of course, given the importance and message of the military, people need to get over their sorry selves. It’s called sacrifice.

  30. So why the “ick”?? Because it’s moved from “love” to “love with benefits”.

    That doesn’t really explain why, heffer.

  31. “The Dems have so little political capital on all issues related to the military and national security that they can’t afford to do much on either front.”

    And the Rethuglicans do? Where the hell have you been for 6 years?

  32. “Gay and straight together,
    We shall not be moved.”

    Amen!

    Thirty years ago I (het male) coached at Woodward, what was then a women’s gymnastics camp about a half-hour east of Penn State. Back then it had about 350 students. It’s huge now.

    Anyway, they had this modern dance troupe from NY’s lower east side teach dance to the kids. A lot (all?) of the male dancers in the troupe were gay.

    Because the camp was still being built and because there were so few males there, nearly all of us (about 30) slept in one big room atop a tool shed called “the coup”. Gay and straight alike, living, working, eating, laughing, sleeping and showering…together.

    Funny thing. Morale was always great and no one was raped.

    PS Mississippi John Hurt is awesome!

  33. heffer,

    Sure there’s “ick” at the sex, but there’s also “ick” at the love–or at the mere concept. Little kids don’t know anything about sex, but they “know” that two dudes aren’t supposed to do anything to give the appearance of being gay: hold hands, touch, etc.

  34. Ellie: I’m so sorry. That royally sucks.

  35. I bet a lot of soldiers in Iraq used to have an “ick” response to seeing a dead body with guts splayed out over the street. They gotta get over it to defend the country. Same thing with the gays. Soldiers and brass have to get over the ick factor because their selfish little hang up is costing us American lives.

  36. Sure there’s “ick” at the sex, but there’s also “ick” at the love–or at the mere concept.

    Each of us have things that “ick” us for any of several reasons. The thought of having sex with another male icks me. The difference is that I realize that just because something icks me doesn’t make it wrong for everyone. Also that just because something icks most people doesn’t make it wrong for everyone.

    As far as the military goes, when I was an infantry officer I had one question about the folks in the next foxhole. Can they shoot straight under pressure?

  37. Ron Paul gave a logical response and it was good for the individual rights angle. But the way it came off was not really effective. It sounded almost like a way of talking around the issue and speaking in code to the choir. What a lot of “liberals” took away from the “personal conduct code” talk was “damn those sodomites”..especially when whats his face ( Hunter? or was it Brownback?) agreed with him.

    I also don’t understand how everyone who criticized or gave reasons the policy was absolutely stupid concluded with “the policy is great, it works”..or yeah ” we can’t go letting these f@gs experiment during a TIME OF WAR.”

    McCain’s answer was particularly idiotic. “There aren’t enough of them. and I served with gays who were fine ….but its good we fire these homos.”

    STRAIGHT Talk indeed.

    BTW, isn’t “Dont Ask, Don’t Tell” a BILL CLINTON policy? So these days embracing a Clinton policy is what helps the GOP stay on the good side of the Christian Right bigots?

    Guliani, McCain, Romney all appeal to and appear to be in the under 70 IQ group. And the rest of the guys other than Paul, are idiots also. Some of these guys make GWB look articulate.

    Paul is the only candidate who remotely says anything at all that makes any sense. But of course he doesnt exist to CNN or anyone else that decides who wins.

  38. Sorry, about ROn Paul..for some reason I missed the part where he said “it is working.” It wasnt so logical really. What I meant was he tried to appeal logically to libertarian-types and others who would find some sense in his ideas concerning either hetero or homo “disruptions” but he really blew it as far as trying to make sense to normal people and setting himself apart,etc

  39. Mark Tarnowski,
    Mavis Staples sings it on her new album. That’s what I was listening to. Ry Cooder produced it. It’s out of this world, super powerful stuff.

  40. Highnumber,

    I’ll have to give it a listen.

    First heard the song more than forty years ago on the album “The Best of Mississippi John Hurt. It’s a live recording and what I found interesting about it as a kid was that half the songs he performed were old spirituals and the other half were racy (e.g., red rooster in the morning / sings cock-a-doodle-do / the Richland woman sing / any dude’ll do).

  41. The US military discharging Arabic translators because they are Gay has to be the stupidest policy in the entire federal government!

    Arabic is a very hard language, and few can speak it fluently or read it who are not native speakers. Native speakers of Arabic are in many cases loyal to American values, but there is always the possibility of a native Arabic speaker becoming a militant Islamist.

    Gay guys are the LEAST LIKELY to become Islamic revolutionaries, and should be considered the least likely to be a security risk in this context.

    This truly is Mishigas! (Nonsense in Hebrew).

  42. Note that Benjamin wasn’t asked and didn’t tell; Naval authorities discovered casual-not explicit- instant messages indicating that both he and his roommate were gay.

    Key point here. How does one determine if his roomate is homosexual?

  43. What kind of genius thinks it’s good for discipline and unit cohesion to allow a class of personnel to remain in the military only if they are adept at being dishonest with their superiors and comrades?

    Yeah, THERE’S a skill we want soldiers to develop. Really helps that team mentality.

  44. “The Dems have so little political capital on all issues related to the military and national security that they can’t afford to do much on either front.”

    The Democrats now lead the Republicans in issue polling on Terrorism, Military Affairs, Foreign Policy and Iraq.

    RC Dean and his party are suffering from Mondale Syndrome.

  45. How is that key, Guy?

  46. Note that Benjamin wasn’t asked and didn’t tell; Naval authorities discovered casual-not explicit- instant messages indicating that both he and his roommate were gay.

    If the military doesn’t like gay, why do they mandate same-sex roommates?

    I know. “Military intelligence.”

  47. “If the military doesn’t like gay, why do they mandate same-sex roommates?”

    That would be one of the reasons. The military does not want to force anyone to live closely with someone who might be sexually attracted to them. Would you have the military make female personnel room with males?

  48. “Note that Benjamin wasn’t asked and didn’t tell; Naval authorities discovered casual-not explicit- instant messages indicating that both he and his roommate were gay.”

    I take it that means he was instant messaging over his work computer, which was effectively sharing the content of those messages with his superiors. Disagree with the policy if you want, but I do not see how he did not “tell” (though it’s possible he may have been foolish enough not to realize he was telling). An employee can never consider what he does on workplace equipment a private matter, especially not one doing intelligence work for the military.

  49. I cannot vouch for the truth of this story.

    In 1944 or ’45 General Dwight D Eisenhower was presented with a report on a investigation that showed widespread lesbianism among WACs serving in US Army units.

    Eisenhower immediately told the aide who had delivered the report that the offenders were to be found and shipped back to the States immediately. His secretary, a WAC officer, pointed out that they were already shipping home large numbers of WACs who had become pregnant.

    She said “At least the girls who are lesbians will not get pregnant, besides if you go through with this you will have to send me home too.”

    Ike dropped the matter immediately.

    If only common sense would rule today as it did then and a few years later when HST (in one of his few decent policy decisions) integrated the Armed Services.

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