Northwestern University professor Charles Moskos died of cancer three days ago at age 74. This would not be an item of national news had Moskos not been the principal author of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 1993. The most sought-after military sociologist in the country, an Army veteran himself, Moskos wrote the policy for the newly inaugurated President Bill Clinton, who had promised during his election campaign to lift the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces.
Remember that episode of The Wonder Years where Kevin gets paired-up in square dancing in gym class with the least popular girl in school? He’s miserable at first, but then he finds himself coming to understand and even like her. He’s mortified at the thought of this weirdo hanging out with him publicly, however, so he offers her a compromise: they can be secret friends. She is not enthusiastic.
Bill Clinton decided it would be politically expedient to sell a similar compromise to the gay community in 1993. The resulting policy, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — originally pitched by Moskos as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Seek, Don’t Flaunt” — allowed gays and the military to be secret friends; homosexuals were not barred from service, so long as they did not engage in “homosexual activity,” which the policy defined as not merely hot man-on-man/girl-on-girl action, but also “a statement that the member is a homosexual or bisexual.”
In other words, uttering the words “I am gay,” even if you refrain from all sexual behavior (which I think is a reasonable expectation of members of the armed forces regardless of their sexuality), makes you too gay to serve in the U.S. military.
The policy is cowardly, and errs on the side of bigotry by treating homosexuality as a dirty little secret that must be kept at all cost if gay men or women want to serve their country by joining the armed forces. It’s also not very efficient — the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network reports that nearly 12,000 people have been discharged from the various branches of the American armed forces since 1994. It’s long past time to do away with this ignorant and bigoted policy, to allow gay men and women to openly serve their country in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, and to force those officers and enlisted men who are still squeamish about serving side-by-side with a homosexual to grow the fuck up.
Moskos continued to support his policy for the rest of his life, though in an interview with Lingua Franca in 2000, he predicted the policy would be gone within five to ten years. He also rejected the notion that allowing gays to serve openly would negatively impact “unit cohesion,” a common argument against gays in the military. That doesn’t mean Moskos had mellowed in his old age, however — he then said the best reason to ban gays from service as “modesty rights” of the straight guys. “I should not be forced to shower with a woman,” he said. “I should not be forced to shower with a gay.”
Sounds like a nice guy. Too bad the motherfucker is dead.