This past Sunday, the CBS news program 60 minutes ran an interesting segment about gays openly serving in the military despite the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law banning homosexuals. The most prominent servicemember interviewed was US Army Sgt. Darren Manzella, a combat medic currently serving as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This interview is probably one of the most controversial in awhile as well, since not only is Sgt. Manzella openly serving with the tacit approval of his command, but he is not currently facing discharge proceedings for being gay. I have to be honest and say that while I strongly support the repeal of DADT and Manzella being able to serve openly, I have mixed feelings about his doing this interview. I think that Sgt. Manzella has a compelling story to tell and his open service even in combat shows just how absurd the DADT policy is. Stories like his may help in efforts to repeal this ridiculous law. However, I’m not so sure that this interview was held at the right time for him to speak up. From what he has said, people in his command put themselves on the line in order to keep him in and going public like this may leave some of them feeling betrayed. These commanders didn’t enact this law and obviously value his service, nor can the military itself change it. Thanks to President Clinton signing DADT into law in 1993, only Congress can make any changes or even repeal it. I don’t know Sgt. Manzella nor the entirety of his situation, but what happens to him and them now will help determine what other commands will do in a similiar situation. Will others be so willing to help known gay servicemembers remain in the military while DADT is in place? Difficult to say. I’m not sure that this interview was the right thing for him to do and even he acknowledges that he’ll probably be discharged over it. I think it might have been better to wait until leaving the military voluntarily, or at least when proceedings for discharge under DADT might have been initiated after the war. I’m cynical enough to believe that they would have been after the end of hostilities, which recent history seems to demonstrate. Yet, it is possible that my own experience from the early days under the policy might be coloring how I view this. I don’t know. I just don’t think him doing this interview now was the right move, even though I enjoyed his story. Nevertheless, he does have an interesting story and I have nothing but respect for those who put themselves in danger to save the lives of their fellow soldiers.
Besides Sgt. Manzella, there were other good interviews with some gay veterans. Inluded among these were Jarrod Chlapowski of Servicemembers United and Brian Fricke of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Both of these men in particular did a superb job in responding to reasonable questions from Leslie Stahl. The most amusing line though has to go to Fricke, calling those serving today the “Will & Grace Generation”. The more that people hear from gay vets like these gentlemen the more I believe they will see just how stupid this law really is.
Two final quick notes, Congressman Duncan Hunter in my view came across as a total ass, apparently unaware of what these Brits were decorated for, while Major Daniel Davis’ remarks appeared to be plagiarized almost verbatim in parts from the 1949 testimony defending racial segregation by then-SecArmy Kenneth C. Royall.
UPDATE: Chlapowski did a follow-up interview on CNN about this that is well worth watching.
— John (Average Gay Joe)