Friday, 30 April 2010

This is for shooting, this is for fun

One of the big political issues currently facing Barack Obama is the repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. The legal equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and looking the other way, DADT was introduced by Bill Clinton as a way of circumventing the restriction on gays and lesbians serving in the US military.

Although the policy forbids the military from investigating the sexuality of anyone in its ranks, it also bars anyone openly gay, lesbian or bisexual from serving. LGBT military personnel are expected to keep their lifestyle a secret, or face a dishonourable discharge - a punishment which has seen thousands of highly decorated soldiers kicked out, despite their otherwise exemplary records.

Obama seems keen to overturn DADT, but it's yet another divisive issue where the Christian Right is willing to exert its considerable influence. Part of the problem is the fact that there's still a great deal of intolerance within the military, with only 26% of personnel in favour of gays and lesbians serving, compared with 37% opposing the idea.

Despite regularly-voiced concerns that group morale may be negatively impacted by having openly gay people in the unit, there seems to be no empirical data to support these claims. A study by the American Psychological Association found that "when lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are allowed to serve openly there is no evidence of disruption or loss of mission effectiveness."

However, I believe their is evidence that closeted gays can cause extensive disruption. The video below was recorded by a group of US soldiers stationed at a military base in southwest Afghanistan, and graphically illustrates the impact that closeted behaviour can have on group cohesion and operational focus.

The all-male cast from the 82nd Airborne Division have clearly spent hours carefully practicing their elaborate reconstruction of Lady Gaga's video for Telephone. Already one of the most imitated videos of all time, despite only being about three months old, the nine-minute epic inspired Aaron Melcher, a married 24-year-old soldier, to choreograph his tribute to Jonas Ã…kerlund's masterpiece.

The big question here, is where does a soldier, stationed in Afganistan, find a glittery 'Drama Queen' sash?

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