Unfriendly Fire
How the gay ban undermines the military and weakens America

Nathaniel Goes Head-to-Head with Homophobic Vets

I appeared on a one-hour NPR call-in show in San Francisco this week, “The Forum.” Listen to the radio show here. You never know who is going to call in on these shows, and just because it’s San Francisco doesn’t mean they’re going to be homo-loving liberals. Sure enough,

I had to go head-to-head with callers who said they served in the military and they were absolutely certain that letting gays serve openly in small, elite combat units wouldn’t work. To which I say, ‘you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.’ First off, they’re already there; this is a matter of you getting your head out of the sand. Second, the research is abundantly clear that openly gay service works, both in foreign countries and also here in our own military. Over two thirds of military members say they know or suspect a gay person in their unit, and my book documents the presence of known gays in combat units.

Serving in the military gives you a unique perspective, but it doesn’t necessarily give you the right perspective, or the last word on this subject. In fact, military members have a history of being wrong on a variety of issues where civilian leadership has had to step in. Many in the military thought liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk; they thought women could never be in the military; they thought racial integration would break the armed forces; they usually want to indefinitely fund outdated weapons programs and redundant military bases. And in a democracy, we the people often have to step in and say, no you can’t. That’s the case with banning gays in the military too.

All it says when military members or vets oppose lifting the ban is that they don’t want to serve with gays, not that they can’t. Frankly, I don’t want so serve with homophobes either. Some wish they didn’t have to serve with Jews, African-Americans, atheists, Muslims, women. But the military isn’t about what they or I or you want, but about what works for the whole, and firing capable Arabic linguists while replacing them with felons and high school drop-outs just isn’t working out, I’m afraid. Neither I nor the homophobe gets to kick the other out. The military is about grinning and bearing it. I understand this, and I’ve never even served in uniform. And so, while I wouldn’t want to serve with a homophobe, I’d be willing to, so long as he keeps his paws to himself and doesn’t look at me funny.

One Response to “Nathaniel Goes Head-to-Head with Homophobic Vets”

  1. Keith says:


    I heard you on NPR and I was blown away with how smart and tactful you were. You are such a intelligent person and speaker. You dealt with the people that called, in such a way that is deserving of praise. Many people find it hard to articulate their points, especially when put on the spot, but you never missed a beat and hit one home run after another. Thank you for the touching show. I’m a gay man who lives near San Francisco, I’ve been in the military for over 20 years and I have a partner of 9 years. After your show I had to stop and really think about what I was doing. I had to question why I was still in the Air Force when I couldn’t live an open life. I can never speak about my partner, and I work with some real asshole homophobes. They have no idea that I’m gay so I get to hear all of their homophobic comments. I know overturning the gay ban is going to be ugly in the ranks. However, it’s overdue and I’ve made a decision to come out once the ban is lifted. I’m sure I will see some shocked faces. But the current ban forces us to keep secrets and not be true to ourselves like our straight counterparts are allowed to. It will be such a relief to not have to deal with this craziness anymore.

    Thank you for fighting for us, we need all the help we can get.


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