In 1992, presidential candidate Bill Clinton specifically addressed gays and lesbians in his campaign speeches and made the promise to lift the ban that prevented homosexuals from serving in the U.S. military once he would be elected into office. Unfortunately, he didn’t anticipate the strong opposition that existed towards this issue. Due to this strong opposition, once, elected into office he couldn’t keep his promise. Clinton was forced to modify his proposal and find a compromise that didn’t necessarily satisfy everyone. “Under the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, military officials wouldn’t ask new recruits about their sexual orientation , which meant that gay soldiers would be allowed to serve as long as they didn’t tell anyone in the armed forces about their sexuality(Streitmatter, 65).
As pointed out by Streitmatter, the issue was discussed all over the news. Some of the messages sent were positive others rather negative. More specifically, two of the negative messages were that “gay men are sexual predators, thereby making it unsafe for straight soldiers to be anywhere near them”, and secondly “the presence of gay men in the military was depicted as being disruptive in so many ways that it would be impossible for the armed forces, if their ranks were officially opened to homosexuals, to function effectively” (Streitmatter, 66). Two positive messages conveyed by the media were that “discrimination against gays is unacceptable” and that “gay people can be exemplary soldiers” (Streitmatter, 66). In the following we look at some specific examples.
Gay Men Are Sexual Predators and Disruptive for the Military
Many newspapers joined the debate on lifiting the ban of homosexuals in the military and conveyed rather negative messages. For instance, several conservative news outlets picked up the stereotypes that were coined in the newspaper articles of the 1950s that depicted gay men as being very sexual, unable to controle their sexual desires, a danger for young boys and as being “sexual predators” in general. Below is an excerpt of an article that appeared in the conservative Chicago Tribune newspaper on January 2,1993. The article is titled “A Battle for the Military’s Soul“.
“… The U.S. military is bracing itself for perhaps the most important fight of its history. I contend that if we lose this, American Desert Storm sharpness combat readiness and ethical soul will be dulled forever.
The fight is about President-elect Bill Clinton’s campaign promise to lift the military’s 50-year ban on homosexuals. The military and its conservative supporters have drawn a line in the moral sand. If the ban is lifted, many professional soldiers and leaders will leave, and recruitment will drop through the safety net…
…..But granting legal status and access to the military to homosexuals who choose their lifestyle doesn’t wash with soldiers. Homosexuality is a choice. Research to prove otherwise is as deeply flawed as it is highly touted. If that were not the case, groups like Exodus International and Regeneration would not have helped thousands of former homosexuals return to their normal, heterosexual lifestyles.” (Maginnis, 1993).
I was really shocked when reading this article. The article is only 14 years old, but it depicts homosexuality as being a “danger” for society, unnatural and as being a personal choice people make. The article depicts homosexuality as some sort of “sickness” that can and should be “healed”. The article goes on stating that “the vast majority of homosexuals are highly promiscious” and hence reinforces many of the stereotypes mentioned above (Magininnis, 1993).
In addition to the newspaper coverage on the issue, TV news also picked up the story. As pointed out by Streitmatter, the TV coverage also reinforced lots of existing stereotypes. For instance, when covering stories about homosexuals in the military and lifitng the ban, some of the major news programs showed soldiers walking out of the communal shower rooms.
“While the images of young men wearing nothing but towels – their bare chests and legs exposed – were more graphically interesting than other shots, they also reinforced the idea of gay men being obsessed with sexual pursuits” (Streitmatter, 67).
Other newspaper articles and TV news programms went on talking about the idea that it would be very disruptive for military operations to allow homosexuals in the military. Several sources made it clear, that they consider it to be very problematic to have straight soldiers and homosexual soldiers living together in crowded barracks, sharing the shower rooms and living so close together. Below is an excerpt from an editorial titled “Keep the Military’s Homosexual Ban” that was published in the Wall Street Journal in the heat of the debate.
“Service members live together, shower together, sleep in cramped quarters together, and – in an emergency – share blood with one another. There is no way that such arragements would not be severly compromised by the presence of homosexuals” (Streitmatter, 68).
Several interviews and comments by active military members where used in these articles to reinforce the idea that homosexuals should not be in the military because it is “unnatural” and would scare away straight soldiers.
Discrimination against Gays is unacceptable and Gay People Can be Exemplary Soldiers
More liberal newspapers, such as the New York Times and the Los Angels Times, emphasized in their coverage on the issue that they consider the discrimination against homosexuals in the military as unacceptable. Their coverage seems much more plausible. For instance, the New York Times emphasized in several articles that homosexuality is not a choice but a matter of genetics (Streitmatter, 69). An article in USA Today looked at all the other countries world-wide that allow homosexuals to serve in the military, with the Netherlands and Germany being two of them. “Give each man or woman who wants to serve a chance” (Streitmatter, 69). Several news outlets that supported the cause made it clear that U.S. citizens should not be punished for who they are. Everyone in the United States should be able to join the armed forces and not be discriminated based on sexual orientation.
In addition, several articles pointed out that homosexuals can certainly be exemplary and good soldiers. The picture above shows Margarethe Cammermeyer who served in the US military for 27 years and had the rank of a colonel, when she was discharged for being a lesbian. Throughout her military career, Cammermeyer was honored for her exemplary work as a military nurse and received several medals. When Cammermeyer went public with her story, the media started also to slowly incorporate the stories of lesbians in the military in their coverage on the issue. For a long time, the coverage only focused on gay men.
I thought it was very interesting to find out more about the debate on lifting the ban of homosexuals in the military. Conservative and liberal newspapers depicted the stories in two very distinguished ways. I was a little bit shocked when I noticed how hostile several conservative newspapers were towards homosexuals. They used lots of stereotype sin their articles and depicted homosexuals as a threat to society and national security. As mentioned above, one article even mentions that homosexuality is a choice and that they should be “healed” from it. In addition, I was also very sad to find out how many great and exemplary soldiers, such as Margarethe Cammermeyer, were discharged from the military because they talked about their sexual orientation.
For my blog post next week, I will take a closer look at the development of the DADT policy and the media coverage on the issue.
Maginnis, R. L. (1993, January 2). ChicagoTribune.com. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1993-01-02/news/9304100124_1_homosexuals-gays-exodus-international
LESBIAN COLONEL REMOVED BY GUARD :Official Reluctance Attends Discharge of Army Officer in Washington State. (1992, May 29). New York Times (1923-Current file),A16. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 116167305).