April 24, 2009

Military Mistreats Gays, C.U. Alum Claims

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Direction Action to Stop Heterosexism’s onslaught against oppressive actions toward homosexuals continued yesterday, as the student group hosted “Future of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” in Myron Taylor Hall. Aaron Tax ’98, legal co-director of The Service Members Legal Defense Network, spoke to the audience about the context and deleterious effects of the infamous 15-year-old measure “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which refers to the United States military policy on homosexuals that mandates immediate discharge from service of anyone who shows signs of homosexuality, a policy Tax emphasized as antiquated and baseless.
Tax, who studied law at George Washington University said, “It’s much worse than you think,” referencing the unofficial title of his lecture.
“These are people who give up their lives for our country, and they really are treated like second class citizens.”[img_assist|nid=37198|title=Making a point|desc=Aaron Tax ’98 talks about the presence of LGBT people in the military in Myron Taylor yesterday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
A slew of statistics and anecdotes regarding the policy were presented. According to Tax, two Americans per day are discharged from the military over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Ironically, there are 65,000 lesbian, gay or bisexual men and women are currently serving in the military, none of whom are able to come out to their commanding officers or peers, for fear of severe repercussions.
Tax’s position at the Service Members Legal Defense Network puts him in an ideal place to help change the law. Founded 15 years ago in response to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Network has handled over 9,000 cases, with Tax regaling the audience with numerous synopses of the most egregious cases.
“We had a man who was serving in Iraq. His partner of nine years was killed in a car crash in the states,” Tax said. “He got a day off to mourn the death of a friend, that’s it.”
Tax also discussed the case of Darren Manzella, a former Army sergeant who was openly gay in his army unit for more than a year before being discharged. Though he told his commanding officer of his sexuality, even going to the extent of showing him a video of kissing his boyfriend, Manzella received no repercussions for about six months, during which period he became openly gay to about 100 other military men. After appearing on CBS’ “60 Minutes” to discuss the army’s policy on sexuality, he was finally discharged. Manzella’s experience showed that, more and more, military authorities are turning a blind eye to homosexuality for various reasons of sensibility and efficiency, and discharge can often be an arbitrary issue.
Tax also noted that the United States is in the minority among nations that discriminate against homosexuals in the military. Nearly all member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization no longer make sexuality a case for enrollment, and the British military even recruits at gay pride parades.
“A lot of people may want to blame the military, but this isn’t your law, it’s our law,” Tax said, encouraging students to fight the policy at the grassroots. “What we would love for the White House to do is to lead a little bit, and tell Congress it’s time to get rid of the law.”
Following the discussion, Tax stayed to discuss the issue further with attendees. Though the audience was suffused with a decidedly liberal bias, many students expressed their appreciation for Tax imparting his knowledge and encouragement unto the campus.
“I thought it was awesome,” said Graham Rengert ’09, a leading member of Direction Action to Stop Heterosexism (DASH). “He taught me a lot of stuff I didn’t know. He threw a lot of things in there a lot of people don’t think about.”
The talk was primarily the brainchild of Ashwin Iyengar ’09, a DASH member who participated in an externship with Tax over Spring Break.
“I met Aaron through the Cornell externship program,” Iyengar said. “We’ve always done stuff with LBGT people in the military. Everyone was so happy to do this event because it seemed to be a natural progression.”