Don’t Ask, Don’t... Fall Asleep Watching TV?
A sailor says he's being drummed out of the Navy for an innocent incident in which he and a friend fell asleep on the same bed while watching television, CNN reported on March 5. A group that supports GLBT servicemembers says that the young petty officer is being targeted for homophobic reasons, but the Navy won't accuse him of being gay because of the current situation with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which has been legally repealed, but is still in effect for the time being.
Stephen Jones, 21, who has been studying at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina, says that he and another petty officer, Bryan McGee, were simply watching TV when they fell asleep. Jones also says that McGee was under the covers, while he was on top, and notes that they were both wearing undergarments. Jones also says that there was no sort of sexual contact between the men.
But the sight of the two asleep on the same bed was enough to make Jones' roommate "uncomfortable," the CNN article said. The roommate arranged for different quarters the next day and reported Jones. The officer in charge of the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command then set about punishing both Jones and McGee, subjecting them to a "Captain's Mast," which is a non-court martial means of disciplining members of the Navy. McGee accepted the punishment, but Jones refused, insisting that he had done nothing to violate regulations.
The Navy disagrees.
"It is a violation of the Command Instruction for sailors to act unprofessionally in the barracks. It is considered unprofessional conduct to share the same bed in Navy barracks," a spokesperson for the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command told the press.
When Jones refused the Captain's Mast, the Navy started the process of discharging him. Attorney Greg Myers, who is representing Jones, says that his client has done nothing to warrant being tossed out of the service.
"In the end, Jones was charged with falling asleep while watching a show on his computer while on his bed over the covers where another man under the covers was also sleeping," Myers said. "This is not a crime and never will be as there was and is no duty to avoid such a circumstance as a matter of laws."
Moreover, Myers says, the Navy is intent on throwing Jones out because of a perception that he might be gay.
Although Congress repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the 1993 law that bars openly gay and lesbian patriots from serving in uniform, on Dec. 18, 2010, the law is still in effect until the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Defense Secretary certify that the time is right to stop enforcing the law's provisions.
Even though the law is still in effect, there have been no dismissals of soldiers on the basis of DADT since last autumn, the CNN article noted. But that doesn't mean that gay troops--or troops suspected of being gay--are not target for dismissal anyway, with reasons other than homosexuality being given.
"This Command suspects that Jones is a homosexual but has no proof," Myers stated. "It cannot invoke 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' because there is no homosexual conduct and there is no admission of homosexuality. Yet this homophobic Command is using its suspicions to reach the same result as though there were." Added Myers, "This is bigotry disguised as the rule of law."
Myers also charged the Navy with trying to sidestep review from higher in the military's chain of command.
"The Secretary of Defense has said that 'don't ask, don't tell' cases will be reviewed at the highest levels," Myers noted. "This case is disguised as misconduct to avoid that result. This is a subterfuge being used by this Commander because he does not have the elements of proof to separate him for homosexuality, but he suspects homosexuality, so he has created this illusion that Stephen has engaged in misconduct of some form."
"We've seen this before," agreed Servicemembers United's Alex Nicholson, who heads the group, which supports GLBT military personnel and veterans. "Here is the classic text book case of trumping up charges and exaggerating an event to try to punish someone. And this is exactly what the senior defense leadership has said would not and should not happen when DADT goes away."
The Naval Nuclear Power Training Command spokesperson insisted that this was not the case, saying the Navy was "not administratively processing either of these sailors for separation based on sexual orientation."
As to the question of whether he is gay or not, "that is my business and my business alone," Jones pointed out.
Opponents of DADT's repeal have worried aloud that acceptance of openly gay troops could hasten legal parity and social acceptance for gay civilians and their families--and pro-equality advocates have given voice to the same thought. Whereas anti-gay groups speak of such an outcome as a dire consequence, pro-equality forces compare current developments with historical trends and note that racial integration was a major step toward legal and social parity for African-Americans.
On the wider political and social canvas, a Dec. 19, 2010 article posted at the Atlantic Wire speculated that the successful passage of repeal legislation will restore the Obama administration's credibility with liberals. However, even when DADT is finally repealed and openly gay troops can serve without fear of being separated from the service, DOMA will continue to create a de factor "two tiered" system for America's patriots in uniform, the Atlantic article said, noting that gay married servicemembers would be "barred by the federal Defense of Marriage Act from receiving some of the benefits that opposite-sex partners or opposite-sex spouses would receive from the military."
Critics who gave voice to fears that recruitment and retention would suffer once gays were allowed to serve openly may well find that their predictions of a military gutted by an exodus of heterosexuals fail to materialize; as advocates of repeal point out, similar predictions were made in other nations that proceeded to set aside their own anti-gay bans, with no ill effect. Moreover, similar predictions attended racial and gender integration in the American military, but no decimation of the ranks took place. Indeed, the Atlantic Wire pointed out that one immediate advantage to the end of DADT is that colleges that have been reluctant to invite the ROTC and military recruiters because their own anti-discrimination policies put them at odds with the military will now open up their campuses because that conflict will no longer exist.
Others point out that a pool of able-bodied, competent troops have been awaiting their chance within the gay community itself, and will now jump at the chance to enlist--quite possibly boosting the military's numbers, and its overall quality as well. With two wars ongoing and the all-volunteer fighting forces being put through multiple rotations, recruiters had been forced to lower their standards, creating a situation in which the physically unfit and even the criminal were being accepted into the military, while otherwise qualified recruits were shut out due to their sexuality.