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Kolbe could do more

By Sheila Bapat
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
March 27, 2000
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On Saturday, high school students all over Tucson were invited by Representative Jim Kolbe to meet recruiters from the United States Armed Forces. This is a kind gesture on Kolbe's part, considering that he couldn't even join the military without the fear of being thrown out because he is gay.

An advertisement on Kolbe's website that plugged the meeting stated, "Get your degree. Take command." But it didn't include the fine print: "If you're a gay teenager, don't bother coming. The armed forces don't really want you." In theory, everyone is allowed to join the military. In reality, the American armed forces are doing all they can to weed gays out.

The don't ask, don't tell policy, pushed into action by Kolbe's fellow Republicans, has in fact led to thousands of gays being thrown out of the military. President Clinton proposed the initial legislation in 1993, intending to protect gays in the armed forces. The Republican Congress then juiced up the bill with anti-gay loopholes before passing it. GOP leaders still love to claim that the discriminatory policy is "working."

Furthermore, a Pentagon survey released on March 24 found that "disparaging and even hostile attitudes toward gay men and women remain a pervasive part of military culture." According to the survey, 37 percent of military personnel had experienced or witnessed some form of harassment based on sexual orientation in the last year. Some of these had even dealt with physical assault.

"We're in a posture that makes it impossible for very good people to serve without living in fear that something private about themselves will be divulged and held against them," said Leon S. Fuerth, Vice President Al Gore's National Security Adviser. "In our society that is changing and our military has always been a reflection of the society as a whole."

Defending and protecting America is the linchpin of the armed forces, yet they senselessly justify excluding American citizens from doing this simply because of their sexuality. It goes without saying that the military needs to change. It must be transformed from the inside out. Especially since leaders within the armed forces continue to downplay the discrimination.

"We're not necessarily concerned with the results [of the Pentagon's survey]," said Major Lapan of the United States Marine Corps. "We're not seeing indicators like increased complaints of threats or mistreatment that would indicate the [Don't Ask, Don't Tell] policy is not working." Forty-five percent of marine personnel surveyed admitted to hearing offensive comments often, yet Lapan isn't concerned.

The first step is critical; it requires representatives like Kolbe taking a stand against recruiting for the armed forces as long as they continue such discrimination. Some may argue that such recruitment is a political leader's responsibility, therefore Kolbe is fulfilling his duty as a leader by encouraging young people to join the armed forces.

An even greater responsibility of any leader like Kolbe, however, is to fight to ensure that an American institution as significant as the military is upholding basic civil rights, and allowing all Americans to exercise their right to defend their own nation.

It may seem a daunting task to Kolbe, who has been entangled in the Republican party for 16 years. Of course Kolbe cannot achieve this on his own, and it is unreasonable to expect him to. However, it would be a significant step in the right direction if someone with his power at least starts acknowledging the problem and stops pretending it doesn't exist. It would be impressive if Kolbe publicly decried the don't ask, don't tell policy, acknowledging the shameful results of the Pentagon's survey, and encouraging his fellow Republicans to change their position.

But instead he is encouraging youth to join the military. He is taking the path of least resistance, as he has always done. And he is ignoring the reality of the discrimination gays are facing. Kolbe needs to fight the mainstream of his party; he needs to begin standing up for what is right. Jim Kolbe is a high-ranking member of Congress with 16 years experience and a great deal of power. It is high time that he begin representing his constituents.

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