When I was at my first squadron, I had my opinions on this issue firmly cemented. One of the guys that I had working for me was named Brian Sellers. He was a good guy, worked hard, and had for a time been dating one of my other (female) workers. The relationship amicably ended after a little while, and I never gave it a second thought.
Anyway, I was the night shift supervisor for a work center known as the Line Shack. This is essentially the group of people in charge of washing the aircraft and doing the required daily inspections to make sure that nothing completely stupid was going on with the birds.
We worked like crazy, in addition to the washing and the inspecting, we were also in charge of moving the aircraft between the barn and doing the directing when they were taking off. (Roughly analogous to the guys at the airport that wave their hands around in front of the plane.)
This particular afternoon we were quite busy. I had two guys out sick, another guy taking care of admin junk and I had lost another female worker to pregnancy (they get moved to the Tool Room, the purpose of which is pretty obvious based on the name, to keep them away from the HAZMAT we work with,) so I was down to four people.
We're running around trying to be in six places at once, and I have the unique privilege of herding the cats. In the middle of all this, I had told Brian to go and get some numbers off one of the engine counters in one of the aircraft. About fifteen minutes goes by, (this is a five minute job, at most,) Brian is still not back in the shop, and I am starting to get more than a little annoyed. I decide that I need to find him at this point and then drop a list of other junk that I want done. Going out of the back door to the shop, I run into Brian.
"Yurei, I need to talk to you about something." The word something comes from him with that loaded emphasis, hinting of landmines and live hand grenades.
"D'you get that 7-day done?" This is the first thing out of my mouth, and it is said in such a way that there is no doubt what shit is where on the priority list. "I hope that is the something you're talking about."
"No, it's something else."
"What?" I have become more than a little exasperated at this point.
"I'm gay." Brian's face tells me he thinks he has dropped the mother of all bombs at this point.
"Okay. What the fuck does that have to do with my engine readings?" Tilting my head to one side, my new mission completion orientation is unstoppable.
"Yurei, did you hear me? I said I'm gay." As if I am in denial.
"Yes, and that's nice. Look Selly, I don't care if you're a plaid hermaphrodite, okay? What I want is the job to get done."
This is the attitude that I have had about homosexuals and anyone else fitting into the category of being someone other than me for some time. Leave me out of your junk, I don't care. It isn't a matter of "don't ask, don't tell," it has everything to do with the fact that all I want out of anyone is that they work hard and get the job done the right way the first time, every time.
When I was on the USS Insert Coin, there was an RM1 (Petty Officer First Class, E-6, Radioman,) named Bourbon that was quite...er...flaming (for lack of a better term,) and was known to dress in drag on a regular basis. (Off the ship, of course.) I never once said anything to him about this, nor did anyone else, because he was the best damned person that boat had in Radio.
Actually, I was down in the smoking area with someone one night and they started bagging on Bourbon, calling him 'a fag' and some other shit. There were two other people there at the time, and had they not been there I would have chucked that stupid fucker clean off the boat. Had the guy taken me up on the little invitation to dance I would have gone to Captain's Mast, but it would have been worth it. I DO NOT tolerate that sort of ignorant trash, and I try to teach every junior person that comes to work for me the same type of tolerance and respect for humanity.
What if Bourbon had been a bad worker or a crappy technician? Would I have joked around about him being a cock-wrangler or an ass master or something like that? No. I still would have stuck up for him because the word is a slur.
The United States Navy has a language problem, and we like to drink. We will fight tooth and nail to defend the people that work hard and are good at what they do, and this is especially true in Naval Aviation and the Maintenance departments that keep those aircraft in the air. We all knew that "don't ask, don't tell" was a fucking stupid joke, we just went around it (as we do with many other inane pieces of legislation and philosophy forced on us,) and kept doing the job. Yes, there are homophobes in the military, but at least in my experience they are as few and far between as they are outside the armed forces. Ours just happen to get more press because they are low hanging fruit.
The policy did work well on a certain level because it stopped the cycle of harassment that some upper echelon people were using to drum homosexuals out. Specifically, I mean the right-wing fanatic Christians who seem to labor under the delusion that "gayness" is a disease that we can cure with a couple of pills and some good ol' fashioned prayer. The reason that it was so mocked in the civilian sector was that "don't ask, don't tell" was not clearly understood, and was not delivered with the same set of instructions to the non-military audience.
The guidance that I have gotten and what I interpret this to mean is essentially that EVERYONE (gay or straight) doesn't ask and doesn't tell, not just homosexuals. (It would have been better as: What you do outside of work is what you do outside of work. As long as it doesn't involve drugs or something illegal, who cares? Grow up and shut the fuck up.)
This is exactly why I do not tolerate heterosexual-oriented porn in my shops (this is actual Navy policy and is codified in the EO instructions,) simply because I understand that it could potentially make someone uncomfortable. After all, if we've got Jennifer Love Hewitt in a wet t-shirt sprawled over the locker, isn't it the right of a gay man or woman to have Brad Pitt/Rosie O'Donnel plastered up there as well?
Then people would start getting all weird about things. So the point that I am driving at here is that you remove the potential for stupid shit from the equation, level the playing field for everyone, gay and straight. I have taken over shops where we had pr0n on people's desktop wallpaper, in their lockers, etc. It disappeared within hours of my arriving.
You are a sailor first. Again, what you do in your own time is your business, but while you are here you are beholden to my will, the Constitution of the United States, and the officers appointed over you. Note that Hugh Hefner is not included in that list.
This is not about the suppression of free expression. However, you really want to express yourself? Got some radical idea that hasn't already occurred to others? Get out of the military, we are not in the flamboyant individuality business. This is not because we want a bunch of thoughtless automatons, but because I do not have the time to sit down and debate with someone the nature of Che Guevara's formative experiences relative to his Communist philosophies every time I tell someone to do something. I want process improvement, but when you are at work I want you thinking about work. Want to whack off and think about whoever does it for you? Fine, do it on your own time. If you're upstairs on the flight deck or on the flight line, you're on my clock and the contract you signed to get here says that you play by my rules while you're here. Want to have that debate about El Che? Fine, we've got port time and beer in Thailand for that. Lemme brush up on 'Motorcycle Diaries' before we get there.
(Note: I have had people that just couldn't contain themselves and felt they needed to be creative all the time. The challenge there is getting them to look at the processes around them and using that creativity to improve what we are doing. If the status quo is fucked up, go on and tell me. If you can sell me on the idea we'll give it a whirl. If it works out then congratulations, we have a new policy. If it's jacked up, then we go back to the way things were before.)
There is no reason that we should have "all gay _insert unit here_" just like there is no reason we should have all female ships or all male ships. I look at it like this: We are a reflection of the country that we serve, and for better or worse, all parties are welcome. I do not distinguish between black, white, asian, hispanic, male, female, or anything else. All I care about is whether or not you can do your job. Period.
What goes on here and public perception of what is going on are two things that often never meet in the middle. Most people have little or no experience with the military outside of what they see on television. I can tell you for a fact that shows like JAG and NCIS are some of the most vilified and hated things in the Navy. We are not like that. We are not like Top Gun. We are humans, we come in many flavors. (Even grape.) If you can't give people a certain level of respect, then maybe you need to go somewhere else.
Don't ask, don't tell? Whatever. Get me them fucking 7-day engine readings and we'll talk.
This is a slightly edited e-mail that I sent to allseeingeye. I thank him for giving me permission to post it. Names have been changed.