"My name is Marcia Ramode, and I am United States Army Recruiter. I saw your resume on Career Builder and we have lots of vacant positions...."
Gays in the military, 2007.
A quick search of current Google News stories turns up plenty of exciting progressive thought on the matter. A New Hampshire paper chirps, "It's time to recognize contributions of gays in the military." They offer a summary of the history of gays in the United States military from the editor of the forthcoming "Ask & Tell: Gay and Lesbian Veterans Speak Out." In Tennessee, the Robertson County Times ran an editorial entitled "Openness would strengthen US military, not weaken it." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution featured an expose called "Immorality: US abuse of gays in military," while ABC News reports that "an estimated 65,000 active-duty military are gays or lesbians" and mentions new legislation being pushed by the Human Rights Campaign to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
But in a recently publicized email exchange between one military recruiter and a gay college student, the military's homophobic and rageful underbelly has been exposed.
"Awesome! Sounds great! The US Military has so many vacant positions and opportunities. I had no idea. I'm seriously considering contacting you.
"One thing, I'm not up on current politics but since it's 2007, I imagine also that I am able to serve in the US Military as an openly gay man, right?"
The exchange, circulated widely as a PDF file, has been covered in news outlets as diverse as the University of Illinois' Daily Illini, the Jersey Journal, the Advocate, WCBS News in New York, and the Army Times. The astonishing thing about the exchange is the speed with which the formerly friendly and encouraging recruiter, Marcia Ramode, switched to her homophobic, all-caps-using Mr. Hyde counterpart:
"WELL I FYOU ARE GAY WE DON'T TAKE YOU YOU ARE CONSIDERED UNQUALIFIED."
Openly gay recruitee Corey Andrew's switch to bitter sarcasm in response was less surprising. And if he had stuck with sarcasm, this might have been a traditional story of "the homophobic military versus the angry homosexuals." But instead, he and Ramode quickly began hitting below the belt.
"Wow! Unqualified to serve my country just because I'm gay? It's because they think I might all of a sudden desire one last kiss from my fellow male soldier if ever facing death at the hands of the enemy in a fox hole, isn't? Yup, that's it.
And despite Corey's outrageous comparison of military recruiters to pedophiles, the recruiter recognized that they would have to agree to disagree. The email conversation ended there. Corey went on with his life, stopping only to scoff with his friends at how ridiculous it was that this recruiter had reverted to all caps to tell him he was unqualified to be in the military because he liked boys and not girls; Marcia shook her head sadly at having to turn down yet another promising recruit because of a silly policy, and went on to do her job elsewhere.
"Funny, the US Government doesn't mind taking my 'gay' dollars every tax season or out of my paycheck every two weeks. I'm stunned that the US ARMY could afford to be so choosey when I see sergeants on my school campus and in the shopping mall like pedofilic predators, everyday, begging teenagers to enlist. Then if I factor in the 10 solicitations I've gotten in just one day through CareerBuilder.com, in which even YOU clearly stated the ABUNDANCE of vacancies and positions waiting to be filled in the Army, I would say the US military's recruitment tactics are self defeating wouldn't you? By the looks of it, especially with Iraq, looks like you kids could use all the help you can get. By the way, you might want to avoid emailing in all caps, because it represents shouting and hostility, unless of course, in this case, as I suspect, you are homophobic. Then it's all relative.
"Best of luck,
Oh, wait. I must have been thinking of two other people. In reality, Corey's saucy reply touched off an explosive "my country love it or leave it" response deep within Sgt. Ramode's borderline soul. Crazy-gluing her Caps Lock key in the "on" position, she began her quest to make headlines across the country and doom her upcoming promotion:
"YOU ARE DEFINITELY UNQUALIFIED. NOW TAKE YOU GAY SELF SOMEWHERE ELSE WE DO NOT TOLERATE GAY PEOPLE LIKE YOU IN ANY PART OF THE MILITARY....
I so badly want that to be turned into a commercial for careerbuilder.com. It could be read over triumphant patriotic images of flags waving and soldiers kissing babies. It would be so lovely. Sadly, it is not to be (unless I get my YouTube on), because the military does not actually fund CareerBuilder.com. The reality seems to be that CareerBuilder is owned by AOL, and their partners include more than 900 different organizations from retail to education, including 16 in the "defense and government" category. Since there are 53 partners in the "healthcare" category, more than three times those in "defense and government," it would have been three times as accurate for Sgt. Ramode to order Mr. Andrew to thank the next nurse he saw for the freedom to post his resume there. Of course, with their high pay, high demand, high rates of unionization, great benefits, lack of brainwashing boot camps, and low rate of being shot at, the nursing profession currently has no need to send ten emails a day to anyone posting their resume on AOL.
"AND IF YOU DO NOT LIKE ME WRITING IN CAPS THEN DELETE MY EMAILS AND DO NOT RESPOND I THINK IT SCARED YOU TO DEATH. YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY SAY THANK YOU TO THE US ARMY FOR PAYING THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS EVERY MONTH SO THAT YOU CAN POST YOUR RESUME FOR FREE ON CAREER BUILDER AND FURTHERMORE IF YOU DON'T LIKE GETTING ANY EMAILS FOR THE US ARMY THEN TAKE YOUR RESUME OFF CAREER BUILDER BECAUSE WE PAY FOR YOUR FREE SPACE THERE....
"FURTHERMORE WE ARE NOT DESPERATE AS YOU MAY THINK SINCE IF WE WERE DESPERATE WE COULD GET PEOPLE LIKE YOU OFF THE STREET AND SEND THEM STRAIGHT TO IRAQ....
"YOU SHOULD SAY THANK YOU MILITARY PEOPLE FOR WHAT YOU DO SO THAT YOU CAN LIVE A FREE LIFE IN THIS COUNTRY. FREEDOM IS NOT FREE. THE US MILITARY GIVE YOU THAT FREEDOM OF SPEECH SO YOU CAN SEND EMAILS LIKE THIS ONE TO US. SO ENJOY YOUR FREEDOM WHILE YOU CAN BECAUSE WHEN YOU MOVE ON TO ANOTHER COUNTRY YOU WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO SEND EMAIL LIKE THAT THEY WOULD PUT YOU IN JAIL....
"DON'T FORGET WHEN YOU SEE THE NEXT SOLDIER BE KIND SAY THANK YOU FOR THAT FREEDOM YOU SO ENJOY EVERY DAY AND ALSO SAY THANK YOU SO THAT YOU ARE ABLE TO POST YOUR RESUME FOR FREE ON CAREER BUILDER."
Obviously homophobia is a problem, as is the kind of general lack of boundaries and pent-up rage that leads one to suggest, in all caps and in a professional capacity, rounding up "people like you" to send "straight to Iraq." But there are greater problems lurking under her brick wall of giant words: like the kind of mental gymnastics it takes to forget that not so long ago, women weren't allowed in the military either.
As we will see, this is not the only "divide and conquer" situation going on. It's not the only situation in this email exchange where someone from one oppressed group turns around and lashes out at another, perpetuating the same attacks that have been used on them. I suppose it's a form of recycling.
It illustrates the cycle of abuse very beautifully. Without acknowledging abuse and its effects on our lives, then doing whatever it takes to release the shame and other self-harming effects of the abuse and heal our relationships with ourselves and others, we... well, we risk writing emails like this. In his reply, Corey does an excellent job of identifying some of that abuse and rejecting its source:
"Before you go on waving your flag all over the place let me first inform you, that as an African American who's ancestry is most likely MORE deeply rooted in American history than yours will ever be, I don't need to run around in a green ensemble... with boots and dog tags to profess my patriotism to America, so sorry that you do. Furthermore, I respect the millions of soldiers fighting to protect my rights every day, but just so you know, those rights include me being gay, so you think about THAT the next time you see two boys smooch on the sidewalk sweetie, and you feel queasy.
I'll give you a moment to take that in.
"How sad it is that you have the audacity to belong to an organization that is as discriminant as any racist organization ever was during segregation while insinuating that I should be fine with it, because I've been allowed to put a resume on-line in a government funded space....
"YOU HEAD OF FTOTHE GAY LAND OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE NO MORALS AND GET RID OF YOURSELF. PERSONALLY I THINK BEING GAY IS DISGUSTING AND IMMORAL. AND ANOTHET THING THINK AGAIN YOU AS AN AFRICAN HAVE NO PLACE TO SAY YOUR ROOTS ARE DEEPLY ROOTED HERE."
Yeah, she said that. She totally was all, kidnapping people and selling them into slavery on another continent hundreds of years ago means that their descendants on that continent have no roots. Didn't Alex Haley finish that question off decades ago?
P.S. you should go back where you came from to the gay land of people who have no morals. You know, not the one with the legacy of slavery. I know it's hard to tell them apart.
But I don't mean to cut her off. Marcia has so much more to say here....
"MY ROOTS ARE MUCH STRONGER THAN YOURS YOU WERE BROUGHT HERE BEING YOUR WILLPOWER WHEREAS MY ROOTS RUN FROM THE NATIVE AMERICAN INDIAN. I HAVE MORE RIGHTS HERE THAN YOU AND MY ROOTS HAVE BEEN HERE EVER SINCE BEFORE THE AMERICAS WERE DISCOVERED.
Of course, this reveals another issue as well: the failure of the United States educational system. This sergeant clearly never learned that freedom of speech in this country comes from the first amendment to the United States constitution, in the Bill of Rights. You could credit them to the Virginia State Constitution, to James Madison who adopted and adapted them for the Bill of Rights, to the individual states and members of Congress who ratified the amendments, even to the balance of powers and the legal process that allows us to amend the constitution. You could credit democracy, or imagination. You cannot, however, credit the military. When a country without freedom of speech invades us and threatens to take it away and the United States military is the one to successfully repel them, I'll allow as how you might be able to credit our continued freedom of speech to those folks. But given that our military history is largely one of invasion, control, or defending countries in which we have an interest, I think Sergeant Ramode needs a quick history lesson.
"YOU TAKE YOUR GAY ASS OFF SOMEPLACE AND GO TO SOME OTHER COUNTRY AND BAD MOUTH THE MILITARY.
"FREEDOM ISN'T FREE YOUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH WAS GIVENM TO YOU BY THE US MILITARY....
"TAKE YOUR ASS BACK WHERE YOU BELONG NOT HERE."
And how does anyone graduate from the educational system with such a warped understanding of slavery? I can easily see how someone might leave school without any understanding of African American history, or Native American history, or the reality of any one group's "rights" over another's in this country. I wouldn't even be surprised if she didn't know that there was a time when she wouldn't have been allowed into the military in the first place, or when she couldn't have entered combat, or couldn't have made sergeant. Or if she thought that was hundreds of years ago. Unshocked, me. But the level of sheer offensive ignorance displayed here is monumental.
Our educational system is both incredibly underfunded across much of the country and politically blinkered, worn into a rut that limits our understanding of global and local history significantly until about the college level. I know; I went to school in California. But it is clearly not all the educational system's fault here. Because this kind of talk is not a normal part of basic training, although the kind of abuse that produces hair-trigger rage does often lead people to enter the military.
I'll leave you with the climax of it all:
"....I'll tell you what's 'disgusting' - idiots with big mouhts and little brains, spewing hatred under the guise of being 'American'. I would advise you to look up your Native American history you are so proud of and research their position on homosexuality. They are very tolerant and accepting of homosexuals believing that the inner spirit is true to itself in it's nature. They are less tolerant of fools than they are of homosexuals. So take that to your next rain dance and STFU!"
In a way, Corey wasn't so far off in his optimistic gauge of where the United States stands on gays and the military today. Where not long ago Margarethe Cammermeyer was discharged for coming out, now Sergeant Marcia Ramode - who was up for promotion to Staff Sergeant six months previously - is under investigation and has been reassigned to another position. Presumably, it's one that won't involve interacting with the public.
"GO BACK TO AFRICA AND DO YOUR GAY VOODOO LIMBO TANGO AND WANGO DANCE AND JUMP AROUND AND PRANCE AND RUN ALL OVER THE PLACE HALF NAKED THERE AND PRACTICE YOUR GAY MORALS THERE THAT'S WHERE YOU BELONG. I AM REPORTING YOU AS SPAM AND ADDING YOU TO MY BLOCK SENDER LIST SO I DO NOT HAVE TO HEAR FROM YOU AGAIN.
"YOU NEED TO CHECK YOUR SPELLING SO ARE THE ONE WHO SO ILLITERATE. OBVIOUSLY YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND IF YOU ARE GAY YOU ARE OUT OF THE MILITARY YOU ARE DISQUALIFIED. SO WHAT'S THE BIG ISSUE HERE. YOU ARE UPSET YOU DO NOT QUALIFY. I BET THAT'S TRUE. YOUR INNER SPIRITS ARE NOT TRUE TO YOU SINCE YOU DO NOT KNOW IF YOU ARE MALE OR FEMALE. YOU MUST BE A TOTAL IDIOT AND SO STUPID TO PRESUME THAT YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT GENDER YOU ARE.
ANYWAYS I WON'T HEAR FROM YOU AGAIN SINCE YOU ARE BLOCKED SO BYE