Nathaniel Frank, the author of “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America,” came to Whitman College on Monday, Nov. 1 to share his expertise on the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The lecture was the eighth installment of the Matthew Shepard lecture series, a series started by an anonymous donor to increase awareness of GLBTQ issues.
The lecture consisted of an interview between Frank and Janet Mallen, assistant registrar for institutional records, co-advisor of Whitman GLBTQ and formerly a sergeant in the Marines. A question and answer session with the audience followed.
Delbert Hutchinson, associate professor of biology, introduced the pair and explained that he has a problem with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because it is a policy that “actively discriminates against people in our name.”
Following that, Mallen shared some of her experiences in the military pre-“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a time that GLBTQ individuals were banned from military service completely. She managed to leave the military with a clean record by keeping her sexual orientation a secret. However, it wasn’t easy.
“It was crushing me every single day,” she said.
Despite hiding much of her life from her colleagues, she was harassed. She remembers coming back to a ransacked room, picking bugs off her phone and even getting beaten.
Mallen described a time in which GLBTQ individuals in the military faced severe punishments for being of non-heterosexual orientation. Suspected individuals were interrogated and, if found guilty, could be fined, placed in prison or stripped of pay and the ability to vote.
She asked Frank what has changed since the switch from this atmosphere to that of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He explained that number of discharges and witch hunts within the military increased.
“In some ways, things got worse,” he said. “You can be a patriot and sacrifice your life; but you have to lie about who you are.”
Frank explained three main reasons he supports abolishing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy: it’s unnecessary, unjust and unaffordable. To illustrate its lack of necessity, Frank used Britain and Canada as examples.
“Before gay bans were lifted in these countries, there were all sorts of predictions of doom and gloom, just like there are here. But nothing bad actually happened.”
Twenty-five other countries have had successful militaries without implementing or after lifting gay bans, he said.
“We’re talking about diverse countries and peoples. Even macho Israel doesn’t have a gay ban. These are not all the Netherlands,” he said jokingly.
Frank also said that in one survey, almost 80 percent of U.S. citizens support doing away with this policy.
He also discussed how the military is able to take a group of different religions, races and backgrounds and make them into a cohesive, efficient fighting force. He believes that having members of different sexual orientations will not jeopardize this cohesion.
“And it’s the butt of jokes among younger members of the military. Someone will ask: what did you do last night? And you’ll say: don’t ask, don’t tell,” said Frank.
Some members of the audience were curious why, if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is so unpopular, there isn’t more being done to get rid of it.
“As they say on Facebook, it’s complicated,” he said.
He explained that the president is worried that the issue is too politically problematic, so he has made it a low priority on his agenda. He also pointed out that though “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was deemed unconstitutional in one level of the court system, it still has several levels to go.
Frank ended the lecture by encouraging people to go out and speak about the issue.
“Talk to everyone,” he said. “You might know someone who can push the issue.”
First-year Nick Davies said that the lecture was an informative and positive experience.
“I learned a lot about how illogical this policy is,” he said. “[Frank] gave good counterarguments to the ideas radical conservatives often present in support of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Now I have concrete evidence to support my personal beliefs.”
“It’s an issue that’s on a lot of people’s minds,” said Liam Mina, co-president of both GLBTQ and Coalition Against Homophobia. “Most are familiar with the issue, but it’s nice to have an expert perspective on it.”