Friday, March 02, 2007

A Long Way From Equality

Many gays see themselves as second-class citizens, but we haven’t progressed that far.

By STEVE CHARING Friday, March 02, 2007

WE’VE HEARD THE argument frequently made during the struggle for non-discrimination and civil marriage equality: “We don’t want to be treated as second-class citizens.” But are we really considered second-class citizens?

I always thought that second-class status is a category that encompassed society’s outcasts, like criminals. You know, murderers, rapists, drug dealers, armed robbers, child molesters, thieves, terrorists, illegal immigrants and so on. As disdained as that group is by America’s “first class” citizenry, those pariahs may take for granted rights that gays and lesbians haven’t yet achieved.

You see, such people have the right to marry whom they choose. As an example, the loathsome Menendez brothers, who riddled their parents in cold blood with a barrage of bullets, were legally permitted to marry their sweethearts while incarcerated. One such “ceremony” took place over the telephone, no less, which hardly conforms to traditional marriage that equality opponents love to tout.

So if these vile people — second-class citizens, if you will — can get hitched and we cannot legally marry our partners, where does that leave us?

And it doesn’t stop at marriage equality and its attendant benefits. Our standing in the military relegates us to third-class status, as well. Under the nefarious and ineffective “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, gays and lesbians may serve our country but to do so, they must conceal the essence of their sexual identity. And should they be uncovered, the military is compelled to discharge them.

The exit doors of the barracks continue to swing wide open for gays and lesbians during a time of war depriving the armed forces of critical skills and personnel thereby compromising national security. At the same time, the entrance portals are allowing some of those very folks who are members of the second-class coterie, not to mention non-U.S. citizens, to report for duty.

Leading publications like the New York Times have noted that dire recruitment needs by the military are resulting in the lowering of moral and intellectual eligibility standards to beef up the ranks.

THIS, OF COURSE, is ludicrous. The Defense Department is playing games with our national security by compromising the quality of our troops to reach desired numeric goals. The Pentagon chiefs are dead-set on keeping openly gay and lesbian volunteers from serving under the guise of maintaining unit cohesion. Yet they basically gloss over straight sexual assaults originating in the barracks as well as recruitment stations, of all places.

THE MAIN ARGUMENT against allowing openly gay and lesbian people to serve in the military is that it would negatively impact troop morale. No legitimate survey of the troops, to my knowledge, has ever been conducted to confirm that theory. But if the troops would have a problem with a gay soldier in the ranks, imagine how good the morale will be with an influx of drug addicts, arsonists and thieves. Clearly gays and lesbians are on the bottom rung.

Our assignment to third-class status is evident beyond the institutions of marriage and military. Felons, drug abusers and adulterers may participate with aplomb in the world of sports and make piles of money from it. But an out gay or lesbian athlete in a major sports league? Forget about it.

So bad is the environment for a gay man in sports that on those rare occasions that one comes out of the closet, the disclosure takes place well after his retirement. They talk of the homophobia that exists within the locker rooms and team offices and how they would be shunned by their teammates, fans and potential corporate sponsors.

And while an ex-con can blithely walk down the street holding the hand of his or her loved one, a member of a gay or lesbian couple doing the same must be mindful of a baseball bat being struck on the back of the head.

Despite the fact that most gay folks work hard, pay taxes, abide by the law, make positive contributions to the community, even help revitalize declining neighborhoods, we are still viewed as third-class citizens. We must continue to fight to by pass the second rung and get to the top where we belong.

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