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July 27, 2006

This Is Why Our Policy On Gays In The Military Is Stupid

When you have someone with needed skills and a desire to serve, something extraneous like sexual orientation should not be a bar. After all, this man had four years of exemplary service.

A decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was dismissed from the U.S. Army under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, though he says he never told his superiors he was gay and his accuser was never identified.

Bleu Copas, 30, told The Associated Press he is gay, but said he was "outed" by a stream of anonymous e-mails to his superiors in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.

In other words, he wasn't trying to make a statement -- he was trying to serve his county.

Indeed, this is a case where the command did ask -- in violation of military regulations.

Shortly after Copas was appointed to the 82nd Airborne's highly visible All-American Chorus last May, the first e-mail came to the chorus director.

"The director brought everyone into the hallway and told us about this e-mail they had just received and blatantly asked, 'Which one of you are gay?'" Copas said.

Copas later complained to the director and his platoon sergeant, saying the questions violated "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"They said they would watch it in the future," Copas said. "And they said, even specifically then, 'Well, you are not gay are you?' And I said, 'no.'"

The accuser, who signed his e-mails "John Smith" or "ftbraggman," pressed Copas' superiors to take action against him or "I will inform your entire battalion of the information that I gave you."

On Dec. 2, investigators formally interviewed Copas and asked if he understood the military's policy on homosexuals, if he had any close acquaintances who were gay, and if he was involved in community theater. He answered affirmatively.

But Copas declined to answer when they asked, "Have you ever engaged in homosexual activity or conduct?" He refused to answer 19 of 47 questions before he asked for a lawyer and the interrogation stopped.

My question is why the Army even takes notice of anonymous accusations of this sort -- and what possible relevance involvement in community theater would have to do with sexual orientation.

But if anecdotal evidence doesn;t prove taht the policy is flawed, consider the statistics that show it.

More than 11,000 service members have been dismissed under the policy, including 726 last year _ an 11 percent jump from 2004 and the first increase since 2001.

That's less than a half-percent of the more than 2 million soldiers, sailors and Marines dismissed for all reasons since 1993, according to the General Accountability Office.

But the GAO also noted that nearly 800 dismissed gay or lesbian service members had critical abilities, including 300 with important language skills. Fifty-five were proficient in Arabic, including Copas, a graduate of the Defense Language Institute in California.

Discharging and replacing them has cost the Pentagon nearly $369 million, according to the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

So when that vital piece of intelligence is not translated, or some other critical task is not accomplished, remembr that it could have been -- if only patriotic Americans were allowed to serve regardless of their sexuality.

After all, this isn't about special rights or political correctness -- it is about national security.





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