How 'Don't Tell' Translates
The Military Needs Linguists, But It Doesn't Want This One
By Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 18, 2004; Page A01
Cathleen Glover was cleaning the pool at the Sri Lankan ambassador's residence recently when she heard the sound of Arabic drifting through the trees. Glover earned $11 an hour working for a pool-maintenance company, skimming leaves and testing chlorine levels in the backyards of Washington. No one knew about her past. But sometimes the past found her.
Glover recognized the sound instantly. It was the afternoon call to prayer coming from a mosque on Massachusetts Avenue. She held still, picking out familiar words and translating them in her head.
She learned Arabic at the Defense Language Institute (DLI), the military's premier language school, in Monterey, Calif. Her timing as a soldier was fortuitous: Around her graduation last year, a Government Accounting Office study reported that the Army faced a critical shortage of linguists needed to translate intercepts and interrogate suspects in the war on terrorism.
"I was what the country needed," Glover said.
She was, and she wasn't. Glover is gay. She mastered Arabic but couldn't handle living a double life under the military policy known as "don't ask, don't tell." After two years in the Army, Glover, 26, voluntarily wrote a statement acknowledging her homosexuality.
Confronted with a shortage of Arabic interpreters and its policy banning openly gay service members, the Pentagon had a choice to make.
Which is how former Spec. Glover came to be cleaning pools instead of sitting in the desert, translating Arabic for the U.S. government.
In the past two years, the Department of Defense has discharged 37 linguists from the Defense Language Institute for being gay. Like Glover, many studied Arabic. At a time of heightened need for intelligence specialists, 37 linguists were rendered useless because of their homosexuality.
Historically, military leaders have argued that allowing gays to serve would hurt unit cohesion and recruiting efforts, and infringe on the privacy rights of heterosexuals. In 1993, at the urging of President Clinton, Congress agreed to soften the outright ban on gays in the military with a policy that came to be known as "don't ask, don't tell," which allowed them to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation secret.
On its 10th anniversary, "don't ask, don't tell" exists in a vastly changed nation. In 1993, there was no "Will & Grace," no gay Jack on "Dawson's Creek," no gay-themed Miller Lite commercials. In 1993, fewer than a dozen U.S. high schools had Gay-Straight Alliance organizations. Today, there are almost 2,000. In 1993, fewer than a dozen Fortune 500 companies offered health benefits to domestic partners. Today, nearly 200 do.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Alastair Gamble, left, and Rob Hicks were discharged from the Defense Language Institute for violating the U.S. military's ban on homosexual conduct.
(Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)