How 'Don't Tell' Translates
This newer version of America is the one young enlistees leave behind when they join the military. On average, three or four service members are discharged each day because they are gay. Most are discharged for making statements about their sexuality, and most are younger than 25.
"In the case of some, they get in the Army and they are traumatized by an awareness that the military is 20 years behind the societal curve," said Jeff Cleghorn, a former lawyer with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay-rights group monitoring military justice.
The Army says the discharged linguists were casualties of their own failure to meet a known policy. "We have standards," said Harvey Perritt, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va. "We have physical standards, academic standards. There's no difference between administering these standards and administering 'don't ask, don't tell.' The rules are the rules."
Many military scholars agree that it's a matter of time before the ban is lifted. Said John Allen Williams, a professor of political science at Loyola University in Chicago and president of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society: " 'Don't ask, don't tell' is an interim step until the inevitable change. It's a useful speed bump."
President Bush has made no move to reexamine the ban, despite the enormous strains placed on the military since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Alastair Gamble is one of the Arabic linguists discharged from the DLI. He was caught in his dorm room with his boyfriend, another linguist, during a surprise barracks inspection at 3:30 a.m. While several heterosexuals were also caught in the sweep, Gamble and his partner became the subjects of an investigation into homosexual conduct. Both were discharged. Gamble, an Emory University graduate who had also completed a nine-week intelligence course, assumed that his value to the Army would save him.
"I developed a hubris about my ability," said Gamble, 24, who lives in Washington and works for an architectural design firm. "I believed I could do my job well and they would be foolish to separate me."
The Defense Language Institute, at the Presidio of Monterey, is the primary foreign-language school for the Department of Defense. For decades, Russian was the dominant language taught. But since Sept. 11, 2001, the size of the Arabic class has soared. Of the roughly 3,800 students enrolled at the DLI, 832 are learning Arabic, 743 Korean, 353 Chinese and 301 Russian, with the remaining students scattered in other languages.
Many of the discharged gay linguists were studying Arabic or Korean, among the most rigorous taught at the DLI and most costly to the U.S. government. The DLI estimates the value of its 63-week Arabic language program -- not including room, board and the service member's salary -- at $33,500.
The Army gave Cathleen Glover a proficiency in Arabic, but it also typed the words "HOMOSEXUAL ADMISSION" on her official discharge papers. The best job she could find was cleaning pools.
© 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)