Friday, February 5, 2010
That’s it. I’m chiming in on the "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" debate, because I served on a nuclear submarine with a guy who got kicked out of the Navy for being gay.
His name was Chief Petty Officer Timothy McVeigh (he later became a Senior Chief) and he was a member of the crew of the USS Asheville, the Los Angeles class fast-attack submarine I first reported to in 1993. He was one of the more experienced members of our crew. He was especially respected for his knowledge of shipboard operations and ability to function in stressful situations, of which there were many.
Years after I transferred off the Asheville, I picked up a copy of USA Today and saw McVeigh on the cover. He had been outed at a base in Hawaii for being gay and was being kicked out. Read about it here and read about how he won the case here. I’m glad it worked out for him, but the whole thing still pisses me off.
McVeigh was an asset when it came to operating a submarine. He was smart, hard working, dedicated and reasonable in crazy-ass situations. Life on a submarine can be trying. There is very little sleep, and you live in a metal tube that dives thousands of feet beneath the ocean. Nuclear energy, flooding and the threat of fire are omnipresent. You sleep inches from your crew members and there is no natural light. It’s surreal and dangerous, and McVeigh had been doing it for a dozen or more years when I first met him.
But my point is this: Submarines only allow men onboard, and they spend months on end together underwater. Nobody had any problem with McVeigh while we did all this, and not only did we work together; we were proud to work with him. We looked to him for guidance, and the Navy lost that guidance when they kicked him out because he happened to love men instead of women.
I hear all of this shit about how gay people in the ranks will mess everything up. It’s bullshit. War and the military are not games. It’s about every person doing their job well and about staying alive. This “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” debate is about machismo and homophobia — basically, soldiers and sailors and airmen don’t want to sleep next to or work with men or women with a different sexual preference than theirs. Replace the word “gay” with “black” or “Native American,” and the debate becomes offensive.