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Will It Be Déjà Vu All Over Again?

By Lavender April 8, 2010

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Recently, Marine Commandant General James Conway stated that when the ban on openly gay military service is lifted, he would build separate quarters for gay and straight troops.

In an interview on Military.com, Conway said, “I would not ask our Marines to live with someone who is homosexual if we can possibly avoid it. And to me that means we have to build BEQs [bachelor enlisted quarters] and have single rooms.”?

Humans inevitably need to create an “other,” someone, some group that safely can be put down by “us”—even when we can’t recognize the “other” without a scorecard. I personally know at least one ex-Marine who served honorably, so I’ll allow myself to extrapolate from that single instance, and bet other gay Marines have served and currently are serving.

I glanced at historian Stephen Ambrose’s description of Army practices as America plunged into World War II. While Hitler was attempting to forge his 1,000-year Otherness, Jim Crow and racial segregation were army-wide. Blacks had their own barracks—and units and mess halls. No black infantry units existed throughout the European Theatre of Operation.

By the end of the war, many changes had taken place, with resistance to black troops eroding because of their combat records. The next worry, according to Ambrose, was the issue of integrated barracks—but no problem arose.

Ambrose quotes a battalion commander in the 78th Division: “When men undergo the same privations, face the same dangers before an impartial enemy, there can be no segregation. My men eat, play, work, and sleep as a company of men, with no regard to color.”

Today, Retired Marine General Carl Mundy, one of Conway’s predecessors, while opposing openly gay service, concedes that “the easiest way to deal with it is to make it as simple as possible. The last thing you even want to think about is creating separate facilities or separate groups or separate meeting places or having four kinds of showers—one of straight women, lesbians, straight men, and gay men. That would be absolutely disastrous in the armed forces. It would destroy any sense of cohesion or teamwork or good order and discipline.”

It is enough to expect young men and women to be willing to die for their country, without stigmatizing and segregating for anyone’s color, creed, gender, or sexuality.

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