LOS ANGELES — The young man was tall and broad-shouldered. While his teammates spoke of touchdowns, he spoke of flying a jet across the skies of Kuwait. Chad Hennings is a Dallas defensive lineman, who, unlike most of the players in Super Bowl XXVII today, served in the military. I found him intelligent. Engaging.

Then someone asked about gays.

“In the military? I’m against it. Absolutely. Nothing against gays, you know, but the idea of living with them? In close quarters? Nuh-uh.”

And Chad Hennings became just another soldier who sees the army turning into a bunch of ballerinas.

Hatred is hatred. Fear is fear. And anyone who thinks objections to lifting the ban on gays in the military is anything other than a combination of the two is wrong.

Oh, you’ll hear arguments. How morale will drop. How discipline will be compromised. How AIDS will race through the barracks. But understand this: there are already gays in the military. Have been for years. This “new” debate

is about recognizing those soldiers as people, giving them rights, not making them fear for their jobs because of their beliefs.

Since these are basic American principles — and the army is there to defend America — it’s a little mysterious how people can object.

Let’s take a look. Backing the ban

What are the major objections to lifting this ban? There are military
“experts” — usually older white men with a fondness for crew cuts — who say discipline will suffer.

It is worth noting that the Israeli army, maybe the most effective fighting force in the world, has never had a ban on homosexuality, and has no history of problems.

Some critics claim the ban is for gay protection. They say homosexual soldiers may be subject to “harassment,” “assault” and “anguish.”

Funny. Those are the same words used in a lawsuit filed by female Navy officers last year, after the annual “Tailhook” convention saw them groped, fondled and pawed by their drunken male colleagues.

You don’t have to be gay to be harassed.

No. Closer to the truth is Sen. Strom Thurmond, that paragon of liberal thinking from South Carolina, who stood up this week and announced the whole idea of being gay is wrong because “sodomy is forbidden in the Bible.”

At least Strom cuts to the chase. Most critics of gays in the military are simply opposed to gays in general, the whole idea repels them. They have this vision of horny young effeminates getting an eyeful in the shower and hurling themselves at every soldier who passes by. Next thing you know, these “queers” will want purple uniforms and a fight song written by Joan Armatrading. Ignorance breeds fear

This I can understand. It is basic fear of the unknown. Never mind that the San Francisco police force contains 85 declared homosexuals and is no less tough on crime than any other police force. Never mind that the military already has rules regarding sexual behavior between soldiers.

“I’d worry about being in combat with them, where you have to rely on them to save your life,” says Hennings. “There’s no room for mistrust in combat.”

True. But what is Hennings thinking? In the middle of battle, the gay guy is gonna jump up and start singing “I Am Woman”? Remember, we have a volunteer army. Anyone joining presumably wants to be a soldier, not an extra in “Victor, Victoria.”

There are two legitimate objections I can see. 1. Barracks. If you won’t put male and female soldiers in the same quarters, how do you justify gay men or gay women together? It is a respectable question, although, given a conduct code, probably not worth worrying about.

2. AIDS. War is a bloody business. But because of this, there should be mandatory AIDS testing of all candidates, all the time. AIDS is not a gay disease. Or had you forgotten?

As for Hennings’ worry about unity in the corps, well, the same objections were once made towards integrating the armed forces. Many Southern whites claimed they couldn’t feel “right” fighting alongside blacks. You know what? They learned.

We will learn, too. I am not gay. That life-style seems strange to me. But I figure we have our hands full worrying about who we hurt and kill in this country, before worrying about who we love. No one is asking soldiers to turn gay; just to respect those who are. If you want to defend your country, well, this is your country: some white, some black, some Hindu, some Muslim, some rich, some poor, some straight, some gay.

If someone wants to endure basic training, dive into foxholes and put his life on the line to protect all that, well, I say we salute him. And not worry about who he’s kissing.

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