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Chronicles of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Military

What, at last, is the purpose of “don’t ask, don’t tell”? Unit cohesion is the often-invoked reason, but fewer and fewer people — in or out of the military — can take that assertion seriously any more. Given a story first broken by Youth Radio, the policy may have more to do with enabling the worst kind of harassing, hazing behavior. Allow gays to serve openly in the military, and provide training to help the armed forces deal with the change, and the atmosphere for some of the most unspeakable acts may become inhospitable.

As it stands now, people like Navy Petty Officer Joseph Christopher Rocha can become the subjects of sustained and humiliating harassment, with no accountability. As documents obtained under FOIA show, Rocha’s troubles began when he balked at the idea of visiting prostitutes with his fellow sailors. One Michael Toussaint, the chief master-at-arms at the base, regarded Rocha’s refusal as both proof that Rocha was gay and as justification for a two-year long course of conduct strictly forbidden — but apparently unevenly enforced — by military rules. With Toussaint as the central hazing cheerleader, Rocha was:

  • Thrown into a kennel full of dog feces;
  • Made to simulate sexual acts with other men many times;
  • Beaten;
  • Forced to eat dog food and make dog sounds while doing so;
  • Pelted with hard rubber balls fired at his groin;
  • Mocked in a stereotypically “gay” intonation.

Don’t take my word for it. Read the findings of fact (redacted to conceal names) here. The good news is that the Navy did launch an investigation (way after the fact), and that higher-ups have made statements deploring this kind of conduct. Toussaint, meanwhile, has been promoted. He’s now Senior Chief with the elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group in Dam Neck, Virginia. Doesn’t that tell us what we need to know?

Rocha, who apparently didn’t  know who he was sexually when this began, eventually realized he was gay and then — luckily for him, I guess — used his homosexuality to get out. But now he suffers from PTSD, and the military has lost another highly trained investment: Rocha worked with the Military Working Dogs Division. Here’s a good  pic:

This might be a good time to point out that prostitution is illegal in most places, and in any case strictly forbidden by military code. Yet the same homophobic culture that sustains “don’t ask, don’t tell” also permits the destruction of the culture of “honor” that the military tirelessly promotes as one of its pillars.

Is it too much to ask the military to act like a group of grown-ups living in a complex and mature society? Let’s do this: Repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” and establish an enforceable, and respected, code of proper sexual conduct for all soldiers.

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