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"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and Lesbians:

I'm puzzled about how the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy -- or for that matter, any exclusion policy -- can be justified as to lesbians. As I understand it, the main argument in favor of such a policy for male homosexuals is that in all-male or nearly-all-male combat units the possibility of sexual tension may undermine unit effectiveness. I'm skeptical about this argument, but it at least seems plausible.

Yet it doesn't seem to apply to lesbians, since presumably they would very rarely be serving in all-female units, and never in all-female combat units. Moreover, even if we set aside antidiscrimination arguments and focus solely on military effectiveness (which may or may not be the right approach, but let's use it here), it seems lesbians would tend to make better soldiers than straight women:

  1. They are less likely to get pregnant.

  2. They seem less likely to get sexually transmitted diseases.

  3. If the stereotypes about lesbians tending to act in more masculine ways are generally accurate -- hard to tell, for obvious measurement reasons, but that seems to be the conventional wisdom -- then that cuts further in favor of lesbians as opposed to straight women. Many women may well make great soldiers, but if we're speaking about generalities, and the military policy is generally defended using generalizations, I'm happy to at least tentatively assume (as I suspect would the military) that stereotypically masculine traits and attitudes tend to be more useful for soldiering than stereotypically feminine ones.

Is it just that the military fears that straight soldiers will so dislike lesbians that this itself would cause morale problems? I guess that just doesn't strike me as that factually plausible. Is it that the military wants to treat male and female homosexuals equally, for fairness or public relations reasons? That seems odd: Can it really be that discriminating against homosexuals is just fine, discriminating against women (as the military long has done, and still in considerable measure does) is just fine, but discriminating based on sex among homosexuals is wrong, even when there's a perfectly sensible argument for such discrimination? Or is there something else I'm missing here?

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Lesbians and Privacy:
  2. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and Lesbians:
Lesbians and Privacy:

American Federalist Journal responds to my query about lesbians:

Do you think it is reasonable to separate soldiers by gender in housing, bathroom facilities, etc.? If so, why? If it is unacceptable to put a female soldier in a shower with a bunch of male soldiers, why would it then be acceptable to put a gay male in that shower? Similarly, a lesbian female in a barracks with several other women would infringe on the privacy of those soldiers similarly to putting a male soldier into a barracks with several female soldiers. . . .

[T]here are reasonable practical considerations when it comes to gender separation, and those concerns are nearly impossible to work around when it comes to homosexuals. That isn't the entire case against homosexuals serving openly in the military, but it seems to us to be a reasonable consideration.

I appreciate being reminded of this argument, but it still strikes me as pretty weak.

These are soldiers — people who might have to get shot at by others, and who will otherwise be put in many very psychologically difficult positions. Even those who aren't in combat positions may have to deal with considerable difficulties and traumas. They're supposed to be, and I wager are, pretty tough.

It somehow doesn't seem to me too much of a burden to deal with the possibility (a possibility that is surely always present, even if the military tries very hard to find and kick out every homosexuality) that someone is lusting after them in the shower. These are not fragile flowers we're talking about here; if they can handle drill sergeants, I'd hope they can handle this. And I don't quite see why we should organize our military policy — including by kicking out lesbian soldiers who, as I mentioned below, may on average contribute more to military effectiveness than straight women soldiers — around some soldiers' feeling bothered by the risk of getting checked out in the shower or the barracks.

UPDATE: My correspondent responded:

So can we presume you think it'd be a good idea if the military did not segregate males and females in housing, bathroom facilities etc., because they're all tough enough to handle it? Or that it wouldn't cause any problems? We didn't mean to imply that soldiers would faint like schoolgirls if someone looked at them in the shower.

If the military decided to kick out all women because it's too expensive to segregate men and women, then the situation would be more analogous. The question then would be whether the broadly held social preference for privacy from the other sex makes the matter different. (This broadly held preference applies, I suspect, even independently of actual sexual desire; I wager that women aren't wild about parading naked in front of male homosexuals.) One would also want to think how the analogy is influenced by rape risks and pregnancy risks that might flow from co-ed showering and bunking, which aren't as significant issues for lesbians scoping out women. But that privacy preferences counsel in favor of having segregated shower facilities, or even segregated barracks, doesn't tell us much about whether they should also lead to kicking out (or not accepting) potentially quite valuable servicemembers.

Incientally, I wonder how far the privacy arguments would go: Would it follow that homosexuals should be kicked out of high school gym class, if there are communal showers in the gym? (Not just that it would be constitutional to do so, but that this in fact should be done?) Or kicked off university sports teams?

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Lesbians and Privacy:
  2. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and Lesbians: