Semper Fi

The battlefield has its own values, starting with courage. Sexual orientation falls somewhere below musical taste. —Owen West (Iraq War Veteran)

More often than I care to admit, I wonder how I will answer the question, “What did you do during/when/in response to____?” when young people of the future ask me about culture and politics of my time. I have a rich imagination, and in it, in the future, I imagine that young people will care about who did what in the past in the same way that I wonder what the adults around me did during the 60s and 70s. This is not my only motivation for making the decisions that I do, but when I read of past atrocities or large cultural failings, I wonder what “the people” did to respond to the crisis. While I try to be aware and involved because I think this is the way the world works best, I also speak up, butt in, write letters, and opine because I want to be able to say that I did something, that I didn’t just sit silently, twiddling my thumbs, watching DVDs while horrible things happened around me. Even if my efforts fall on deaf ears or don’t change anything, I need to know I tried.

I’ve been thinking this quite a bit in the past few years as the civil rights crisis for GLBTs has grown and grown. Even being raised in a conservative Christian home, I have never been able to understand homophobia. And that’s what all of the fuss and lawsuits and propositions are about—-fear of homosexuality. People can dress this fear up with religion and tradition and protecting children, but I’m not buying it, and more and more I’m saying so aloud. I have to. I would certainly expect my white friends to stand up against racism in all of the subtle and explicit forms that it takes, so, as a heterosexual woman, I feel it’s my moral obligation to defend GLBTs, those I know, and those I’ve never met…and even those who perpetuate stereotypes in ways that make me cringe (I’m talking to you gay actors who put on cultural black face for a laugh and a paycheck).

It’s not always easy. Many people I love disagree with me, and we have to find respectful ways to be honest with one another without a lot of finger pointing and yelling. I’m not doing so well; at a certain point, I just dissolve into tears, which really isn’t fair to the person on the other side of the argument. I can’t help it, though. It is beyond cruel to support or participate or even believe in efforts that oppress people. Perhaps it is because I’ve been single for the vast majority of my adult life that this hits me so deep. I cannot imagine finally finding “true love” and being told that I’m not allowed to have it because of some wrongly interpreted Biblical passages or because it breaks with tradition or because it’s not “natural.” Lord help us. Really, Lord help us. We are using Your Word and Your name to beat one another up again—-just like we did to women and blacks.

Will we never learn?

Maybe we can. Owen West, a Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq (he’s a commodities trader now), has a smart, concise piece in the New York Times ( “An About-Face on Gay Troops”) about why it’s time to repeal “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell.” It’s the kind of piece I love because its argument relies on logic and looks to history rather than using rhetoric as a crutch. The argument is simple: it has been proven that sexual orientation (just like race and ethnicity) does not get in the way on the battlefield. Even Colin Powell and former Senator Sam Nunn, the two main crafters of the “don’t ask; don’t tell” legislation, believe it’s time for a change. Let us hope and pray that even as the military lead the way in racial integration, it will become a model for how heterosexual culture can treat GLBT citizens with respect by allowing them to live their lives with the same freedoms we all enjoy.

We all know that Semper Fi (short for semper fidelis) is the motto for the Marines and that it means “Always Faithful.” Owen West’s editorial is a moment when the motto fits perfectly.


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