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American and British Gay military attitudes
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American and British Gay military attitudes

Two Gay soldiers - one American, one British - receive vastly different treatment

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Army specialist Nathanael Bodon, 21, is the latest "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) casualty. While serving in Iraq, Bodon was sent home early when his superiors found out he was Gay. Shortly after returning home he received discharge papers for violating the DADT policy, the ban on Gays serving openly in the U.S. military.

Bodon, a member of the Army National Guard in New York, had been deployed for a tour of duty in Iraq when a soldier in his unit stumbled across his blog, "This Is How It Feels: A Daily Journal." The blog, which Bodon has kept since August, is a recollection of his experiences. On the blog was a picture of Bodon kissing his ex-boyfriend. The soldier showed Bodon's commanding officer and Bodon was sent home, and then discharged shortly thereafter.

DADT requires the Defense Department to separate from the armed services, members who engage in or attempt to engage in homosexual acts, who state they are homosexual or Bisexual, or who marry or attempt to marry a person of the same biological sex.

Although Bodon says he was never in the closet, he mostly kept to himself to avoid having his sexuality discovered. He said it was easy to keep his sexuality hidden while in New York, because his unit only met once a month and for two weeks in the summer, but all that changed when he was sent to Iraq.

Bodon says his closest friends in his unit knew he was Gay. In fact, he said they teased him about it, but it was all in good fun. "A lot of my Army buddies had an affectionate nickname toward me. It was 'Tink,' as in Tinkerbell," he said. "It wasn't anything malicious, so it kind of stuck."

Proponents of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" say allowing Gay or Lesbian persons to serve openly would undermine the good order and discipline of a military unit. Bodon says the nickname "shows that they weren't threatened by me or my sexuality. They realized I was there to do a job."

Bodon was initially going to receive a general discharge, but after consulting with an attorney was able to gain an honorable discharge.

The type of discharge a servicemember receives, be it for violating the DADT policy or an article of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, is critical as to what benefits they could lose. Important benefits such as the Montgomery G.I. Bill (college fund), medical and retirement benefits are all at stake.

Bodon says he considers himself a soldier through and through. Still, after receiving a discharge for being Gay, he says he may rejoin the armed forces in the future - if the rules are changed.

"I am going to miss it," he said. "If the policy does change, I am still debating whether or not I am going to go back. Even with all of this that happened, there is a certain camaraderie of being in the Army."

A SHIFT IN PUBLIC OPINION
Recent polling reflects a shift in the way Americans view DADT. A July 2008 poll by the Washington Post and ABC News found that 75% of Americans support allowing Gays to serve openly in the military, up from just 44% in 1993.

The renewed attention is credited, in part, to the high-profile discharges of Army Lt. Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and Arabic linguist, and Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, a decorated combat sortie pilot. Both men were considered experts in their field, war heroes, and both publicly fought for their discharges to be stopped and asked President Obama to repeal DADT. In particular, Choi has gone on to become the poster-boy for the anti-DADT movement, speaking out against the discriminatory law at the National Equality March on Washington and at college campuses around the country.

Choi and Fehrenbach were not alone; they joined nearly 400 servicemembers forced out of the military since President Obama and 111th Congress were sworn in earlier this year. Since the policy was put into place in 1993, nearly 13,000 men and women have been separated from the military, and at least one, often two, every day. It is estimated that 65,000 Gay and Lesbian people currently serve in the military.

A DIFFERENT ATTITUDE FROM THE BRITISH ARMED FORCES
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in England, Ben Rakestrow, an openly Gay soldier in the British Army, came home to a completely different reaction after his six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan. Rakestrow, who revealed his sexuality to his unit, did not receive a dishonorable discharge - he received a hero's welcome.

Trooper Rakestrow, 21, is one of an unknown number of openly homosexual soldiers in the British armed forces. Regulations making it an offense to be openly Gay in the British military were overturned in 2000, and military personnel now receive annual training that covers issues of equality and diversity. British officials say the country has a large number of openly Gay people in the Army, men and women, and it is simply not an issue.

Rakestrow admits that being Gay in the armed forces was difficult because he didn't know how his fellow soldiers would react. He says that his pals have accepted him for who he is and that he faces nothing but harmless banter. Despite the traditional view of the Army as a homophobic institution, Rakestrow described the decision to come out to his unit as the best one of his life.

"I would tell guys to find a few close friends and confide in them," he advised, "talk about it with them and then, if you're confident, tell your mates. But the important thing is to tell them when it feels right."

Rakestrow carries copies of the Gay lifestyle magazine Attitude in his rucksack and sleeps under a pink duvet bearing the image of actor Zac Efron. The soldier says he doesn't see himself as fitting into any Gay stereotypes, and his military career has not suffered in any way since he came out. "I always said I wouldn't let my personal life clash with my professional life," Rakestrow said.

A number of militaries have removed policies excluding individuals based on sexual orientation. Of the 26 countries that participate militarily in NATO, over 22 permit Gays to serve. Of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Britain and France permit Gay people to serve openly, while the United States, Russia and China do not. Besides Greece, all other members of the European Union (EU) allow Gays to serve openly. In 2009, Argentina, Uruguay and Philippines allowed Gay men to serve openly in the military.

The comparison between Bodon and Rakestrow is easy to find. Both soldiers are 21, out to their unit, and combat veterans. The contrast, however, is in the DADT policy. Bodon is sent home from combat early and booted out because he is Gay, while Rakestrow finished his Afghanistan tour and his military career is thriving. Two Gay soldiers, two different outcomes.

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