Gay Arabic Translator: "I'm Here, I'm Willing to Serve" [VIDEO]
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Stephen Benjamin describes himself as a "recruiter's dream." He is a highly trained, award-winning Navy Arabic translator who is eager and "willing to serve," yet because of the outdated and discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of the U.S. military, he has been discharged and denied the opportunity to serve our country. Celebrated filmmaker Robert Greenwald and his Brave New Foundation, in collaboration with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), hope to set this injustice right with a new campaign being launched at LiftTheBan.org.
"The 'don't ask don't tell policy' is legalized discrimination," said Greenwald. "Stephen Benjamin is the subject of our film, but the problem is a huge disgrace."
Reports have shown that more than 11,000 service members have been discharged from the military in the past 14 years because of their sexual orientation. Benjamin was targeted for dismissal because of some personal instant messages he had sent to his roommate, who is also gay, which were intercepted and revealed their homosexuality. In a New York Times op-ed, Benjamin explained the predicament he was in:
I could have written a statement denying that I was homosexual, but lying did not seem like the right thing to do. My roommate made the same decision, though he was allowed to remain in Iraq until the scheduled end of his tour.
The result was the termination of our careers, and the loss to the military of two more Arabic translators. The 68 other -- heterosexual -- service members remained on active duty, despite many having committed violations far more egregious than ours; the Pentagon apparently doesn't consider hate speech, derogatory comments about women or sexual misconduct grounds for dismissal.
My supervisors did not want to lose me. Most of my peers knew I was gay, and that didn't bother them. I was always accepted as a member of the team. And my experience was not anomalous: polls of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan show an overwhelming majority are comfortable with gays. Many were aware of at least one gay person in their unit and had no problem with it.
"Don't ask, don't tell" does nothing but deprive the military of talent it needs and invade the privacy of gay service members just trying to do their jobs and live their lives. Political and military leaders who support the current law may believe that homosexual soldiers threaten unit cohesion and military readiness, but the real damage is caused by denying enlistment to patriotic Americans and wrenching qualified individuals out of effective military units. This does not serve the military or the nation well.
On the Lift the Ban site, and to your right, is a three-minute video that details Benjamin's story. The clip concludes with a call to sign an online petition in favor of overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and encourages viewers to support the passing of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (HR 1246).
"This dynamic new project from the Brave New Foundation showcases the impact 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' continues to exact on our armed forces," said Steve Ralls, Director of Communications for SLDN. "With this new campaign, the public can speak out against the ban and join our coalition partners in building support for repeal. We are proud to be working alongside Brave New Foundation to build grassroots support for toppling 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
Adam Howard is the editor of PEEK.