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By Thabo Shatho Nlebgwa
Recently I read a two-part ‘analysis’ on Homosexuality and the Military by one Richard Moleofe. The supposed analysis was at the very least constipated, unsuccessful and lacking in logic for what was supposed to be the product of an expert in security matters. It suffices to say that his ‘analysis’ was bigotry dressed as an ‘expert’ analysis. It is imperative that we are cautious when discussing matters that affect the disenfranchised members of our society. Instead of helping narrow the scope of disenfranchisement, Mr. Moleofe adds fuel to the raging fire of bigotry.
The crux of the analysis was that allowing persons within our society who identify themselves within the LGBTI spectrum to join the army posed a security threat to the country. His analysis hinges on society’s bigoted treatment of members of the LGBTI community. He offers no empirical evidence on how members of the LGBTI community pose a security threat and or weakness to ours or any country. His arguments border on ridiculous for lack of a better word. The use of the US military as a case study does no more than point out to the already entrenched bigotry in our society than anything else of substance. It focuses on the fear of the unknown or points to how perverted society is.
He writes “The cost of bringing homosexuals into a military establishment of a third world country like ours will be crippling economically and would also have dire security consequences. At the moment the budgetary constraints of the military would not even accommodate that change.” To justify the above he points to the allocation of accommodation as an example. I wish a more well-thought-out example would have been proffered to save me from this cringe worthy moment. How and why would members of the LGBTI community serving openly as they identify pose a security risk? How would they be an economic liability? The statement and its supporting statements that follow beg a lot of questions.
I submit that an inclusive community is rather, more economically productive than one that is segregated. History would show, for example, that once women were introduced into national labour force, there was an increase in the overall national productivity of nation states. An inclusive society is more stable and bound to be more productive. There is also a direct correlation, generally, between stability and economic growth. I am not naïve as to think change would not be without challenges. But, I am also alive to the fact that some alleged consequences of change are but the product of fear mongering by those in places of privilege. To his credit Moleofe points out that military service was the preserve of males for a long time with an assumption on their sexuality.
I would argue that the current position of indifference or the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as the author has referred to call it does more psychological trauma to those members of the LGBTI community already serving in the military. I am by no means a psychologist but there is a plethora of literature out there on the mental health effects of people living within the shadows for fear of discrimination or losing their livelihoods owing to bigotry. He argues that once a person joins the army they lose some rights. With all due respect, the people waive the extent to which they can exercise those rights. I find it difficult where an individual would waive the right to how they identify themselves in terms of their sexuality. I doubt our constitution would allow for any legal provision that calls for such as it betrays the basic tenets of liberty. Liberty being the freedom to be what you want to be without interference from the government.
There is no empirical evidence presented by the author that LGBTI members require a special training regime different to those already in place. This assumption of members of the LGBTI being weak adds to the homophobia and bigotry. It is unfortunate that he used his privileged position as a columnist to add to the bigotry. It is true that structural changes would have to be made but those would not, I submit, not change the fabric of the military. Putting in place non-discriminative policies and ensuring they are adhered to would not bring the military to its knees. I think policy change and enforcement are the only structural change that are necessary to have an inclusive military. No special accommodation or facilities would be necessary. I do not want to believe that the military is incapable of change as Mr. Moleofe wants to suggest. Sensitivity training is required across all sectors of our society to fight homophobia, transphobia and all other kinds of bigotry.
There is an underlying inference, albeit not made explicitly, that members of the LGBTI community are in a sense weaker than those who identify within the normative cisgender spectrum. His allusion to a need for a separate enrolment points to this prejudice. There is a complete disregard for their humanity. All effort is expended to discredit them as unworthy and unproductive members of the community. As a nation founded on democratic ideals and regard for human rights we must be advocating for an inclusive society and ensuring that we live to the constitutional ideal of equal protection of the law.
There is a lot that could be said about Mr. Moleofe’s submissions. There is a difference between being an idealist or pragmatist. There was an attempt to clothe himself as a pragmatic thinker than an idealist. However, bigotry, either subconscious or conscious, got on his way. His was not a debate but a manifesto for why the country should have spaces where discrimination is allowed and form part of our policy. We have, as a nation matured beyond such petty bigotry. Of course, we still have those amongst us who are still trapped in the darkness of bigotry. I stand to rebuke those persons.
As a nation we are on the constant path of change; change for the better. We cannot allow bigotry to rule and define our public policy outlay. We should speak out against those who speak for an exclusive rather than inclusive community. We must in our condemnation of these people, proceed to educate them.
*Thabo Shatho Nlebgwa (LLB.UB) is studying MA in Economic Development at the State University of Campinas, Brasil and at blogger at www.therant.blog