The date could be the 22nd January 2008. Or 1948. Or 1848. What has remained consistent for centuries is the vicious targeting of LGBT people from the military they put their lives on the line to serve, an institutionalized cruelty rendered ironic as well as senseless when it is pointed out that the military as we know it today was founded by armies made up of gay men.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s recent ban of Transgender personnel from the military, it is worth considering the substantial history the LGBTQ community has with the military. The Sacred Band of Thebes was an army made up of 150 pairs of male lovers, the most famous embodiment of a Greek practice where men were encouraged to form intimate relationships with the men in their bands. The hope was that the urge to protect loved ones in battle would lead to warriors going above and beyond in terms of ferocity and this theory was a resounding success. Ancient Roman and even the Japanese Samurai traditions embraced homosexual behaviour in the hopes it would increase unit cohesiveness, morale, and bravery, and only with the rise of Christianity in Western Europe did these traditions of love between men in times of warfare die out.
The earliest written laws against gay men in the context of the military occurred during the Napoleonic wars in the 19thCentury, where any sailors found to have committed any act of intimacy with another man- as innocent as sending an overly fond letter- could be dishonourably discharged, imprisoned or executed. The laws did not, however, stop such behaviours: sodomy was so frequently practiced within the Navy during the Napoleonic wars it directly inspired the phrase ‘any port in a storm’. Why is it then, in a society that is supposedly now far more liberal than the 19thCentury we are witnessing such regressive ideas?
Shockingly, the British government only allowed LGBT servicemen and women to serve openly in the year 2000, the same year most of our current first-year students were born. Before then? Shame, discrimination and court-martialling from an organisation that demands human lives in order to keep running. It seems America is willing to resurrect this tradition.
Trump’s reinstatement of a ban on transgender service in the Armed forces has no reason. To have secured employment in the Military (a path some transgender people are forced to undertake to secure otherwise inaccessible reassignment surgeries) the same psychological and physical tests would have had to been excelled in as non-LGBT members. It is discrimination, plain and simple, to appease right-wing vultures in his party, wrecking lives so willingly laid down for the country he runs in the process. “They used us when it suited them, and then victimized us when the country was no longer in danger”, said Dudley Cave, a veteran from WW1 in 1941. Or 1741. Or at this rate, it could be 2021. As mentioned, for LGBTQ Servicemen and women, the dates don’t count.