Army linguists Alastair Gamble, left, and Robert Hicks, at their home in Beltsville, Md. Gamble says his discharge from the Army is not a gay-rights issue. Associated Press photo by Marie P. Marzi
Army discharges 6 gay foreign language students
Monterey institute follows Pentagon policy despite shortage of speakers of Arabic
Christopher Heredia, Chronicle Staff Writer Friday, November 15, 2002
The Army has discharged six gay Arabic linguists studying at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, even as the military is clamoring to fill a critical shortage of fluent speakers of Middle Eastern languages.
The soldiers were dismissed after they disclosed their homosexuality, a violation of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that says gay or lesbian soldiers may serve as long as they keep their sexual orientation private.
But the Washington, D.C.-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group for gays in the military, hopes that by bringing attention to the discharges, the military will reconsider its policy.
"The most pertinent issue is that (six) linguists trained in the language the U.S. government, the military and intelligence all readily admit they are in dire need of have been fired unjustly," Ralls said. "The military shot themselves in the foot."
The group represented all six soldiers, who received honorable discharges. Ralls said the soldiers were not going to challenge the discharges.
The group also represented a seventh Arabic language specialist who was trained at the institute but fired at a different base, and two Korean linguists at Monterey who were also discharged. The group learned Wednesday that a Mandarin linguist had been discharged.
"The shortage of Arabic speakers in the intelligence community is well established," said Donald Hamilton, who was a senior adviser to the National Commission on Terrorism in 2000, which identified a very serious shortage of Arabic language speakers. "The loss of talent is a cost of it (don't ask, don't tell)."
Defense Language Institute spokesman Harvey Perritt said all the Army had done was carry out the Department of Defense policy, which clearly states soldiers who declare they are gay must be discharged.
Perritt declined to go into details of the soldiers' cases, citing their right to privacy. He said that in the fiscal year that ended in September 365 soldiers had completed language training at the institute out of 516 enrolled.
SLDN reported in March that the military had discharged 1,271 men and women under "don't ask, don't tell" last year.
One of the fired soldiers, PFC Patricia Ramirez, 21 of Phoenix, claimed she had been asked by a supervisor to continue to serve after telling a supervisor she was lesbian, claiming her statement wasn't credible, then later told she was being discharged.
"Joining the Army was something I always wanted to do, to serve my country, " Ramirez said. "I thought it was so noble."
She said she had realized she couldn't do that without being honest about her sexual orientation.
"It was a pivotal point in our relationship to make a choice the military was not going to make, to acknowledge us and our relation," she said.
As a result of her dismissal, Ramirez lost many of her benefits, including a bonus to repay her student loans and her Montgomery GI bill, and she was forced to disclose her homosexuality to her family.
Linguist Specialist Alastair Gamble, 24 of Beltsville, Md., said he had been fired from the institute after his superiors learned his boyfriend was spending the night in his bedroom, a violation of curfew. An investigation ensued, which turned up love notes between the two, and the Army began the discharge process.
"This is not a gay rights issue," said Gamble, who had hoped to focus on the Iraqi dialect as a Army career and now is working in the private sector. "What is inappropriate is for the military to insist the policy is right when there is no tangible evidence to support that. Society has progressed. Even people in the military are not sufficiently affected by serving next to openly gay personnel."