A copy of a letter reportedly sent by a Marine Corps recruit raises new concerns about a culture of homophobia in the military, despite the 2011 repeal of the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy that previously had banned gays from serving openly in the armed forces.
News site Gawker obtained the letter this week and told The Huffington Post that its authenticity had been verified. The letter contains some concerning details about what the recruit portrays as consistent, homophobia-tinged verbal abuse on the part of Marine Corps drill instructors.
In between stories about physical fitness training and classes on U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) history, the recruit adds in this profanity-laced anecdote:
[DADT] may have been repealed, but the USMC sure hasn't adapted. We're called faggots 10-50 times a day."You think that's yelling? That's sweet faggot." "Yeah, you would think that's a pushup, faggot." etc. Any time we f--k something up, the DI's tell us "you stupid f-----g thing. That's more wrong than two boys f-----g."
If true, the instructors' use of homophobic slurs may indicate anti-gay attitudes within in the Marines -- or, at the very least, among those officers tasked with training the next generation of soldiers.
Allyson Robinson, a transgender Army veteran and West Point graduate who heads up the OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (OutServe-SLDN), spoke with The Huffington Post about the letter's contents and said that, while disturbing, they are not surprising to her.
"We've received reports from out members of words, actions and treatment that certainly falls short of what the president and our military leaders have said the standard should be for a post-DADT military," Robinson said, adding that she had not yet heard of anything quite so "apparently blatantly, unrepentantly homophobic."
"We know from the experience of our country ... that changing laws is really the easy part of civil rights," she went on to say. "The hard part is changing the culture, and we're up against an anti-gay culture in our military that has existed and persisted and has been enforced by leaders at all levels for generations."
Indeed, during the run-up to DADT's repeal, the Marines expressed a good deal of reluctance toward the possibility of openly gay and lesbian members. In December of 2010, a few months before the repeal, the Corps' commandant, Gen. James F. Amos suggested to reporters that openly gay Marines could create "distractions" that could "cost Marines' lives," The Washington Post reported.
While vague on how exactly lesbian and gay Marines might distract their colleagues, Amos did cite a Defense Department survey from November of 2010, which reported 58 percent of Marines in combat units thought DADT's repeal would negatively affect their ability to work effectively together. By comparison, 70 percent of the military surveyed said the repeal would not affect their unit, according to the Post.
Amos' statements, coupled with the Department of Defense survey and the letter published by Gawker, could send a "mixed message" to recruits who may someday serve with or under a gay or lesbian comrade, OutServe's Allyson Robinson told HuffPost. "It violates the most basic principals of military leadership," she said of the anti-gay verbal abuse alleged in the letter.
She also expressed concerns about how everyday use of such language might affect gay soldiers.
"You have to imagine the experience of a gay or lesbian recruit at a Marine boot camp," Robinson said, "who was thrilled to see DADT repealed, excited to have the opportunity to serve their country in a way that was out and open and vulnerable. And then to walk into an environment like this."
She pledged that OutServe-SLDN will continue its ongoing effort to impress upon the Department of Defense the need to enact formal equal opportunity and nondiscrimination protections for gay and lesbian service members.
However, Marine Corps spokesman Captain Richard Ulsh said the text of the supposed Marine recruit's letter didn't seem credible, for a variety of reasons.
He pointed out that Gawker's story said the recruit had emailed the letter to friends -- which threw up a red flag, as Marine recruits do not have access to email. Military experts have also raised this question, but Gawker told HuffPost this week that the letter had been first handwritten by the recruit and later was transcribed and forwarded as an email.
Ulsh also said that the letter accuses drill instructors of using language and acting in a manner that is not tolerated in boot camp.
"I mean, we're all human. ... There are people who might do that," Ulsh told HuffPost. "But the way [the recruit] talks about it is like it happens every day all the time. There are strict measures enforced that prevent those sorts of things from happening."
Drill Instructors are not even allowed to "drop f-bombs," according to Ulsh, and if they were throwing around offensive slurs, "there would certainly be repercussions."