Army Discharges Arabic-Speaking Soldier for Being Gay

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Aug 7 11:19:52 UTC 2006

Army Discharges Arabic-Speaking Soldier for Being Gay

Growing up in Johnson City, Tenn., Bleu Copas was inspired by stories from
his father's military days. Inspired to serve his country after the 9/11
terrorist attacks, Copas enlisted in the Army, and before long, began
studying Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in California, after
which he began working in military intelligence.  "It is indisputable that
the work that my specific job does is one of the most important jobs of
the military," said the 26-year-old Copas. "It is very difficult to keep
tabs on all the different enemies."

There was just one problem: Copas is gay. His sexuality led to his
discharge in December 2005, despite his being one of the military's
relatively few Arabic speakers. He's now pursuing a Masters degree in
counseling at East Tennessee State University. The policy against gays
serving openly in the military, known as "don't ask, don't tell," was
signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. A 2004 study by the
Government Accountability Office found that of the 9,488 service members
discharged from the military for gay and lesbian conduct, approximately
757 - or 8 percent - "held critical occupations," meaning the kinds of
jobs for which the Pentagon offers selective reenlistment bonuses. That
number included 322 with "skills in an important language such as Arabic,
Farsi, or Korean." That GAO report can be read HERE.

While 67 percent of the American people think gays and lesbians should be
able to serve openly, according to a study done by the Annenberg Public
Policy, 50 percent of those in the military think they should not. The
military says the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is needed for unit
cohesion. Copas was well aware of the policy, and said he did just what
they require. He said he did not tell anyone at work he was gay, and
assumed no one there would ever have reason to ask him about it. "I was
not able to tell anyone, and I had to maintain my privacy and maintain
professionalism in the workplace," Copas said.

So how was Copas outed?  Copas said that last year, someone got into his
personal e-mail account and sent e-mails indicating he's gay to his
commanders, noting that the e-mails belonged to someone in the 82nd
Airborne Division's All American Chorus. "So the leaders of the chorus
brought us into the hallway," Copas said, "and asked us, or let us know,
'We know one of you is gay, who is it?'" Copas didn't admit he was the
one, but soon they were all asked about those e-mails.

"[They asked], 'Do I know of anyone who thinks I am homosexual, or do I
associate with others who are homosexual, and am I involved in the
community theatre?' " Copas said. The question about community theater
came up because of content in the e-mails, he explained. "There were some
questions that I declined to answer, that I didn't think would help in
finding the informant," Copas said. "Later, that ended up hurting me."

In a written statement, Copas's commanding officer, Lt Col. James Zellmer
said: "When the allegations of Sgt. Copas' homosexual conduct came to my
attention, I appointed an impartial officer to conduct an investigation.
... The evidence clearly indicated that Sgt. Copas had engaged in
homosexual acts and made statements in a public forum indicating a
propensity and intent to engage in homosexual acts." Last December, Copas
was notified that he would be honorably discharged because he was gay, and
all because of that anonymous e-mailer. He said he still has no idea who
it was.

"I have wracked my brains for months, a year now, trying to find out who
this is," he said. Copas said "don't ask, don't tell" may have made sense
11 years ago, but it does not today. "I think, especially now of all
times, the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy hurts the war on terror," he
said. Copas said even though he thinks the military violated its own
policy by asking when he wasn't telling, he was discharged with full
benefits, so he has no intention to sue. He hopes to be a voice for those
in the military who aren't able to serve "honestly," and to tell Congress
that the military is ready to begin accepting gays and lesbians to serve

Source: ABC News

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