Is Pentagon Gay Panic Aiming to Deflect from Probe of Women’s Harassment?

In the wake of the junior senator from New York humiliating takedown of the commandant of the Marine Corp for failing to protect females from harassment and intimidation, the Pentagon has opened a homophobic investigation replete with images of soldiers in gay porn and being victimized on gay sites in Tumblr.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand ripped into General Robert Neller for failing to take responsibility for misogynistic threads on Marines United, a Facebook site with 30,000 followers until it was shut down.

Some threads contained revealing photos of women soldiers accompanied by Donald Trump-like comments about pussy. While some photos were selfies, others were peeping tom pics of women caught unawares in various stages of undress. Other selfies were revenge porn uploaded by men upset that a relationship ended. The failure of the armed services to protect its women is a festering sore.


That women face mass harassment has been public since the Tailhook scandal broke in 1993. An investigation into the gathering of more than 100 Marine and Navy aviators in Las Vegas led to allegations that 83 women and 7 men were assaulted.

In 2010, Gillibrand turned into a bulldog on this issue, making it clear she wouldn’t rest until the harassment ended. She had complaints from aggrieved women, she held hearings and received promises. The Marine United scandal proved that these promise are empty.

This frustration boiled over at a Senate Armed Forces Hearing, where a furious Gillibrand raked the sheepish Neller over the coals, leaving him to admit, with a hangdog look, “I don’t have an answer for you. That’s a lame answer, but it’s the best I can tell you right now.”

A former top prosecutor in the Air Force, Don Christensen, seethed that the general’s confession was received with sympathy when his remarks demonstrated ineptitude. Christensen is executive director of Protect Our Defenders, an organization that demands strict enforcement of rules against sexual harassment and seeks criminal charges in cases of rape.

He sees little real progress in the effort to integrate women as equal members of armed force. In a telephone interview, Christensen said the bottom line is that top brass “really don’t want the women there.” If they got serious about protecting women, there would be dismissals, court martials, and military orders that would change men’s behavior.

Two days after this Senate hearing, the Pentagon opened an investigation that tried to equate humiliation of women with the humiliation of male soldiers whose pics appears on gay Tumblr sites or soldiers who broke military discipline by appearing in military gay porn. The spotlight on gay Internet sites immediately complicated the investigation into misogyny in the Armed Services and appears to be an effort to create divisions between the LGBTQ and feminist movements.

Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today’s Pentagon correspondent who has followed this issue for years, reported that the “scandal” caused by the Marine United site had expanded to include “a slew of gay pornography web pages with images of men wearing military uniforms engaged in sex acts.” A spokesperson for the Armed Services confirmed the investigation –– one that seems sure to slow the momentum of the investigations into aggressive behavior by men toward women. The focus on gay pornography provides excuses for minimizing the bullying of women.

USA Today explained that this “slew” of gay pornography showed “the complexity of policing social media sites where sensitive images can be uploaded in an instant for all to see.” For “all to see” is more supposition than fact; presumably it is gay men who chose to look at gay porn. The public opts out.

The feminist efforts to stifle harassment shouldn’t become confused with decisions by men to participate in or enjoy gay activities. Complaints about the gay gaze have no comparable history to the constant stream of complaints about cruel and hostile conduct by military men against women soldiers.

Nonetheless USA Today, quoting a Naval NCIS military spokesperson, reported that Navy, Marine, Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard investigators have “established a multi-service task force to expand the investigation.”

Caught squarely in this pincer grip is Aaron Belkin, a leader in the fight to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He is an advisor to Protect Our Defenders and declined to comment for this article.

The news that GIs in porn might be disciplined brought an immediate reaction from OutServe-SDLN that “provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law.” Matt Thorn, the group’s executive director, is ready to seek representation for any personnel caught in a new dragnet.

The power of investigators to create a gay panic was a point emphasized by the chair of the Free Speech Coalition, a 25-year-old old civil liberties organization close to the porn business. Jeffrey J. Douglas cautioned against presuming that sexual exposure always involves victimization.

“The armed forces haven’t adopted well to a changed environment,” he commented over the phone. “Images that would have been shocking a generation ago no longer appear so”

A service member who posted “without thinking that it is improper when faced with an investigator who tells him, ‘If you say it was done with your approval then you are in a world of trouble and if you say it wasn’t with your permission you’re in less trouble.’ You pick,” Douglas added. In this way a willing participant can be turned into an accuser and a voluntary act made to appear compelled.

USA Today quoted spokespeople from the Air Force, Marines and Navy as saying they are using facial recognition technology and combing through gay websites to identify armed service members who might appear on gay sites. Supporters of a long overdue crackdown on sexual harassment of women must be alert that their cause could be an excuse for an end run around new laws accepting gays into the military.