Saturday, January 21, 2006

Diversity

So the USNA Alumni Association Board of Trustees won’t support a non-discrimination statement that includes sexual orientation or gender identity. Their reasoning: we’re already an inclusive organization and we don’t need that. This coming from the very diverse Board of Trustees that is made up of all men, and only one African American. Nice. What they told USNA Out was that we needed to prove that we were being discriminating against at the local chapters. Any proof would surely be hearsay, but that’s what they said.

So knowing that the DC chapter would probably be one of the most conservative alumni chapters, I decided that I would go to a meeting to see how inclusive they really were. But the problem was that I just didn’t want to go up to some one and say, “Hi, I’m Trey, Class of 89, and I’m gay.” I needed to work some angle or look for some opportunity and it happened this week. The Greater Washington Naval Academy Alumni Association was hosting their monthly luncheon and CAPT Patricia Cole, the Special Assistant to the CNO for Diversity was going to be the speaker. So this would be a great time for me to raise the issue of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and put myself out there with out really outing myself in some strange artificial fashion.

As I drove out to the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, I called Jeff in SF to help me work up a good question. We came up with something like this: “CAPT Cole, thanks for coming here, I really appreciate your brief and am a strong believer in diversity. However, there is a group of US citizens who are not allowed to use their energy, skills, and talent to help the Navy. What are your thoughts about allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the Navy?” I sat in the parking lot and wrote the question down so I wouldn’t mess it up and then I went inside, signed in, got a drink and did a quick surveillance of the room. There were maybe 30 people there. Three active duty officers (in addition to CAPT Cole), a couple of women, and then the rest were men. Primarily from the older classes of the Academy. CAPT Cole was the only ethnic minority there. I sat a table with two alumni and we had a pleasant conversation. One of them was from the Class of 49 and a little bit senile, but he did tell the most interesting stories.

After lunch, CAPT Cole got up and gave her presentation. The Navy has come up with a new definition of diversity: “Diversity is all the different characteristics and attributes of individual Sailors and civilians which enhance the mission readiness of the Navy.” The Navy wanted to get people out of the mind set of only thinking of ethnic or gender diversity and look at the broader picture. She did say that while they were looking at other diversity issues, she was mainly going to focus on ethnic and gender diversity. She said that she wasn’t going to talk about homosexuality, but she did say that a senior officer on the Diversity Vision Group had raised the issue and but she couldn’t really address it. Her comment sort of made my question irrelevant, so as I listened to her brief, I started to think about a new way to raise the issue.

She showed slides about the current US demographics and how the Navy relates from an officer and enlisted perspective. She also showed the projected demographics for 2050 and talked about how the Navy needs to be looking at what it needs to do between now and then to ensure we have the diverse Navy, and Navy leadership, that we need. And that’s when I knew I had my question.

After the brief, she entertained questions and they were interesting. One alumni raised the issue on whether sailors think of themselves as lifers anymore. That all of this stressing of the individual was a bad thing. That sailors now were so individualistic that they thought of the Navy as just a job, not a career. CAPT Cole responded that in today’s young sailors, you need to reassure the sailor that his worth as an individual was recognized and valued. After a couple of other questions, I raised my hand, but some alumni from ’51 cut me off. He proceeded to comments that sometimes diversity for diversity sake is a bad thing. We don’t want to make diversity the end goal. And CAPT Cole responded that the Navy wasn’t going to be changing our core values: Ship, shipmate, self. But that we need to take advantage of the different skills that our diverse nation has. Then the ’51 guy started saying that we don’t necessarily want to just let anyone in. And then he said, “Those blacks” and I just cringed. “We don’t want those blacks if they can’t meet the standards. We need to make it hard so those blacks want to join.” CAPT Cole (who is African American and was just the epitome of professionalism) responded that the Navy wasn’t lowering standards. That in fact the Navy’s recruitment’s standards were actually rising. After she responded to him, she turned to me for the final question of the day.

“CAPT Cole, I just want to say that I found your brief very informative and I like the new definition of diversity very much. I also think it’s good that your team is looking forward to the diversity challenges of the future. However, I do want to raise the homosexuality issue that you alluded to before. Sooner or later “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is going to be repealed, there are already over 100 sponsors to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, and the United States is just one of two countries in NATO that don’t allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the Navy, the other being Turkey. When is the Navy going to start looking at the unique talents and skills that the gays and lesbians in the United States can offer to help enhance the Navy.” And that point I almost choked. I was really nervous and I could feel my pulse pounding in my head.

CAPT Cole started off by saying that she couldn’t do anything about it right now because she’s constrained by law. But she did say that this was an issue that the Navy was going to have to deal with eventually. She mentioned the senior officer’s concern from the Diversity Vision group, she mentioned the business imperative to recruit high quality candidates, she mentioned that if the Navy is going to reflect the US society then changes will be needed. She also said that society as a whole generally has a negative view of an organization that supports discrimination and the US military is going to have to deal with that.

I thought she answered the question pretty well without making any grandiose or earthshaking comments which I think she knew better than to do. The whole time she responded to my question, I kept my focus on her so I didn’t get a chance to check out the reaction of the rest of the crowd. After she answered my question, they gave her a little plate and the luncheon was over. The alumni to my right was friendly and said that I had asked a good question. After that, I went over to thank CAPT Cole for answering my question. While I was waiting to speak to her, a woman came up to me and said she was from Verizon and she commented on my question as well. She said that from a commercial industry perspective, diversity and openness is key to employee recruiting and retention. And that the Navy is going to have to address it at some point.

By the time I thanked CAPT Cole, the room was emptying pretty quickly and I had to get back to work. So I never did get a chance to gauge the reaction of my question to the rest of the alumnis. But the next meeting is Feb 15th. I’m going to try to attend that one as well.

3 Comments:

At 3:26 AM, Blogger aniseikonia said...

Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

That took real courage!

Chris

 
At 9:04 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Nice question.

Did anyone ask questions about Annapolis the movie? Are they going to have standards of beauty in the Navy now?

 
At 8:19 PM, Blogger d.K. said...

Good question, well said. I think people like the CAPT Cole are the future of the services in terms of how they look at responding to changes in the society at large vis a vis homosexuality. The cro-magnums from '51 (those Blacks... ugh) are loud and will be around for a while, but the writing is on the wall. Your reference to Nato and our dubious shared distinction with Turkey was great - but also realistically reveals why the die's been cast.
Have a great break! Can't wait to hear about it.
Don

 

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