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In 2001 I produced a series of news stories about a homophobic inscription written on a US bomb intended to be dropped on Afghanistan.
The story was produced in the context of the US military’s policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which gay servicemembers were in the process of trying to repeal. The stories I wrote and syndicated ended up forcing an apology from the US Navy.
What I didn’t pick up on at the time, and what this story has gone on to illustrate, are debates about homonationalism and militarism. Lisa Duggan, in her book The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (Beacon Press, 2003) uses these stories to articulate this clearly. When I wrote the story, I was not only appalled by the graffiti but also by the bomb and the war on terror, and the issues that Duggan raises.
High Jack This Fags: Gay Service Members Disgusted by US Military Homophobia
An image that hints at the US military’s attitude towards homosexuality has sparked outrage among gay service members in the UK.
The photograph, featured in London’s Metro newspaper, shows an officer aboard the USS Enterprise preparing a bomb in the campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan.
It is a military tradition to write messages on bombs for the intended recipients. The message on this bomb reads, “HIGH JACK(sic) THIS FAGS”.
Simon Langley of the Armed Forces Lesbian and Gay Association told RainbowNetwork: “This message is typical of the homophobia that exists in the US military, the beating to death of gay soldier Barry Winchell by his colleagues in 1999 is another example of that mentality.”
He added: “Homophobia such as this is not helped by their army’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.”
Langley said that he was concerned about what the message implied about the US military’s attitude towards homosexuality. “Whilst I doubt that it is officially condoned, the US military is fighting a war against extremism and religious intolerance but at the same time they are promoting their own brand of prejudice.”
Langley continued: “The insult has an element of playground homophobia about it, ‘gay’ or ‘fag’ is the worst insult that one child can say against another.”
He said that it was an empty gesture: “It’s the least appropriate insult to use given the Taliban’s treatment of homosexuals. The intended victims are very unlikely to be fags.”
Homophobic Bomb Row Deepens
The row is deepening over an image of a homophobic message written by a US military officer on a bomb intended for Afghan victims.
The photograph, released by the Associated Press, shows an officer aboard the USS Enterprise preparing a bomb in the campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan. The message on this bomb reads, “HIGH JACK(sic) THIS FAGS”.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organisation that supports lesbian and gay members of the armed forces, called on US Navy leaders today to condemn and hold accountable military personnel aboard the USS Enterprise.
“The message is insulting and inappropriate,” said SLDN legal director Sharra E. Greer. “It is also in clear violation of the United States military’s stated policies on harassment and morale.
“The United States Navy would never allow racial epithets or derogatory graffiti based on gender or religion to be scrawled on American property,” Greer said.
“Messages like the one presented in this photograph only reinforce the ideas of hatred and division that our nation seeks to defend against. We must not emulate the intolerance of our enemies.”
Richard Haymes, executive director of the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, said: “The message equates gays with the ‘enemy’, it places gay, lesbian and bisexual servicemembers, who are serving as honorably as anyone else at this time at risk and dishonors them.
“It also denigrates gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans who perished in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, fought to save others over Pennsylvania on doomed United Airlines Flight 93, and who valiantly rushed to assist those after the attacks on their roles as firemen, police officers, emergency personnel, and private citizens. All of this at a time of alleged national unity.”
But William K. Dobbs, the gay activist and member of QueerWatch, responded: “While many Americans raise questions about the current military campaign – amidst reports of civilian causalities – NCAVP avoids any messy policy issues and sends the message that the bombs and the dropping of same is fine. As long as there is no bad graffiti on them.”
Joan Garry, executive director of media watchdog group Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said: “If US military property had been defaced with a racial, ethnic, or religious slur against any other group – including against the targeted terrorists – I doubt the Associated Press would have found such a photo acceptable for publication.”
She attacked the Associated Press’ generic caption, adding: “Any media outlet that reprints this photo should present it in its proper context and report the response to its offensive content. We also expect the Associated Press to clarify that context in any future captions and subsequent reports.”
The Associated Press has since removed the image.
US Navy Apologises for Bomb Graffiti
The US Navy has apologised for anti-gay graffiti written on the side of a bomb intended for Afghanistan.
A photograph published by the Associated Press showed the words “HIGH JACK(sic) THIS FAGS” written on the side of a US Navy bomb.
Rear Admiral SR Pietropaoli said in a letter to the Human Rights Campaign that the graffiti was “inappropriate” and stated “steps were taken to prevent a recurrence of this unfortunate incident”.
HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch said: “The letter was a welcome clarification and we are pleased the Navy has stated that this type of anti-gay behaviour has no place in our armed forces.”
She continued: “We are appreciative they have actively taken steps to end anti-gay episodes, such as this, at a time our nation needs to be united against the new and dangerous threats we face.”
C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay military group, said: “Harassment in any form detracts from mission readiness.”
RainbowNetwork broke the story of the bomb graffiti last week to the Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network who then alerted US gay rights groups.
US Navy Condemns Bomb Homophobia
A spokesperson for the US Navy has condemned a piece of anti-gay grafitti written on a bomb intended for Afghanistan.
The Associated Press published image, which shows a US Navy officer preparing a bomb, daubed with the words “HIGH JACK(sic) THIS FAGS”.
The spokesperson said that US Navy personnel would be advised to “keep messages positive”.
Following complaints from lesbian and gay activists in the US and in Britain, the AP has now withdrawn the photograph.
Cathy Renna, of the Gay and Lesbian Association Against Defamation, said: “Hiding the picture really does a disservice to the issue. It’s clear that a number of people in the Navy thinks it’s OK to write ‘fag’ on a piece of government property and drop it on a terrorist. That’s something we should be talking about.”