Recently, two gay men garnered media attention after very publicly expressing dissatisfaction with their employment situations, in very different ways and with very different outcomes.
The first is Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier who allegedly leaked the 90,000 intelligence reports on the war in Afghanistan and 150,000 diplomatic cables. The second is Steven Slater, the flight attendant who, after an altercation with a passenger on a Jet Blue flight, grabbed a couple beers from a beverage cart, deployed the emergency slide and exited the plane. Talk about making an exit.
The situations have little in common save the sexual orientation of the central characters.
In Manning’s case, the 22-year-old is suspected of giving classified documents to WikiLeaks.org, an online site that publishes sensitive information and advocates for government transparency.
The site published the papers after sharing them with three media outlets, who verified their authenticity.
According to The New York Times, Manning had struggled with reconciling his sexual orientation with the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers, his ambition with having to complete menial tasks.
Growing up, he’d been teased for being, among other things, gay. After his father found out he was gay, he kicked Manning out of the house. He joined the military in 2007, trying to give his life direction and help pay for college.
To the hacker who received the documents, Manning wrote, “I’ve been isolated so long.”
His isolation continues: He’s currently being held at Quantico, Va., in solitary confinement under suicide watch.
For Slater, his actions have less potential impact, as there is no chance of compromising national security, nor any safety issues. Police arrested him after the incident, and it’s likely that he’ll lose his job.
Perhaps what these two incidents highlight is the potential negative effects of a policy such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Forcing individuals to separate their lives and lie about who they are wreaks havoc on their sense of self and their relationship to the world around them.
While Slater’s actions may be unlawful, he’s by no means facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.