Ever since she was a young girl, Lt. Robin Chaurasiya dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot. She’d grown up around planes –her father was a first generation, lower-caste Indian immigrant who had studied by candlelight to painstakingly earn an engineering degree, then come to the U.S. to work for Boeing. She studied hard, graduated from high school a year early, earned an Air Force ROTC scholarship to Illinois Institute of Technology, and went into active duty.
As it turned out Chaurasiya was too small to be a pilot (she’s barely 5 feet tall) so instead she used her gift for languages to become an Air Force communications officer. Speaking Hindi, Urdu, Turkish, German, Luganda (Uganda) and Swahili – as well as being conversant in several other languages –she saw active duty in Turkey, Panama and East Africa. When her father became gravely ill in 2007, Chaurasiya transferred into the Reserves, did some life-changing service work in India, and completed an international master’s degree. She was recalled to active duty in 2009 and reported to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. And that’s when her Air Force career went down in flames.
Because in addition to being a linguistic prodigy, Chaurasiya is also a vegetarian, atheist, feminist, Democrat .. and gay. An email she had written declaring that she was lesbian was forwarded to her commander, who was upset that someone was “making claims against her character.” In a subsequent 6-month investigation, she stated clearly and proudly that she was gay and wrote poignantly, “For years, I was forced to choose between being in the military and hiding my sexual orientation or not serving in the military and being honest about my sexual orientation” –the same situation that compromises the integrity of every gay person in the armed services today.
The Air Force response was to claim that Lt. Chaurasiya made her statement “for the purpose of avoiding or terminating military service” and refused to discharge her. She then married her partner in a civil union, and returned to leading her communications unit at the base, until a few months later when the Air Force reversed its decision. She is now being discharged for being a homosexual who wants to serve, instead of being retained for being a homosexual who doesn’t want to serve. Huh?? Oh, and it gets worse: Chaurasiya may also be required to pay back her $20,000 ROTC scholarship, since she lied on her ROTC application about her sexual orientation. But the real loss here is to our military –that is tossing aside a brilliant, accomplished, dedicated officer with valuable linguistic skills and a gift for leadership.
Since Clinton instituted the 1993 law, an estimated 13,500 service members have been discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. (And women of color are discharged at a far greater rate, proportionally.) Obama has called on Congress to overturn the law, but there has been no action from that spineless body. In case you’ve never read the statute in the U.S. Code (I hadn’t) here it is:
The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.
What an indefensible position! For a great antidote, read Paul Rudnick’s hilarious riposte in the New Yorker. And to contribute to two great organizations challenging DADT, try the American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) or Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, (SLDN) that is representing Lt. Chaurasiya. Let’s enter the new century, folks!