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Gay former soldier: Policy taking financial toll on military

DEE GOODIN • Feb 19, 2007 at 11:48 AM

JOHNSON CITY - A Johnson City native, drummed out of the military because of his sexual orientation, has mixed emotions about the State Department's contemplation of rehiring homosexuals.

Bleu Copas served in the Army for three and a half years and is currently enrolled at East Tennessee State University.

"It's been a long time coming," Copas said. "The government has started to realize what they're throwing away.

"They spent a lot of time and money training me in the (Arabic) language, to give me the skill where I could best serve my country."

Copas said he was well-aware of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on homosexuals, but in the aftermath of 9/11 the need to serve his country outweighed any hesitation he had to join the Army.

Created in 1993, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy bans the military from inquiring about the sex lives of service members, but requires discharges of those who openly acknowledge being gay.

A decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist, Copas was dismissed from the Army after "a malicious campaign by an anonymous informant" who hacked into Copas' e-mail and sent some of his personal messages to his commander.

"They had hoped it would go away, but the informant became more persistent, and they had to (discharge me in order to) cover themselves and protect me."

And unlike the civilian justice system, Copas never knew the identity of his accuser, much less was given the right to face that individual.

However, Copas insists the situation is improving.

"The proof is in the pudding," Copas said. "The State Department is considering making a push."

Yet Copas feels the plan is evidence of a double standard.

"The State Department doesn't discriminate the way the military does," he said. "It's almost like a slap in the face. I don't understand how departments in the same government can have different philosophies."

More than 11,000 service members have been dismissed under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, including 726 last year, an 11 percent increase from 2004 and the first increase since 2001.

According to the General Accountability Office, nearly 800 dismissed gay or lesbian service members had critical abilities, including 300 with important language skills. Fifty-five were proficient in Arabic, including Copas, who graduated from the Defense Language Institute in California.

Replacing those individuals has cost the Pentagon nearly $369 million, according to the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Despite the circumstances surrounding his dismissal, Copas called his time in the military "an amazing experience."

"I learned a lot of skills and made a lot of friends. The entire time I was in, I never felt I was in a hostile environment."

He said views on homosexuality are changing among soldiers.

"Among the lower ranks, there is more social acceptance and more and more they are realizing homosexuality doesn't matter, particularly when it comes to one's ability to do the job," Copas said. "Today's military is the most diverse it's ever been."

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