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FEATURE ‌ Alexander the Gay

South Carolinian military vet takes on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

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Would Alexander the Great, one of the world's greatest generals, be allowed to serve in the modern U.S. military if he were alive today?

Probably not, if we are to believe scholars of antiquity ... and Oliver Stone and Ann Landers, who have also outed the supposedly gay conqueror in film and in print, respectively.

Thanks to the military's 13-year-old policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," King Alexander III of Macedon, even though he had conquered the Middle East, would be stripped of his uniform and commission because of a supposed life-long tryst with Hephaistion, his good friend and general (read: longtime companion).

In Alexander's times, being "gay" wasn't really an issue, so that his affair with Hephaistion, much like the one that supposedly existed between Achilles and Patrokolos, wouldn't have caused much of a stir. (Unless, that is, Alexander was the, er, compliant or submissive partner to Hephaistion, who was of lower social standing — sort of a class warfare meets top/bottom social more.)

Last week, native South Carolinian Alexander Nicholson announced his battle plans for a skirmish that not even Alexander the Great would have thought about fighting.

Nicholson, a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist who was removed from service after a "friend" in his unit outed him, spoke last week about the need to challenge the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy against gays in the military. His Call to Duty project will send out young veterans to mostly "conservative" college campuses across the nation beginning on Presidents Day, Feb. 20.

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue policy came about as a compromise during the Clinton era in Washington that allowed gays to remain in the military as long as they kept their sexual preferences private and quiet. The policy also stopped superior officers from asking those serving in the military to out themselves.

Standing in White Point Gardens with The Battery behind him and before a small but intent audience, Nicholson claimed that he was one of more than 10,000 veterans discharged due to sexual orientation or activities since 1993, as well as one of several dozen Arabic-speaking linguists ushered out because of gender preference.

Among those in attendance was Julian Hayes, a gay vet who served in WWII under Gen. George S. Patton, and who was featured last year in the controversial documentary We Are Your Neighbors. (Hayes also claims to have had his name stricken from his longtime companion's obituary.)

Nicholson read from a prepared statement: "It didn't matter that I was trained in human intelligence collection and counterintelligence operations by the Army, or that I already spoke three languages before I even went into the Army. Nor does it matter that I have experience living in the Middle East and now speak Arabic as a fourth language.

"I can't serve because someone found out I'm gay."

Nicholson, the son of a career military man, continued: "You know, the 9/11 Commission Report cites the inability of the Department of Defense to translate intercepted intelligence from Arabic to English as one of the primary reasons leading to the intelligence failures leading up to September 11.

"One of the famous phrases made public so far that could have tipped officials off about September 11: bukra issaah zephr in Arabic, is one of the easiest phrases to translate into English by an Arabic linguist.

"It means 'tomorrow is zero hour,' but it was not translated into English until two days after 9/11 because there were not enough Arabic translators in the Department of Defense's National Security Agency to get through the backlog of translations to be done," said Nicholson, who went to USC and earned a degree in international relations on the modern G.I. Bill after leaving the military.

Claiming that any one of the 54 Arabic linguists the DoD was forced to fire because of DADT could have easily translated that phrase, Nicholson, his voice rising and strengthening, railed against what he sees as the out-of-date nature of a needlessly discriminatory policy.

"Do you really care if the Arabic linguist translating the next piece of crucial intelligence is gay or straight, as long as it gets done quickly and accurately and helps save American lives?"

Standing at his side were Jarrod Chlapowski, a gay veteran of five years in the Army who left the armed services in November to become Call to Duty's full-time assistant director, and Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based gay equality organization.

Solmonese, quoting what he said were federal General Accounting Office statistics, claimed that forcing 10,000 gays to leave the military has cost the nation more than just a measure of safety, but also $260 million in training costs for their replacements.

During a question and answer period, Chlapowski, dressed in the same uniform as Nicholson — dark blue Polo tennis shirt, Ralph Lauren khakis, and muscular arms — debunked the idea that allowing gays in the military in 2006 would further hamper the military's recruitment and reenlistment efforts.

"If you're in a forward position and have to make a foxhole, sex is the last thing on your mind," said Chlapowski.

After speaking, the three made their way to the offices of The Post and Courier for a meeting with the paper's editorial board, where HRC spokesperson Brad Luna said the trio was welcomed warmly and listened to respectfully.

"They asked a range of questions, and were very open-minded and inquisitive," said Luna, who added that the board, which decides what the local paper's official editorial positions will be, was especially interested in the likelihood of a counter DADT measure passing Congressional muster.

Luna added that neither the tour nor the HRC have attempted to enlist U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a former judge advocate in the U.S. Air Force who serves on the Senate's powerful Armed Forces Committee and has had his own proclivities questioned publicly.

"Just going there, speaking to [the editorial board], raises the debate of, 'If you're for strong defense, how can you be against this,'" said Luna.

Frank Wooten, an associate editor at the paper and an editorial writer on the board, says he doesn't know if the paper will tackle the issue in its viewpoints page. "We talk to a lot of people; sometimes we write about it, sometimes not."

Wooten praised the trio's presentation, saying they were personally impressive and some of what they were saying was "making sense."

So does this mean that Charleston, the now-moderately conservative Southern city that kicked off the Civil War and is home to The Citadel, could be the beginning of a sea change in how the nation views gays in the military?

Well, anyone looking for a sign might be disappointed by the moveable-letters sign standing at attention in front of a James Island dry cleaner last week that read, "Avoid fruits and nuts, because we are what we eat."

Who knows, perhaps an invading army led by a gay general named Alexander will conquer the Middle East yet again. But that time, his last name could be "Nicholson" and not "The Great."

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