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By Cornelius A. Fortune
ANN ARBOR – Military recruiters will tell kids anything they want to hear to get them to sign up – even LGBT youth who are routinely discriminated against in the military.
That was the message of counter military recruiter Oskar Castro as he spoke April 14 at the Friends Meeting House in Ann Arbor. Castro was invited by the American Friends Service Committee’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Issues Program to talk about the tactics currently seen in military recruitment, where minorities and LGBT youth are often lured in with lies and false promises.
Castro started his career as a college recruiter. Now he works in the National Youth & Militarism Program to help educate youth on their life options.
“We counter the lies, the myths, and the misrepresentation that are made by military recruiters,” he said. “We’re not telling young people not to join, we’re actually just asking them to think about what they are doing, and make an educated decision … maybe that decision is a good one if they decide not to do it.”
After doing counter recruitment for four years, Castro understands the subtleties involved when both economics and sexual orientation intersect.
“Most of the communities they’re targeting within communities of color are undereducated and underemployed, and of course the military comes off looking really great when you don’t have the credentials to go to college; or you have the credentials, but you don’t have the resources,” he said.
What makes the recruiters so dangerous in his opinion is the lack of concern or care. To them, it’s merely a matter of numbers. They don’t give kids the information they need to make informed decisions. Some recruiters have gone as far as to say that the military will help transgender youth.
“Often we hear LGBT kids are told that if they’re thinking about transitioning, the military will pay for operations and hormonal treatments,” said Castro, “which is false. Military recruiters have been known to lie about a lot of other things, so it doesn’t surprise me that they’ll lie about that.”
In the end, he noted, the recruiters are more concerned about the number of young people they recruit. “Once they’ve got however many people they need, it’s not their problem, it’s the military’s problem and that individual’s problem.”
And then there’s the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy,” which should serve as a red light to any LGBT kid considering a career in the military.
“We all should know that openly gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender folk are not allowed in the military if they’re openly gay,” he said. “So most of the recruiters who are going after the LGBT youth would have no scruples [in recruiting them]; that person could find themselves having a difficult time in the military.”
Though not part of the LGBT community, Castro saw firsthand the result of war, as his uncle returned back from Vietnam a different man.
“My uncle was a good catalyst because I saw him deteriorate after he got out of Vietnam,” he said. “He died in Vietnam, but just didn’t know it.”
After Sept. 11, Castro was looking for a different opportunity and was opposed to the war in Iraq – he gravitated towards counter recruitment.
“The military community is not a democracy, it’s rank and file, and of course this makes for all the challenges we face and see,” he said. “It’s hard to be against the promises and guarantees even if they are false.”
In the end, the message to LGBT youth remains the same: there are alternatives in the civilian world, he urged. The worst mistake a kid could make is locking themselves into a world that openly discriminates against them.
“It’s going to be difficult [for LGBT youth] because they’re going to have to keep their mouths shut or face a lot of oppression and repression, and or dishonorable discharge,” he said. “It’s not yet the kind of place that is really inimitable to LGBT folk.”
For more information on counter recruitment, visit http://www.afsc.org/youthmil.