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What the Navy Kiss Backlash is Really About

Angry viewers complained about same-sex smooch.

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By Danielle Campoamor

U.S. sailor Bryan Woodington recently returned from a seven-month deployment aboard the USS The Sullivans and with a specific homecoming celebration in mind. Woodington won the vessel’s ceremonial kiss raffle and couldn’t wait to share that coveted, traditional moment with his spouse. “I was excited, and I could not wait for it to happen,” Woodington told CNN affiliate WJXT in Jacksonville, Florida. “I knew I was going to dip him.” And dip his husband, Kenneth, he did, recreating Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic 1945 “Kissing Sailor” image, taken on V-J Day in Times Square.

It wasn’t the first time a same-sex couple shared a dockside kiss after one returned from a Navy deployment. But the picture of this happy, reunited couple was shared online and the kiss was aired on WJXT. And because for many, this country’s admiration for its military members is surface-level at best and only awarded to specific types of men and women in uniform, controversy and backlash followed.

Angry viewers immediately called and wrote letters to WJXT, complaining about the station’s choice to air the same-sex couple’s kiss. “I thought this was a ‘family friendly’ news channel,” one viewer wrote. “How sad that your station has dropped to such a low as to show a gay couple kissing on your newscast,” wrote another. And while Woodington told WJXT the outrage didn’t bother him because he’s “the type of person who doesn’t really care that much about what people say,” the rest of us could see that too many in this country, once again, were showing their true colors. Too many of us don’t care about our military so much as we care about the image of our military. Too many are more than happy to support the men and women in uniform, as long as they embody our own personal beliefs and ideals.

The ongoing infatuation with the 1945 “Kissing Sailor” image highlights our collective ability to overlook the facts in favor of a prettier, more easily digestible picture, especially when juxtaposed with the outrage over Woodington’s decision to recreate it. By some accounts, the original kiss wasn’t a sweet moment between reunited lovers at all but could well be called a sexual assault. Greta Friedman, the nurse who identified herself as the woman in the photo (though she is not the only one to claim that role), said she didn’t know George Mendonsa, the sailor who has said he was the man, when he grabbed her and kissed her without her consent. A closer look at the image reveals the woman with arms stiff to her side, her hand clenched and her body rigid. Although Friedman told Veterans History Project in 2005 that “he grabbed somebody dressed like a nurse” out of gratitude for all the nurses who cared for the wounded, thinking of this iconic moment as an unwanted groping is not an image people want to have — so most choose not to.

If only people were outraged over a picture of a man forcibly kissing a woman and not a husband lovingly kissing his husband.

If only more Trump supporters were as likely to call in or write letters in protest of the Trump administration’s attempt to ban the estimated 2,000 to 11,000 transgender individuals in the military from serving in the armed forces.

If only more people had been angrier during the 2018 midterms, when Republicans, including the President of the United States, called for the dismissal of service member ballots in the Florida Senate race between Rick Scott and incumbent Bill Nelson and in the Florida governor’s race between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis. Instead, President Donald Trump tweeted: “The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!”

Certainly not enough people care about the military when it comes to the number of sexual assaults that occur every single year. According to the Department of Defense, there were 6,769 reports of sexual assault in 2017, a 9.7% increase over the previous fiscal year.

When we elect a commander in chief who mocks Gold Star families, diminishes the service of a former POW like John McCain, makes misleading statements about military pay raises and calls for a military parade that a defense official says would cost $92 million to inflate his already oversized ego, we, as a nation, do not care enough about the military.

If we, as Americans, really valued the sacrifice of every single man and woman in uniform, Woodington and his husband would have been on the receiving end of nothing but an endless outpouring of gratitude and thanks for the sacrifices they both make in service to this nation. If we truly believed in the freedom for all that our military members fight for, we wouldn’t be attacking their right to that very freedom upon their return.

You support the troops? Prove it.

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