Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The DADT Post You Probably Knew Was Coming

So, after a 17-year fight, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is over, and gay and lesbian service members can serve openly in the military for the first time.

It's 2011, by the way. We put a man on the moon 42 years ago, and we just got around to deciding that it's not worth freaking out if a dude says "I'm gay" or a laydee brings another laydee to an awards ceremony.

This is being received as good news amongst non-bigoted assholes everywhere, and a lot of gay and lesbian service members are probably extremely relieved and happy. Some people even got married or came out to their fathers in videos that made this Grinch cry.

I was touched by a lot of the coverage of this landmark event in the struggle for rights, thinking of how many of my queer brothers and sisters in the military must feel so much better. I'm very much anti-war, and I still think this is a tiny, stuttering step in the right direction to making queerness something that people aren't tortured over and discriminated against. Not because laws change stuff, but because I'm hoping that homophobia decreases when people realize they've been serving next to gays all along and nothing horrible happened.

However, I'm going to have to be a bummer and point out that there's still a long way to go. GetEqual held a bunch of protests yesterday to highlight the things that still need changing. Gays will still be denied the benefits and protections of straight, married service members because of the Defense of Marriage Act. Workplace discrimination, immigration laws, and all manner of other laws and customs still put queer people in a disadvantaged place in society.

Also, trans people are not included in the DADT repeal, so they can still be discharged for being out as trans. There is a long history of the gay and lesbian movement leaving trans and other genderqueer people behind in the fight for mainstream acceptance. So, I don't think the DADT repeal as it stands is acceptable, because it is still a discriminatory policy. I am not okay with anything that excludes or disadvantages our trans family members. Not womyn-only spaces, none of it. If they're not free, I'm not free, period.

Also, the way Amy Goodman covered the repeal on Democracy Now points out that there are other problems with the repeal and the way it happened. Here's some transcript from yesterday's show:

AMY GOODMAN: In October of 2010, Democracy Now! hosted a debate on whether the movement against "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" was helping to legitimize U.S. militarism at home and abroad. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is an antiwar queer activist and writer. She was debating Lieutenant Dan Choi, the discharged servicemember who was a leading voice opposing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." This is what Mattilda had to say.

MATTILDA BERNSTEIN SYCAMORE: Dan Choi talks about all of America being a victim of the policy of excluding openly gay soldiers in the military, but all of the world is a victim of the U.S. military. So if we have to look at one culprit for all of the problems that are going on in the entire world, that would have to be the U.S. military. And as a queer movement, what we need is a movement for gender, sexual, social, political and cultural self-determination for queers in this country, for everyone in this country, and for everyone all over the world. We do not need to support the U.S. war machine, which is busy plundering indigenous resources and fighting at least three wars right now, you know, for corporate profiteers.

We need to be fighting for universal access to basic needs, things like housing and healthcare and the right to stay in this country or leave if you want to. We need to be fighting for comprehensive sex education, for AIDS healthcare, for senior care, for safe houses for queer youth to escape abusive families. And the problem with all this attention on the war machine, all this support for, you know, soldiers to serve openly in unjust wars, the problem is that the military is what’s taking away the ability to fund everything in this country that would actually benefit, you know, the people who need the most.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Aaron Belkin, your response?

AARON BELKIN: Well, I would say that things are even worse than Mattilda suggested, because it’s not just a question of the focus on "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" diverting attention. And I say this as someone who has been fighting "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" for years and who believes passionately that "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" needed to end, and that’s been my professional struggle for all these years. But at the same time, it’s important to be honest and to note that not only did we divert attention away from more pressing problems, but our very rhetoric, as a gay and as a queer community, in the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" struggle reinforced militarism. What does that mean? It means that every time we talked about the importance of promoting unit cohesion and the loyal gay and lesbian servicemember, we reinforced the notion of the military as a noble institution. And that has a militarizing impact.

...Right. Just as discussions of gay marriage reinforce the idea that marriage is something we need to invest in as a society, discussions of DADT talk about how it's good for the military. I'm not at all convinced that the military keeps us safer. It seems to me that, as Aaron Belkin also says in this interview, excessive military strength undermines our security. This is the inherent tension in the queer rights movement, I think: do we want to be mainstream, or do we want to use queer rights as a way to talk about the inherent flaws in our heteronormative, pro-military society?

My main concern today is that the DADT repeal will be a reason to stop fighting for queer rights for awhile, that people will point to it and say "progress is inevitable" or "well we got that done, so now the gheys will vote for us in 2012, no questions asked!" Neither of those is true. We have to keep pushing for change, and this isn't going to make me vote for anyone, no matter how many tearful videos of coming-out stories I watch.

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