Guest Blogger

Fighting to Fight: Questioning the 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Battle

Filed By Guest Blogger | August 13, 2011 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Don't Ask Don't Tell, Gabrielle Korn, gays in the military, LGBT rights

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Gabrielle Korn is a writer, activist, and artist. She is the Editorial Assistant of On The Issues Magazine, as well as a coordinator of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, and an organizer of the New York City Dyke March. She lives in Queens.

On September 20, 2011, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- the law barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military -- will officially be repealed. Created by President Clinton in 1993 as a compromise between the existing ban on homosexuals in the military and his campaign promises to allow anyone to serve, regardless of sexual identity, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," or simply DADT, had been seen by gay rights activists and allies as forcing gays and lesbians in the military back into the closet. Its repeal has been on the forefront of LGBT activism in the past few years, and DADT made major news headlines, so much so that it became one of the defining issues of the contemporary gay rights struggle to those outside the gay community.

While, of course, the military should never have been an institutionalized closet, as a lesbian activist concerned with society's treatment of members of my community, I have been disturbed by the way this issue has been portrayed as essential to the LGBT movement.

As the U.S. continues to inch towards equality, I feel that it is important to think critically about the political context of the particular rights that lesbian and gay Americans have recently been bequeathed: marriage equality in New York as the economy withers and wavers around us, and permission to serve openly in the military during wars that are increasingly opposed by Americans. By April 2008, 63 percent of Americans thought the U.S. made a mistake sending in troops to Iraq, compared to 32.3 percent in 2003, according to the Gallup poll, and by late June 2011, 72 percent favored troop withdrawal plans in Afghanistan.

The Center for American Progress reported in 2009 that, for the military, the biggest problem presented by DADT was that it sent "the wrong signal to the young people -- straight or gay -- that the military is trying to recruit." It continued, "Military recruiters face generalized hostility and opposition everywhere from high schools to colleges and law schools over the issue of discrimination against gays." Seemingly, a more tolerant-appearing military would make the job of recruiters easier if young people thought that the military had the same interests they described -- "namely, diversity, fairness, and equality," the report said.

In this light, gay rights appear to be granted when they fulfill a larger purpose for the government. It's a special sort of narcissism that weighs individual struggles against the political agenda of the government, granting rights only as they become relevant to those in charge. I believe that empathy should transcend, not rely upon, personal relevancy, but it seems to happen frequently on both micro- and macro-levels. Just as many straight people start supporting gay rights only when they have a gay family member, the government wants gays in the military when it needs more people to support its wars.

And this strategy works. While previous generations have been defined by the way they rallied for peace, the most public voices of my generation of recent college grads and my community are rallying for the right to fight in wars.

Considering how unpopular the current wars are, I question why the right to serve openly in the military is at the forefront of LGBT activism. Why are gays and lesbians eager to join an institution that has traditionally upheld the rigid gender roles against which the LGBT movement has been rebelling? Why seek membership in an institution that takes advantage of the poor to fight battles that serve the goals of the elite? And what of the civilians whose rights are infringed and cast aside by a U.S. invasion? - are we trading their civil rights for our own?

I'm attracted to sentiments from queer liberationists, who are against the repeal of DADT because they are anti-military. Queer liberationism teaches that queer issues should be examined not just as they relate to the LGBT population, but to all aspects of social justice. This view is in opposition to gay assimilation, which seeks to normalize queerness and codify LGBT people as the same as their heterosexual friends and family. By striving for blanket acceptance, gay assimillationists fail to analyze the implications of participating in certain institutions -- achieving sameness is the most important goal.

Queer liberationists strive to to keep the LGBT population out of the military. As Cindy Sheehan, peace activist and the mother of a slain soldier, says, there is no celebration in "the capacity for increased carnage." There are other downsides, as well. The military remains unsafe for many women; about one third of homeless people in the U.S. are veterans; and, one in four veterans end up disabled.

This new right to serve openly in the military doesn't feel like a "right" at all. If anything, gay people in America been distracted from protesting the wars by protesting to join something we've been told by the government is an honorable cause. The mainstream LGBT desire for inclusion has replaced what should be the most important big-picture goal of all activist movements: peace.

(Crossposted at On the Issues magazine)

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I read your comment, "...granting rights only as they become relevant to those in charge..." but can't help thinking if "convenient" wouldn't be a more appropriate choice in the perspective of your statement. But that's semantics, and I despise the "quibble over a comma" game.

There is so much of your post that I've agreed with for years, and have asked the same question so many times. Meaning no disrespect to our military personnel, but... why? Without the repeal of DOMA, and supplementary legislation giving our spouses the same rights and access as heterosexual spouses have there seems little point to repealing DADT beyond the first person.

Secondly, I admit to being a professional cynic - I see little point in going to war to defend an oil or mining company's access to cheap sources of material and labor. Even less point to dying for a military industrialist's profiteering by supplying third-party goods and services to our military personnel. At the core of this argument is my question: why die for a country that denies me equal civil rights and protections under the law? I have to abide by the laws and regulations, you expect me to vote in your elections, you extort 1/4 of my income in taxes, and now you'll allow me to go to some foreign country and get maimed or killed for no valid reason... but I can't marry the one I love, I can't leave my estate to him in my will, he can't receive my pension/social-security/veteran's benefits, I can't co-adopt a child with him... and the list goes on and on. Again: why?

You said, "I question why the right to serve openly in the military is at the forefront of LGBT activism." and ". . . queer issues should be examined not just as they relate to the LGBT population," also "Queer liberationists strive to to keep the LGBT population out of the military." Not to worry. The "T" part of the LGBT is still not going to be allowed to serve openly or join. We were not included in DADT.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | August 15, 2011 11:42 AM

Monica, can you clarify something for me?

DADT was essentially wrote into law a somewhat modified version of what had been the policy of the military/Executive Branch. (The policy prior to DADT banned homosexuals, whether they told/were asked, or not.) Now with DADT repealed, but with LTBG discrimination not barred by law, a future Chief Executive could reinstate DADT (or something worse, without Congressional action.

So far as I know, DADT dealt with "homosexuality", with nothing being said concerning gender identity. So when you say "We were included in DADT, I think you mean just that and only that, and that military regulations remain in place barring transgender personnel, "out" or not. Am I correct in that interpretation?

While I don't want to join the military, nor do I understand those who do, the fact remains that there are those who do. And all of them ought to have the right to do so.

Sorry, I disagree with you. This policy absolutely needed to be repealed, and as far as it being in the forefront of the fight for our rights - yes, it needed to be there as well.

It's hard for the basic citizen off the street to agree that we can have this right, and not others. It's a step along the way.

We need all of the steps to climb the staircase.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | August 15, 2011 7:34 AM

Before the final leap toward deciding that there is something that inexorably links the LGBT equality movement with things anti-military, consider this, please: Yes, there are powerful arguments to be made that the U.S. has too often engaged in wars that it ought not to be involved in. But there really have been some "bad guys" like Adolph Hitler, who among other things weren't exactly nice to LGBT folks in the World War II era. There is a valid place for a defensive force in any government, and LGBT folks shouldn't be excluded from honorable and open service in it.

Sorry but I could not disagree with you more in many things in this article. For the record I am against the current wars and we could put a huge dent in our budget crisis. Having said that as someone pointed out in another response their are times when the use of the military is justified. Those who want to serve should be able to openly and proudly.
Another smaller thing is throughout history as the military has changed so has society as a whole. the integration of African Americans into the military helped bring about integration in society. The integration of the military could ultimately lead to greater rights to the LGB (though sadly not to the T community).

Chrys, Don, and Tim - I for one do not argue your point that this is a step along the way toward equality for us. And Tim is correct in stating that Truman's executive order integrating the military was a catalyst for integrating the rest of the nation. However, Truman's e.o. came in July of 1945, and the Civil Rights Act: Title VII was not passed into law until 1965. Nor was full integration of the military accomplished until roughly the same year. The battle field saw all races fighting side-by-side in the Korean war, but at home and on bases in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere racial segregation held firm until 1965.

I don't intend to wait another 20 years before I can honestly say that I am a first-class citizen of the United States, before my relationship with the man I love is recognized in the eyes of the Gods AND the eyes of my government, before I am not unjustly penalized by the IRS for being Gay in a same-sex marriage of 25 years while the bimbo across the street changes husbands like her underwear and the IRS never blinks.

Yes there is a time and place for a military, and the use of military force - and no, Iraq and Afghanistan aren't it. The veterans in my family that I have known and had long talks with (used to) stretch all the way back to WWI, and forward to Reagan's mess in Panama. Not one of them agreed that we have fought a "just" war since the end of WWII, in fact my great-uncle (WWII Marine) was arrested during one of the Vietnam protests in San Francisco. He was carrying a sign that said "I won't die for Mobil Oil!" Yes, Hitler was a monster. But how much better are we when our society is raising our children to drive other children to kill themselves (or to kill the other child themselves!) simply because they're Gay?

The problem is not with whether we should have the "right" to serve in our military, openly and proudly. The problem is that the society it serves is vastly unworthy of their sacrifice and service.

Exactly. And as a group of people that has been excluded from the military, I think we're in a unique position to observe the military in a larger context - studying the center from the margins, if you will. I was not making the point that we should not have the right to serve in the military, as I stated. I think that everyone who wants to serve should have the right. It's just that, of all the injustices we face, why is this one a priority? And whose priority exactly is it? Personally, before I put my life on the line for this country, I'd like to see every state make it illegal to fire me for being gay. I'd also like to hold my girlfriend's hand in public and be able to walk for more than a block without being threatened.

As a community whose members live with the threat of violence every day, I think we should be a little bit more critical of using violence to solve international problems. It's important to think about who benefits the most from having gay people - as in, MORE people - fighting in wars. Especially the current wars.

Because this writer does not like the military, and I guess war. She opposes gay having the right to serve. She has to be kidding. I ,for one, believe the military is an honorable profession. This is huge advance on the road to equal rights.