On September 20th, the repeal of the ridiculous ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law came into effect, allowing openly gay servicepeople to into the US military. I’ve been avoiding blogging about it for a while because every time I do some research on it, it invokes all sorts of angreys in me.
Sodomy was always grounds for discharge in the U.S. army since the revolutionary war (but then, it was also illegal in most western nations too). In the lead up to WWII, the U.S. military began screening recruits for psychiatric disorders, of which homosexuality, at the time, was one. In 1942, the military started differentiating “homosexuals” from “normal” people. After the war, gay people became “undesirables”.
In the lead up to the 1992 U.S. presidential election, Bill Clinton made a promise to repeal the policy forbidding homosexuals from serving in the military, after the brutal murder of naval officer Allen R. Schinder, Jr. No sooner had Clinton won the election, when congress started moving to enact the existing policy into federal law.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a compromise between the two. We’ll let those filthy gays into our precious military, they just have to hide the fact that they’re ho mo sexuals. It wasn’t much of a compromise. All the homophobic policy remained, they just took the question off the application form.
This didn’t make things much better for gay people in the military. It didn’t really change much at all. Yeah, it was easier to get in, but they still had to be closeted, and keep their lives secret. 13,650 people were discharged under the law.
The repeal is a momentous step for gay rights in the U.S. Any policy to do with the military brings out the worst in the ultra-right, as does any policy to do with LGBT rights. There were cries from across America that the world as we know it would fall apart, and the military would descend into hedonism and the terrorists would win.
Now, I’m never one to support war machines (I have a sharp disdain for all aspects of the military that can probably be traced back to when I was physically assaulted by a NZ Army Major as a teenager), but if an individual, for their own reasons, wants to serve their country by joining the military, they should be free to do so without being discriminated against due to their gender or sexual preference.
Many gay men and women are ecstatic. The DADT repeal represents an enormous victory against bigotry, both institutional and political, in the U.S. (The battle against social bigotry is still to be won). Finally free to be themselves without fear of receiving an “undesirable” discharge, they can serve their country* freely.
* The phrase “serve your country” makes me all kinds of uncomfortable.
One man had been filming a series of YouTube videos about life as a gay servicemember under the name AreYouSurprised, always with his face out of shot. But after DADT was repealed, he came out, not just to his viewers, but also his family:
But, as is often the case with queer issues, most of the rhetoric surrounding it has to do with white, cis-gendered males (which is why I’ve been referring to “gay” people’s rights, rather than using the terms LGBT or queer). DADT was used disproportionately against women and people of colour:
Even though black women comprise less than one percent of servicemembers, they represented 3.3 percent of all don’t ask, don’t tell discharges. Women in general appear to have been targeted under the policy. According to a 2010 Service Women’s Action Network report [broken link – MrW], women were 15 percent of the armed forces in 2008, but comprised 34 percent of the don’t ask, don’t tell discharges. People of color represented just under 30 percent of active duty personnel, but 45 percent of don’t ask, don’t tell discharges. The Pentagon discharged more than 14,000 service members under the policy between when it took effect in December 1993 and its official end last week.
Many women who have been discharged under don’t ask, don’t tell were reported to their commanding officers as lesbians after they rebuffed a fellow servicemember’s sexual advances. Sexual harassment and sexual assault remain serious problems within the ranks. Recent reports continue to indicate that the Pentagon has not done enough to address them.
[Source]. So, it was not only means to continue discriminating against gay people, it also became a tool of sexual harassment and assault, as well as a tool of racism. The fact that after almost 20 years it’s gone can only be a good thing. But it seems that the U.S. military has a long, long way to go.