Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

DADT: a Repeal of Convenience

by JESS GUH

Am I the only queer person in the country that is sad about the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”? I know the long-delayed bill just signed into law has destroyed my plan to avoid any future military conscription.

Let me explain. Many of my male friends in college photodocumented their participation in pacifist activities. They explained that this was their insurance policy against any eventual military draft: solid proof to support a history of conscientious objection. As a queer person, I had another plan, though: If anyone tried to compel me to serve in the military, before anyone could even “ask,” I planned to “tell” by yelling, “I’m gay, and not in the happy way!” loudly and repeatedly, until no branch of the military would want me. Just for extra measure I would threaten to convert any and all women that I ran across.

Now, in the wake of another victory for queer rights in this country, it seems silly to not have taken pictures of myself at anti-war protests anyway.

But I have mixed feelings about the repeal of DADT for other reasons, too. With queer folks now allowed to serve openly, it seems that yet another oppressed minority group has been pulled into being exploited by the American military-industrial complex.

The American military’s track record of inclusion is poor by even the lowest of standards. Black Americans were first allowed to serve in the military during the Revolutionary War, when Lord Dunmore, the governor of Virginia, promised freedom to any runaway slave that fought for the British army. George Washington, needing more soldiers, followed suit. I’ll let you guess how many of them actually received their promised freedom. Due to fears of giving Black folks weapons and racist doubts that they were mentally capable of being good soldiers, they were not even allowed to officially serve and enlist until 1862 during the Civil War, despite having fought courageously since the revolutionary war. During WWI, US military leaders decided they would rather use black units for suicide missions where they would likely die, instead of sending their white counterparts. For their valiant efforts, no awards or citations would be given to those soldiers of color until 1996, nearly 80 years later.

This philosophy of contempt and “we’ll let you serve, but only on our terms” is not limited to race. Women, even those who meet the physical ability requirements, are officially banned from ground combat. But once again, when bodies are needed, the military conveniently changes its mind. In Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s been well known that due to manpower shortages, women have been serving in front-line positions identical to those of men, yet there has been no budge in the official policy. And lest you even entertain the notion that the ban represents some sort of arcane but well-intended form of chivalry, consider that a 2003 survey of female veterans found that 30 percent reported being raped while in the military (women serving in Iraq were reportedly being hospitalized for and even dying of dehydration because they would avoid drinking water in order not to have to make runs to the lavatory alone at night). That’s not even counting cases of sexual assault and harassment. In 2007, only 181 out of 2,212 reported sexual assaults were referred to courts martial. The equivalent arrest rate for these charges among civilians is five times that.

These days, military recruitment across the country continues to focus on poor communities of color. Non-citizens are promised fast-tracked citizenship if they serve (promises that are often later broken). The military’s MO is clear: they identify the underprivileged and exploit those inequities for combat. In exchange they don’t even bother to ensure they get basic human rights.

Of course it’s true that queer folks should have the right to serve if they want to. And I’m relieved that those who have dedicated their lives to the military, those who believe the military is where they belong, can now serve without fear. However, as a labor activist and former union member, it occurs to me that the queer community missed a huge opportunity to make more significant gains.

For example, it’s well understood in the labor community that corporations–entities that only care about money and profit–never offer any more than is demanded. Experience and history have shown that incrementalism does not work either. Nor has just sitting tight and waiting for the powerful to have moments of benevolence ever paid off. True rights are won and maintained when workers, united, leverage their power and indispensibility and insist on what they deserve.

Consider now that we queer folks are estimated to comprise at least 10% of the population. Though that’s far from the majority, in a volunteer military mired in multiple conflicts, and facing diminishing enlistments, we comprise a substantial portion of current and future military personnel. In the fight to repeal DADT, we used public outcry and protest, but we never demonstrated our indispensibility. In fact, I’m not even sure what was won represented a difficult victory. A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month revealed that 75 percent of Americans say that gays and lesbians who publicly disclose their sexual orientation should be able to serve in the military. Even 67 percent of conservatives felt that way. Repealing DADT was preaching to the choir.

But what would have happened if every queer soldier and ally refused to work, fight? What if queer folk just refused to enlist? From infantry to engineering to culinary services, all fronts of the American military would have been crippled. Would we have been able to demand equality in more controversial areas in addition to the simply right to serve?

We’ve sold ourselves short.

During the Vietnam War, the voting age was lowered to match the age of the draft. Young people were demanding that right. If you were old enough to fight and die for your country, it seemed only fair that you should be able to vote in its elections. It is strange that gays and lesbians should be able to serve without being allowed similar basic rights: equal marriage rights, rights to have a family through adoption, and discrimination protection (the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Law still doesn’t bar firing or harassment over the issue of sexual orientation). Partners of queer military personnel won’t even be eligible for health benefits, because that benefit requires a marriage certificate.

In the end, I can’t help but feel saddened. In the best case scenario, queer folks will honorably fight to protect and demand the rights of Americans and those around the world without ever having won all those rights themselves. However, what I suspect is more likely is that we will have struggled merely for the “right” to fight in unjust wars and to help support US imperialism; all without even being afforded complete civil rights in our home country.

JESS GUH is a third-year medical student at the University of Michigan. A student and labor activist, she also writes about race, privilege class and medical issues on her blog: guhster.weebly.com

 

 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyon
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
Gareth Porter
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]