Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Fight
How the death of DADT extends the reach of U.S. militarization
On Sept. 19, hundreds of men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces gathered at a gay dance club in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the official repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the United States’ ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. Service members and other members of the LGBT community sported ear-to-ear grins, exchanged jubilant hugs and spoke about how the end of DADT meant the beginning of a new, non-discriminatory military.
Three enormous video screens filled one wall of the room, each projecting a countdown clock to the repeal of DADT. At 12:01 A.M., the countdown clock vanished, replaced by a screaming, triumphant fact: “DADT IS HISTORY.”
The next morning, American newspapers and LGBT media celebrated repeal, some joking that the “mission” was finally “accomplished.” The ban on gay individuals serving openly in the military, which was instituted in 1993 under President Bill Clinton and was legislatively repealed last December after much debate and rare support from even social conservatives, was dead.
President Barack Obama invoked nationalistic pride in his statement on DADT repeal on Sept. 20.
Our troops, including gays and lesbians, have given their lives to defend the freedoms and liberties that we cherish as Americans. Today, every American can be proud that we have taken another great step toward keeping our military the finest in the world and toward fulfilling our nation’s founding ideals.
But while U.S. service members and LGBT people celebrated the legislative victory, other LGBT activists were less than thrilled with their community’s decision to focus so much time and effort on this issue.
“Against Equality” is a queer editorial and arts collective that focuses on critiquing mainstream gay and lesbian politics and advocacy organizations. The group’s arguments are largely informed by anti-war and anti-capitalist feelings, and their new essay anthology, Don’t Ask to Fight Their Wars, features in-depth critiques of the DADT repeal struggle.
“The only reason that DADT got repealed, as far as I’m concerned, is because they need more bodies to die in these wars,” Yasmin Nair, a member of Against Equality, explained. “And yet, the gay community is talking of this in terms of patriotism and honor and the ability to fight for American ‘freedom,’ as they keep putting it.”
Ryan Conrad, a founding member of Against Equality, agreed: “After almost a decade of doing anti-war organizing and anti-imperialist organizing, it’s just really disappointing and sad that so many people are so excited and in such a fervor over this über-nationalistic, pro-military brouhaha.”
Nair and Conrad are aware that many activists who worked hard on repealing DADT did so because they viewed the policy as a literal proclamation that homosexuals and heterosexuals are different and should be treated separately.
“We’re not for discrimination,” Nair said. “None of us [in Against Equality] have ever said that the policies are right. None of us have ever said that it’s not discriminatory to have a policy that excludes gay people. What we are saying is that we’re against discrimination, but we’re also against war.”
Conrad noted that it is important to understand all of the consequences of the DADT repeal – yes, it allows current gay and lesbian members of the military to serve openly, but it has also increased the number of people in the United States who are eligible to join the military.
“I don’t think you can be a peace activist and in favor of more people in the military,” Conrad said. “That’s some serious cognitive dissonance.”
Active recruitment of gays and lesbians to the armed forces has already begun. In Tulsa, Okla., on the first day of the post-repeal military, an LGBT community center hosted a recruitment team from the U.S. Marine Corps to speak with gays and lesbians about serving.
The death of DADT has also been used as a reason to allow military recruiters and ROTC programs back onto college campuses. For years, some colleges refused to allow military recruiters to work and speak on their campuses, arguing that DADT directly conflicted with their schools’ non-discrimination policies regarding sexual orientation. Now, with that conflict mostly resolved, recruiters are being welcomed back.
In the past month, Harvard University, Vermont Law School and the William Mitchell College of Law have all cited the repeal of DADT as a reason to revise their restrictions on military recruiters on campus.
Nair warned that these actions demonstrate the U.S. military’s commitment to increasing its influence across the globe.
“The U.S. military and the war machine in general are pernicious and reach into our everyday lives,” she said, hoping that when people stop cheering over how DADT repeal is one step closer to “equality,” they’ll critically examine their relationship with the armed forces. “I just want to remind people that the war machine is linked to the militarization of our daily lives. And I would ask that gays stop being complicit in that machinery.”
Adam Polaski is a senior journalism major who’s a gay lover, not a gay fighter. Email him at apolask1[at]ithaca.edu.