Monday, September 19, 2011

DADT Repeal, Part of Full Federal Legal Equality.

"The President-Elect has promised to lift the ban on homosexuals serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. What we are going to do here today is brainstorm about policy changes that we will make in the Air Force after the ban is lifted."

Through my peripheral vision I saw Airmen manning recording equipment and I looked down at that dime-sized microphone at my desk. I looked around the room at approximately fifty young officers, each at an identical desk also equipped with a dime-sized microphone. I raised my hand and said, "Major, until the Uniform Code of Military Justice is amended we are not free to speculate on policy changes." The Major paused and said, "That is correct." That was the end of the exercise.

Years later, I learned that similar exercises were held at various military bases. Many of those who offered policy recommendations in favor of accommodating homosexuals had their careers “negatively impacted.”

In those heady days, many of us believed that President-Elect Clinton would lift the ban. National Healthcare was given priority and all we got was DADT and DOMA. Still, LGBT people were thrilled that the President mentioned us at all. Oh, we never got National Healthcare either, even now we only have a partially implemented Healthcare Reform Act. Arguably, this is better than what we had, but still far less than Single Payor, or a National Healthcare Plan. So much for bi-partisan cooperation.

The cost of DADT was paid for in destroyed careers and ruined lives of countless members of our Armed Forces. Most of those costs will never be recouped. Moreover, gay and lesbian military personnel were forced to live double lives in the shadow of fear. DADT was a lie. Everyday at the water cooler people talked about whom they were dating. About their wives and husbands. About what they were doing on the weekend, or on leave. Gay and lesbian had to do what they had learned to do as adolescents, what they had learned as a survival mechanism, they had to lie. Heterosexual service members were quite free to Ask and Tell, gay and lesbian service members were not.

Pronouns were changed and reasons were fabricated as to why they were still single, why they chose to live off base. Worse still, some entered into sham marriages in order to protect their careers. I recall one such marriage that ended shortly after the military member reached his twenty years of service. Suddenly, his wife discovered that her husband was gay and that he was divorcing her. DADT had straight victims too.

Thankfully all that ends on Tuesday 20 September 2011 for most of our military. Most, not all, transgendered members of the Armed Forces are still at risk. They must still remain hidden. They are still required to lie merely to survive. At a talk I gave tonight, someone stated that we should have held out for “all or nothing!”

Although I empathized with the person’s zeal for justice, I quoted my old Political Science professor who said, “The reasons why liberals seldom win, is that they want the whole loaf of bread. In politics, you’re lucky to get one-third or one-half of what you want.” The repeal of DADT is imperfect for many reasons.

It is imperfect because it does nothing for transgendered members of the Armed Forces. It is also imperfect because spouses/domestic partners of gay/lesbian service members are not entitled to base housing, insurance benefits, etc. There is still much more work to be done, more battles for equality to be fought.

I think that the frustrations with incrementalism in our community are both reasonable and unreasonable. They are reasonable in that some LGBT organizations have used incrementalism as a license for inaction. One woman used to make a substantial donation to the Cancer Society every year and then, one year, she suddenly stopped her donations. Her son asked her why she stopped. The woman answered, “I discovered that they were only funding research for treatments and not research for cures.” If they found a cure, there would no longer be a need for the Cancer Society, or for continued donations and fund-raisers. Not to mention all the salaried positions. Some LGBT organizations might be afraid that the attainment of Full Federal Legal Equality would render them obsolete. Full Equality would mean an end to the donations and fundraisers that make possible all those salaried positions and benefits packages they currently enjoy. Incrementalism in this light is politically cynical and ethically indefensible.

Incrementalism in President Harry S. Truman’s Executive order desegregating the U.S. Civil Service and Armed Forces did little to immediately end segregation in this country. However, the Armed Forces socialize young enlistees from all over the nation and those enlistees bring their new thinking back to Hometown, USA. Truman’s act changed America’s culture and laid the groundwork for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 and the Civil Right Act of 1964. In that light, the repeal of DADT is an ominous defeat for the forces of social bigotry they understand that this will affect all of American society.

It may also be argued that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was incrementalism. Since it failed to address the issue of housing discrimination based on race. Title VIII of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 addressed that, but without the Civil Rights Act of 1964 there would have been no Fair Housing Act of 1968. In that sense, incrementalism is an intelligent and necessary strategy. We take a third of the loaf of bread today and then fight for fourth of the rest of the loaf tomorrow and so on, until we have the whole loaf. The NAACP still has much work to do today, even though Civil Rights have come a very long way since Dr. King delivered his “I have a dream” speech at the feet of Lincoln’s statue. There will still be many generations of work ahead for LGBT organizations, long after Full Federal Legal Equality is attained.

We still have to pass ENDA and repeal DOMA. We still have to fight for those in our community who have not yet benefited from the repeal of DADT. Some of these battles will be fought by attorneys in courtrooms, some by you at the ballot box and in your conversations with family members, co-workers and in social settings.

Although imperfect, the repeal of DADT represents substantive progress for our community. Today is a day to draw strength from this battle victory by celebrating this encouraging step forward towards greater legal equality. Even after full federal legal equality and protection for our community is achieved, we will have to continue to work and fight for full social equality.

1 comment:

Tal said...

The end of DADT is a great victory for us all. Equality is an incremental process. It involves the confluence of societal consensus, legislation and the courts to undo or at least stem the negative consequences of discrimination. We stood up at Stonewall. But I believe it will be the repeal of DADT that will be measured as the first crucial change that will reorder the United States' negative stereotypes and misconceptions about LGBT. They serve in the armed forces openly and with dignity. They defend the country. And they go back to their homes and loved ones. Would you deny a soldier, someone who's risked his life for you, the right to marry, to have equal benefits? Can you hate that person and denounce him or her as a sinner? Becomes a much thornier issue for soft/knee-jerk bigotry, which covers most of the population I think. Thanks for the hit you took for us on getting this one repealed Fr. Geoff. God Bless.