Steve Ralls

Why the Military Matters

Filed By Steve Ralls | July 17, 2007 6:53 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: steve ralls

When I first accepted Bilerico's invitation to blog here, Bil cautioned me that some of our readers might be taken aback at the idea of an LGBT military activist blogging on a progressive site. But there are many good reasons progressives, civilians and those of us opposed to the war should still be very concerned about the fate of LGBT military personnel and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

In fact, until very recently, the military led the way in opening doors for a diverse array of communities. The armed forces were desegregated, via executive order, long before African Americans made headway in their civil rights struggle elsewhere. Women, too, found job opportunities in the military before they did in the civilian sector. But most importantly, for both groups, military service led to significant civil rights gains that changed America forever. That's because, when you can fight and die for your country, there is very little your country can deny you.

One of America's most respected civil rights leaders, Dorothy Haight, has said that desegregation of the military was the first, and one of the most important, victories in the fight for equal opportunity. The same has been true, in other countries, when the armed forces have been opened up to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. Just consider this:

No nation has legalized recognition of same-sex couples before lifting their ban on gays in the military. In countries where there is federal recognition of our relationships, that recognition has come within just a few years of ending the prohibition on open service.

Military service is, in the end, about full citizenship. Former Senator Sam Nunn knew this very well when he helped craft the current ban on gays in the military. In 1992, when Nunn insisted that marriage, or attempted marriage, to a person of the same gender be grounds for dismissal from the military, the issue of gay marriage was barely a blip on the community's radar. But Nunn understood that full equality and military service are inextricably linked. That's why our opponents will fight so vigorously to keep the ban in place, and why we must be equally vigilant in working for its repeal.

In the weeks and months ahead, I'll be blogging about a wide variety of issues: politics, culture, sex and, probably, a post or two about Madonna. But first, I wanted all of our readers to understand the immense importance of the campaign to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Whether you're a service member, veteran, civilian, pacifist or human rights activist, this issue should be important to you, because it may well determine how quickly we make the other gains that are so important to our community.


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Don Sherfick | July 17, 2007 8:15 PM

Welcome to the Bilerico Project's group of contributors, Steve! When I read your opening paragraph about some readers being "taken aback" over an LGBT activist blogging on a progressive site, I was prepared to see a full-fledged defense of the "surge" in Iraq and maybe open advocacy of a nuclear strike on Tehran. But a quick check of your bio and, of course, your enlightening (to me at least) post concerning the fact that no country has accepted gay marriage without first making its military an equal opportunity employer to our community, put that to rest. Your progressive credentials seem impeccable. Your bio doesn't say but were you a member of the armed forces, and if so, which branch? No fair responding with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell!

Steve Ralls | July 17, 2007 8:30 PM

Don,

Thanks for the welcome! I am not former military, but came to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal campaign because of the points in my blog and because, as I've met so many LGBT service members through my work with SLDN, I've been moved by their desire to serve their country and outraged that our nation's largest employer - the military - discriminates against them because they happen to be gay. My friends would tell you that I'm a little to the left of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but I realize that this is an incredibly important part of the LGBT civil rights struggle. I have my own views on the war, the surge and Tehran, but I also have deep appreciation for the people who serve in the military, regardless of what their sexual orientation might be.

Welcome to The Bilerico Project, Steve! We're happy to have you hear and look forward to reading your views on many progressive issues - including DADT. I'm sure your career offers you many unique experiences to tell some stories that otherwise wouldn't ever be heard.

Welcome Steve. I agree that repeal of DADT and the acceptance of openly gay people into the military is incredibly important. It is about full participation in American society without barriers because of sexual orientation.

I look forward to reading more of posts which include ideally more than one or two posts about the Goddess Madonna,

Oh my…

"But there are many good reasons progressives, civilians and those of us opposed to the war should still be very concerned about the fate of LGBT military personnel"

How about those of us opposed to ALL war?

"In fact, until very recently, the military led the way in opening doors for a diverse array of communities. The armed forces were desegregated, via executive order, long before African Americans made headway in their civil rights struggle elsewhere."

The US military-industrial complex is one of the most racist and violent institutions in the world! The military works within a fundamentally racist economic system to limit the options of people of color in America to either prison or the military. While openly lying to poor youth that it will provide them with economic opportunities and job skills here in America, the military is murdering and raping people of color across the globe. That is NOT my definition of opening doors.

"I wanted all of our readers to understand the immense importance of the campaign to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"

Absent from your post was a discussion of the way the DADT is used as a weapon of sexual violence by men in the military. Rape and sexual assault are committed under the protection of DADT – with threats of expulsion and loss of benefits for survivors who report the crime. But is ending DADT really going to address violence against women?? Rape is a key aspect of imperialism and will always be inextricably linked to the US military (listen to Andrea Smith’s speech at the USSF, which is linked to by Jessica Hoffmann in her most recent post on this blog). Instead of arguing for queer participation in this violence, why not argue for increased counter-recruitment efforts by queers and social/economic institutions that provide people with real alternatives to enlistment?

Welcome Steve. Indeed, how does the government put in place a watchdog to ensure the private sector does not discriminate in the employment process and then turn around and in the most blatantly hypocritacle way perpetuate said discrimination. It is disgraceful on too many levels to get into in a blog comment here. But, the moral of the story has to be: as long as one group of citizens has rights denied another, there is something fundamentally wrong with the policies at work in this country.

A. J. Lopp | July 21, 2007 3:40 PM

Hello Steve, and welcome. I have long considered ending DADT to be high on my priority list for both justice and political reasons.

Question: Why doesn't SLDN make available more info about how openly gay/lesbian young Americans can sign up with military units in friendly countries such as Canada or the UK? Just as the US military allows non-citizens to enlist, so do these other countries allow Americans to enlist in their military units.

I would think that if the US military saw thousands of young, talented and openly gay/lesbian recruits signing up under the command of neighboring countries, they would salivate and end DADT in an instant. (Obviously, the chances of the US opposing Canada or UK in a war is extremely unlikely.)

If I were young and wanted to pursue a military life, that's what I'd look into. Unfortunately, even Canada and the UK were still kicking out queers in the 1970's.

Steve Ralls | July 21, 2007 4:15 PM

A.J.

Thanks for your email. You have a very intriguing idea re: the British and Canadian forces.

To be quite honest, I don't believe SLDN has ever been asked by a recruit, or a service member dismissed because they are gay, about enlistment in other militaries. Canada, of course, has been very pro-active in advertising itself as an LGBT-friendly option for Americans upset with the current environment here in the States. And, I'm betting you're probably right that both Canada and the U.K. allows non-citizens to enlist, though I have to say that I'm not sure what the process is for doing so.

I'll pass your idea along to our policy team, and see if they have any insights. If I get more information about the steps for enlistment in other militaries, I'll post that here in the comments.