Guest Blogger

Reversal of DADT a Good Beginning

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 20, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
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Editors' Note: Guest blogger Warren J. Blumenfeld is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Iowa State University. Among his books are Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States and Readings for Diversity and Social Justice.

Blumenfeld1.jpgThe United States Congress this week passed historic bipartisan legislation by voting to rescind the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy enacted in 1993 mandating that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who join the ranks of the armed forces maintain complete silence regarding their sexual identities. Over the years, the military dishonorably discharged an estimated 14,000 service members on the so-called "charge" of being "homosexual" under this policy.

As our troops are currently stretched thin throughout the world's conflict areas, the former policy only exacerbated the problem and discredited our country by eliminating an entire class of people whose only desire was to contribute to the defense of their nation.

This policy will end an era of blatant stereotyping, scapegoating, and marginalization. It will open a new era in which service members can serve their country proudly with honesty and with a deep sense of integrity. Now, a formerly excluded group of talented and committed students can join ROTC programs, and a new cohort of active service members will receive the benefits of educational and career enhancement opportunities.

They will enter into a social institution that often works to prevent genocidal slaughters anywhere throughout the world, and engage in humanitarian and peace keeping efforts - from disaster relief to cooling a number of the world's "hot spots."

While these are all laudable goals, I believe that if we are to achieve a truly equitable society and world, we must reach higher, wider, and broader.

In this regard, history is replete with not-so-illustrious examples of U.S. policy abuses enacted and enforced by the military establishment -- from the extermination, forced relocation, and land confiscation of native peoples on this continent, to the unjustified and contrived war with Mexico, to the racist-inspired incarceration of Japanese Americans in the interior U.S. during World War II, to governmental destabilization efforts and military incursions into such places, for example, as Vietnam and Laos, Chile, El Salvador, Panama, the Philippians, and throughout the Middle East - from Israel to Iraq and Iran.

While the reversal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will reform a discriminatory policy, we need to take the next step by actually transforming the military and U.S. foreign policy by challenging overall power inequities and abuses of power, economic exploitation, and the massive inequities between socioeconomic groups within our country and between countries throughout the world.

As a new cohort of openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people enlist and serve in the U.S. military, will they merely assimilate into a system that has been shown often to perpetuate inequities and exploitation? Will they simply aid in perpetuating the status quo?

We must critically investigate the underlying and covert objectives of any particular military action, and ask whether it is, for example, to prevent death and preserve the will of the people in the involved nations, or is it, rather, primarily to serve a U.S. foreign policy that promotes corporate interests in protecting natural and monetary resources valuable to the United States.

The reversal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, while beneficial, needs to be viewed as merely a beginning, for we as a society must remain forever vigilant by keeping watch and critically examining all our social institutions, including the military.


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But once again, as has been the patter for the last 40 years, trans people were thrown under the bus to pass legislation that benefits GL people.

Bah humbug.

This policy will end an era of blatant stereotyping, scapegoating, and marginalization. It will open a new era in which service members can serve their country proudly with honesty and with a deep sense of integrity.

No, the repeal of DADT merely grants refuge for a privileged select few while continuing to inflict unchecked stereotyping, scapegoating, and marginalization on others. It is not over -- but I've learned not to expect cisgays to ever get over themselves enough to care.

Warren J. Blumenfeld | December 20, 2010 7:55 PM

I can understand your concerns that in many instances, trans people were not considered when passing legislation to protect individuals on the basis of "sexual identity" only. I hope that those types of narrow definitions of "equality" within our communities is coming to an end.

In terms of issues of marriage for same-sex couples and miltary inclusion, it has been my understanding from my discussions with trans activists, that these are not particularly high priories since they might not directly affect trans people. So, I don't truly understand Monica's comment that "trans people were thrown under the bus" in the negotions around eliminating "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." If I am wrong here, please let me know.

Also, when Desiree states that "It is not over -- but I've learned not to expect cisgays to ever get over themselves enough to care," actually many gay, lesbian, and bisexual people do care.

I for one see the direct connections between heterosexism, heteronormativity, sexism, biphobia, and transgender oppression. To be dismissed simply as a "cisgay" who doesn't care has the effect of 1. stereotyping all gay men as a monolithic group, and 2. by labeling me as "cisgay" denies me my subjectivity and sense of agency since it is a label placed upon me from without rather than a self acquired label.

I have been fighting for most of my life to work toward liberation, and one very important characteristic of liberation is the right of self definition. Growing up I was call many things, and I have been fighting all of my life for the rights of all people to define themselves.

I have also attempted to work in coalition with people of all disenfranchised groups as well as allies from dominant groups to free us all from all the forms of oppression.

Though I can appreciate your sentiments, if we want the stereotyping to end, then we must ourselves end the stereotyping. If we want to work in coalition, then we must all (I definitely include myself here) try to understand one another's issues and life experiences.

Interesting post, although something tells me that's not going to be the lesson people will take from this. As Dan Choi said, "War is the force that gives us meaning," so some people will sign up to go kill people half a world away while most of the rest of us will feel better about cheering on those deaths from our armchairs.

Agreed. That's the sad reality behind Warren's hopefulness.

I can understand your concerns that in many instances, trans people were not considered when passing legislation to protect individuals on the basis of "sexual identity" only. I hope that those types of narrow definitions of "equality" within our communities is coming to an end.

You say "not considered" as if this was a mere oversight. That is not true at all -- trans people are not overlooked, but intentionally cut out in order to construct Faustian bargains with on-the-fence moderates and/or satiate the considerable transphobia which remains rampant within the gay and lesbian community itself.

In terms of issues of marriage for same-sex couples and miltary inclusion, it has been my understanding from my discussions with trans activists, that these are not particularly high priories since they might not directly affect trans people.

The trans community as a whole has always considered marriage equality and DADT repeal to be issues of secondary importance because they are not matters of life and death. That does NOT mean we prefer to be left out of marriage equality and military service; that means we believe that the LGBT movement has an ethical obligation to deal with matters of life and death before it devotes time and energy to secondary issues.

In other words, making access to military service a top priority over ENDA was already a tremendous betrayal of the trans community; the failure to pass ENDA during the first two years of Obama's administration means that many of us will be spending at least two more years homeless and turning tricks to make ends meet. Some of us will die because of that.

So, I don't truly understand Monica's comment that "trans people were thrown under the bus" in the negotions around eliminating "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." If I am wrong here, please let me know.

The political momentum required to achieve DADT repeal was reached by cannibalizing support for ENDA. Had the major LGBT lobbies not conspicuously dropped ALL efforts to push for ENDA and instead made DADT their only legislative priority for this year, ENDA would almost certainly have been enacted by the 111th Congress.

Not bothering to even try to enact a more aggressive reform of military service requirements in order to include trans servicemembers merely highlights the willful callousness and selfishness of the gay and lesbian community.

To be dismissed simply as a "cisgay" who doesn't care has the effect of 1. stereotyping all gay men as a monolithic group, and 2. by labeling me as "cisgay" denies me my subjectivity and sense of agency since it is a label placed upon me from without rather than a self acquired label.
I have been fighting for most of my life to work toward liberation, and one very important characteristic of liberation is the right of self definition. Growing up I was call many things, and I have been fighting all of my life for the rights of all people to define themselves.

Cisgay is a shortened form of cissexual gay. Cissexual is a term directly equivalent to heterosexual, and exists for exactly the same purpose -- to correct the "normal versus other" dichotomy by providing an opposite term to transsexual / transgender.

Anyone who supports enlistment in the American wars of aggression to steal oil and other resources is no friend of GIs who are being killed, maimed, and driven to suicide in their thousands to make the world safe for Haliburton and BP.

And they are no friend of the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of civilians from Palestine to Pakistan murdered in the American invasions and occupations.

DADT repeal does one thing and one thing only - it ends the requirement for dismissal. As for the rest, bigotry will go unchecked. After all, DOMA, the Democrats bigoted law is still on the books and will be for a long time unless the courts knock it down.

Don't enlist. Don't re-up. Don't kill civilians. If you enlist, directly or indirectly, you're killing civilians and other GIs for Haliburton and BP and not for any other reason. If you're in be a hero like Bradley Manning and help build the GI antiwar movement.

Warren J. Blumenfeld | December 21, 2010 10:31 AM

Alex: I am in full agreement with your statement. The reversal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is bittersweet for me. While it addresses a long-standing discriminatory policy -- on that precedes the actual law -- it in no way addresses the intense interconnections between the U.S. military and corporate interests and the promotion of U.S. capitalist hegemony worldwide.

I think a lot of people are in your position, and I just wish I could be more hopeful about the future of America in the global theater. It just seems that we're going in a direction that's the opposite of where we should be going.

Perhaps it was for the best that DADT was cordoned off as a gay rights issue instead of being seen as a military policy issue. While there was some clamoring for the latter with arguments about "battle preparedness" and translators and all that, what seemed to compel people the most to support repeal was the effects of the policy on LGB soldiers.

Or maybe I'm just seeing what I want to see and everyone was thinking how great it'd be to have queers killing people. Oh well.

Thanks for pointing out that these issues are connected and that the push for DADT doesn't have to mean that everyone suddenly supports military action.

Warren J. Blumenfeld | December 21, 2010 10:28 PM

Desiree: Actually, I am in full agreement with most of what you are saying. My major concerns are not the primary concerns of what I am calling the "4Ms of the Mainstream LGB Movment": 1. Marriange Equality; 2. Military Inclusion; 3. Media Visibility; and 4. Making money -- all very assimilationist and reformist goals.

Unfortunately, the desire to restructure the society, as distinguished from mere reform, seems now to lay dormant in many sectors of our communities.

My focus is more on transformational/ revolutionary change: a basic and "radical" transformation of the society in terms of the economic structure and transformation of the individualist toward a communal focus. And, in fact, many others see the problems we are currently facing in this way as well.

I consider myself as a democratic socialist. I see the ways in which the Capitalist system separates people and actually perpetuates oppression on many levels.

I believe the basis of many forms of oppression are the SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED binary frameworks that establish hierarchies of domination and subordination/marginalizqation: the binary frames of man/woman, masculine/feminine, heterosexual/homosexual, monosexual/bisexual, Christian/non-Christian, rich/poor, and yes, cisgender/transgender.

I understand the reasoning behind the construction of cisgender/transgender, and maybe we need this terminology as a transitional development, but I hope one day we can all work to eliminate the binary structures that oppress us all.

I believe that sexual and relational attractions and gender expressions alone are not sufficient to connect a community, and by extension, to fuel a movement for progressive social change. We must, therefore, look beyond ourselves and base our communities and movements not simply on our identities, but also on shared ideas and ideals that cut across individuals from disparate social identities. We must come together with like minds, political philosophies, and strategies for achieving our objectives.

This is my vision of a movement for social change.

To a lot of trans women, phrases like "elimination of the binary" feel like code words. Many of us have lived our entire lives with gay men telling us that we're really just closeted gays and we should just accept that; and with lesbians parroting the eliminationist rhetoric of Janice Raymond, Germaine Greer and the thankfully late Mary Daly.

Somehow, in all of this rhetoric, the idea of listening to trans people and hearing what we have to say about our own lives is lost under the weight of others' theorizing about ourselves; under all of the rage about our allegedly reinforcing the binary and all of the hate about our supposed self-delusion, the idea of letting people define themselves, for themselves, is lost.