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DADT Repeal Under Fire? In Defense of the Repeal Against the Queer Critique

Posted: 10/20/11 10:53 AM ET

Having spent two years at West Point before disclosing that I was a lesbian, resigning from the academy, and coming out on The Rachel Maddow Show in 2010, the news of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal was a personal victory for me as well as all gay and lesbian service members. However, having transferred to Yale (the "Gay Ivy") following my discharge from the Army, I would be remiss if I failed to address the queer critique against the actual benefits of DADT repeal. "What is queer critique?" one -- such as a younger, less-informed Katie Miller -- might ask. "And isn't it contradictory that queer people are critical of the repeal of DADT?" Well, let me enlighten you.

And where is a better place to start than Twitter (#Obvious)? While the Human Rights Campaign, at the forefront of the gay movement, tweets about marriage equality, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, leading the queer movement, will tweet about the DREAM Act, Troy Davis and Planned Parenthood, as well as marriage. But what does immigration, the death penalty and a woman's right to choose have to do with gays? Well, nothing. But it has everything to do with queer consciousness, which seeks to unite all minorities under a shared ideology. Whereas the gay movement is aimed at advancing -- you guessed it -- gay rights, the queer movement encompasses all minorities subject to discrimination, such as on the basis of race, sex, nationality and sexuality.

Using this framework, queer critiques of DADT appear justified. Rather than helping challenge institutions that oppress all minorities, it seems that repeal just helped gay people "fit in" to these institutions -- the military, in this instance. Take, for example, the organization Against Equality, which markets itself as the "queer challenge to the politics of inclusion." To illustrate, I've provided a snippet of one of their blog posts regarding DADT:

Gay Rights activist now find themselves crying out for marriage equality and inclusion in the military as if these issues are at the core of what it means to be a Queer oppressed in our current society...They clearly have forgotten or didn't get the memo about the US army being the symbol of western imperialism and marriage being the backbone of patriarchy.

Basically, die-hard queers feel like DADT and DOMA are a waste of time because neither embodies the spirit of the queer movement. But the far-reaching effects of DADT are more encompassing than the queer movement gives credit.


Don't Ask, Don't Tell wasn't just homophobic; it was sexist. Women made up a disproportionate amount of the total discharges. For example, in 2009 women made up 14 percent of the Army but accounted for an astounding 46 percent of the discharges. And, surprisingly, it's not because lesbians enlist at a higher rate than gay men. Women are often subject to sexual harassment by their colleagues, who threaten to reveal their sexuality when they don't comply with their advances. The frequency of these incidents is so great that the term "lesbian-baiting" was coined.

DADT affected racial minorities in a similar fashion. Despite comprising 29 percent of the entire military, they accounted for 45 percent of the discharges in 2008. Enlisted personnel (who are paid less and have less education than the Officer Corps) are disproportionally discharged as well, exposing the socioeconomic discrimination of the policy.

However, one minority community notably excluded from the benefits of repeal is our transgender brothers and sisters. I will be the first to admit that DADT repeal does not affect the medical disqualification of trans people attempting to enter the service. It may, however, ease the experience of those already in the military. Transgender men (FTM), who are sometimes mistaken for lesbians, will no longer have to endure interrogations into their sexuality, regardless of their gender presentation. Undeniably, our work is unfinished. But how do we go about it?

I was approached by the queer group on campus last year in urging the administration to disallow the return of ROTC to Yale because of continued transgender exclusion. I politely declined the request, saying that I supported the reinstatement. There wasn't a single transgender person at Yale attempting to join the military at that time, but there were several current students -- with amiable attitudes toward the LGBT community, or gay or lesbian themselves -- who were.

To be frank, the military will always have the means to reach its recruitment goals. Ivy League boycotts are purely symbolic in that the military doesn't actually need extra junior officers. The effect of Ivies not having ROTC is that students with liberal educations and broader world views are not represented in the ranks, and the leadership remains overwhelmingly conservative. It appears that the queer community continually berates the military for being a bigoted institution, yet it lacks an actual strategy to challenge it. Assuming that the military is a permanent fixture in American society, would we rather reject it altogether or make incremental effort improving it? Obviously, I vote for the latter.

I also employed, though rather consciously, the "I'm a soldier the same as every other soldier" rhetoric, with which the queer community takes issue. For many gay service members and prior-service activists, this sentiment is true. (It took two years of ostracism at West Point and a year at the gay Ivy to convince me otherwise.) Some gays really do just want to live their lives without being wrapped up in some greater political movement. But for the queer community, "I'm the same as you" isn't enough. They call for a more radical, more comprehensive approach to transforming institutions of power. But what does that even look like? How do we practically implement that?

This tension between the gay and the queer communities is often framed as the gays, the privileged minority group, reaping benefits from a victory that does not help the more marginalized of the LGBT community. As shown by the racist, classist and sexist statistics associated with the policy, this is clearly untrue. Furthermore, DADT repeal has the potential to become the institutional change about which queer theorists, well, theorize. As much as we gay military activists preach that a post-repeal military will look the same as before, the military will become more egalitarian and more accepting over time. It's not exactly an overhaul of traditional systems of power, but it's a start. My message to queer critics of DADT repeal: stop theorizing and seize the opportunity to implement real, tangible and practical change.

 

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