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A Military Job Is Not Economic Justice

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On Feb 19, in the heart of Black History Month, I am heading off to Chicago to join Dr. Cathy J. Cohen, author of Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics, others from the Black youth Project, and national and local spokespeople to participate in an ongoing public conversation about the Creation of a Black Youth Political Agenda.

One thing I know is that economic justice has got to be high on that agenda.

At the close of 2010 President Obama signed the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which in theory will allow gay and lesbian members of the military to serve without being in the closet. I've met so many people both in and outside of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movements who have said that repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is an economic justice victory. After all, so many people of color and poor and working-class LGBT people join the military to access better jobs, better education. Now they can do it without hesitation. They suggest that because the military is the nation's largest employer organization, groups I am associated with like Queers for Economic Justice, and the Black Youth Project should be joining in the victory dance.

Yes, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a victory -- of sorts -- significant when it comes to moving towards eliminating discrimination and advancing equality for LGBT individuals. But military service is not economic justice, and it is immoral that the military is the nation's de facto jobs program for young, poor, Black and working-class people.

Even while we may applaud the repeal of a discriminatory policy, we have to be clear: militarism and war profiteering do not serve the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people, or poor people, or people of color.

This is not just a progressive "chestnut" or sloganeering -- it is hard fact. Consider a few facts:

  • The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans reports that about one-third of all homeless people in the US are veterans, but about 1.5 million more veterans are at risk of homelessness "due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing." They also report that 56% of homeless veterans are Black or Latino.
  • Other studies show that one in four veterans becomes disabled as a result of physical violence or emotional trauma of war. There are currently 30,000 disabled veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By all record of delivery of medical, psychological care, and work rehabilitation by the US military or government has been dismal.
  • Rape and sexual violence are very common occurrences for women in the military. The ACLU is currently suing the Pentagon to get the real numbers on reported incidences. Women enrolled in the military are overwhelming drawn from the ranks of our county's poor and working class. You do the math.
  • Half of the US budget in 2009 was made up of military spending, including current expenditures, and the portion of the national debt caused by military costs, according to the War Resisters' League. That is more than the US spent on Health & Human Services, Social Security Administration, Housing and Urban Development and the Department Education combined.

Wouldn't more social safety net spending and a real jobs program help the millions of young people who can barely make ends meet?

In short, military service is not economic justice.

Furthermore there are poor people as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people beyond U.S. shores, who have been killed, traumatized, or disabled as a direct result of recent US-led wars or who have become vulnerable targets to backlashes to US policies and actions.

Yes "our gays" should have the "right" to serve openly in the military rather than labor under discriminatory rules -- but we stand in solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the globe. We do not condone violence against them or their home countries. We support real economic justice.

We call for a real jobs program for young people -- white and black, men and women, gay and straight. President Obama, let's get past the military "jobs program" and on to a real jobs program -- one with productive work, a living wage and dignity, one that allows our youth to makes a positive contribution to building our country's future. We all deserve that.

Kenyon Farrow is an organizer, communications strategist, and writer on issues at the intersection of HIV/AIDS, prisons, and homophobia. Farrow was formerly the Executive Director of Queers for Economic Justice.