Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thoughts on the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

America’s ludicrous ban on openly gay and lesbian Americans serving in the military has finally been struck down – although it will probably take a year or more for the military to implement the repeal.

President Obama was roundly criticized for his handling of this issue. The military continued discharges even as it became increasingly obvious that DADT’s days were numbered. The President could have easily issued a stop-loss order suspending discharges, but chose not to. Indeed, I don’t think any President since Carter has been so roundly pilloried from both the right and the left – including my own comments. President Obama’s lack of executive experience has made itself most evident in his inability to control various processes. As has been stated elsewhere, instead of negotiating from a position of strength, he has frittered it away and gotten much weaker legislation than could have been passed – this has most recently been demonstrated with the Tax Package, but applies to Health Care as well. In the end, he got both done, but Obama must be a lousy Poker player. Fortunately, the repeal of DADT was a straightforward piece of legislation and it was merely a question of getting enough votes for passage. The credit for that does not go to the President, but to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and a handful of Republicans. (It must be pointed out that, despite the crowing by Log Cabin Republicans and the GOProud crowd, the overwhelming majority of Republicans in office remains homophobic in their voting and policy positions, regardless of what may or may not be in their hearts. A few Republicans yielding to common sense do not constitute a bipartisan victory.)

The Human Rights Campaign received a lot of flak for its handling of DADT repeal, along with Hate Crimes and the Employee Non-Discrimination Act. Much of that criticism was justified. While HRC will undoubtedly use the repeal of DADT as fodder in fundraising letters and for their lavish parties, the fact is that the primary driver of repeal was media attention to decorated service members who opted to come out, most notably Lieutenant Dan Choi, Lt. Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, and Staff Sgt. Eric Alva. These brave Americans helped push public opinion in the right direction. Without them, and ground level activists pushing HRC and the establishment, DADT’s repeal would have been delayed indefinitely. HRC’s slight pushing at the end does not forgive their record for ineffectiveness.

One commenter has raised the specter that DADT might one day be reinstated. Given the increasing acceptance of LGBT people in general society, largely driven by the work of gay activists going back 40 years, and a generational change in attitudes, a rollback of gay rights seems increasingly unlikely. It would take strong majorities of conservative Republicans in both the House and Senate, along with a Republican President, to reinstate any ban. It would mean the Republican Party would have to purge its moderate wing – which would make it impossible to elect Republicans in New England or the West.

But the gay community’s work is far from done: It is still perfectly legal to fire someone from his job for being gay in 38 states. With the upcoming party change in the House of Representatives, any enactment of ENDA seems unlikely in the foreseeable future – to say nothing about repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. The status of LGBT people in American society is still far from equal. It’s increasingly likely that any advance in employment and marriage in the near future is going to come from the courts and not the legislature. It needs to be pointed out that there are far more LGBT people in civilian society than in the military – and their rights are just as important.

As for myself, I have never seriously contemplated joining the military, and at 43 I’m not about to start now - especially considering the United States’ increasing propensity to undertake unwarranted wars of choice that neither make the world safer nor improve America’s standing in the world. Despite changes in party leadership, Dwight Eisenhower’s prophetic nightmare continues: the military-industrial complex thrives.

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