“The only thing the repeal of DADT changes is that LGB folks can now fight and possibly die for this country. It does not allow for partner benefits if that service member is killed in action. It does not allow for housing expenses or housing, for that matter, for same-sex couples. It does not provide piece of mind that an LGB service member will not be discriminated against because there is no discrimination policy included. It does not provide a separation allowance for same-sex couples. It does not provide funding or country clearance for same-sex partners. It does not even allow transgender people to serve [openly.] And, if you reenlist after you were discharged for being gay, there is no guarantee that you will be given the same job. You will go where the military needs you – if they need you.”
–Beth Brooker, a board member of Hampton Roads Pride and the State Lead for GetEQUAL VA.
Just as parallels may be drawn between our New Civil Rights Movement and the Civil Rights Movement which culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 leading to the desegregation of civilians in the United States, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is analogous to the desegregation of our armed forces.
In January, 1776, because of manpower shortages, George Washington lifted the ban on black enlistment in the Continental Army. All-black units were formed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; many were slaves promised freedom for serving in lieu of their masters.
In February, 1946 African-American World War II veteran Isaac Woodard was attacked and blinded by policemen in Aiken, South Carolina.
In July, 1946 Two African-American veterans and their wives were taken from their car near Monroe, Georgia, by a white mob and shot to death; their bodies were found to contain 60 bullets.
In January, 1948 President Truman decided to end segregation in the armed forces and the civil service through administrative action (executive order) rather than through legislation.
In October, 1953, the Army announced that 95% of African-American soldiers were serving in integrated units.
The Articles of War of 1916 explicitly prohibited homosexuality in the U.S. military, but the ban wasn’t enforced until World War II. (However thousands of lesbians were allowed to serve; asking women about their sexuality violated the behavior standards of the times.)
On Oct. 25, 1992 Petty Officer Third Class Allen R. Schindler, 22, was battered to death against the fixtures of a public toilet in a park near the naval base at Sasebo, Japan. He was so disfigured that his mother said she was able to recognize him only by the tattoos on his arms. The Navy said that his skull was battered, most of his ribs were broken and his penis was cut off.
On July 6, 1999 Private First Class Barry Winchell, 21, was bludgeoned to death at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, after he was suspected of being gay.
On June 30, 2009 Gay Seaman August Provost, 29, of Houston was shot multiple times as he stood guard at Camp Pendleton.
In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign promise to lift the ban led to the passage of The Military Personnel Eligibility Act of 1993, also known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Pentagon agreed to stop asking about sexuality, but it never agreed to stop investigating whether those serving were gay. Since 1994 almost 14,000 service members have been dismissed because of their sexual orientation.
On January 27th, 2010 President Barak Obama declared in his State of the Union address that he’d work to “finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ends today, but the fruits of our victory are bittersweet. Lesbian, gay and bisexual men and women will still be treated as second class citizens; transgender men and women must still serve in secrecy as they have for centuries in armies worldwide.
The chronicles of history are populated with second class citizens. Second class citizens built the monuments, worked the fields, prepared the food, fought the wars, and birthed the children. The world was filled with second class citizens; economies were based on them. Little has changed in the roughly 5000 years of the written word.
But the yearning for equality, the freedom to love, also echoes through those chronicles. An overwhelming desire to determine our own destiny seems to be inherent in our humanity. Heroes are forged from the chains of servitude. A belief in one’s own dignity can lead to martyrdom. Lovers will scale walls and climb mountains to be with their beloved. Neither the threat of imprisonment nor the possibility of death deters. Having taken a breath of freedom, men and women want to fill their lungs with it. Tasting the sweetness of the crumbs of equality, we crave the entire cake.
Although our country was founded on the assertion “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” our constitution, although since amended, still enshrines the concept that some citizens are worth more than others. Some people literally counted less and some didn’t count at all. The “pursuit of happiness” by some was determined by the whims of others. To put it in Orwellian terms – all men are created equal but some men are created more equal than others.
We are now in the midst of a New Civil Rights Movement. What was once called The Gay Movement and then The Gay and Lesbian Movement became the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Movement and then The LGBT Movement. But now our movement is no longer Gay. Over time our alphabet soup of diversity has added more letters and the A for allies is perhaps the one that will determine its success.
Bayard Rustin, the openly gay African-American who taught Martin Luther King, Jr. about Gandhian non-violence and orchestrated the 1963 march that gave Dr. King the platform to vocalize his Dream, said in 1986, “Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new “niggers” are gays. . . . It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. . . The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.”
Many in the African-American Community disapprove of this equation of our movement with their struggle for dignity and equality. They argue because we were not enslaved or separated from our families or beaten or lynched or subjected to systematic rape, the comparison somehow demeans their Civil Rights Movement.
The enslavement of our spirit is not the same as the bondage of their ancestors, but for our homeless queer teens, disowned by their families, for our women subjected to ‘corrective’ rape, for our mothers whose bullied gay children commit suicide or whose sons were bludgeoned or repeatedly shot, for our transgender women who are beaten or murdered, the differences seem few.
No, our New Civil Rights Movement is not exactly the same, but there is no hierarchy to oppression. We are born, we queer sons and daughters, to mostly heterosexual parents. We are disparate from conception, raised as strangers in a strange land, sometimes embraced, sometimes cast out.
Yes, today we celebrate the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And tomorrow the LGBT men and women who serve our country will still be treated as second class citizens. Will you speak up for them?
(Image: Sean Carlson, equalityphotography.com)
Stuart Wilber lives in Seattle with his partner and cat. Equality continues to elude them.
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