Opinion: A queer antimilitarist perspective on the repeal of 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' in the US


In December 2010, the US House of Representatives and the Senate both voted to repeal the policy of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT), introduced by then President Bill Clinton in 1993 in relation to gay and lesbian service personnell. US President Obama signed the act on 22 December 2010. Although the bill will not come into force immediately, it is already being praised as a major victory for gays and lesbians in the USA. It is presently not known if ongoing or future discharges of openly gay or bisexual service members will cease now, after Obama signed the bill, after the 60-day period following the reception of a comprehensive review, or at some later point. It is expected that the law will be fully implemented within the military structure by the end of 2011.

Happy times for us queers, then? Unlikely. With the repeal of 'Don't Ask Don't Tell', homophobia in the military will not disappear. And it is an illusion to think that there can be a non-homophobic military, as much as it is an illusion to think that there can be a non-sexist or a non-racist military. The military was and is an institution based on certain concepts of masculinity, which it drills into its soldiers, and which it needs to function. This does not change when women are allowed into the military (in 2006, the Guardian reported that 99% of servicewomen reporting they had been subjected to some form of sexual remark or material by male colleagues in the past year), nor when ethnic minorities are allowed into the military. This will not be different for lgbt people when they are now allowed to join the forces.

While I don't want to give the impression of being in favour of DADT - any discrimination of queer people (of any person) is a bad thing - I do not think it deserves celebration as a major victory for us. Indeed, I think the strategic choice of the mainstream LGBT movement in the US to focus on DADT has been a bad one - there would have been much more pressing issues for a much broader range of lgbt people, such as non-discrimination in employment law, housing, etc, the repeal of sodomy laws, the attack on the non-commercial, sex friendly gay scene, etc. Too choose especially DADT and gay marriage (another wrong strategic choice) signifies an attempt in mainstreaming and normalising of lgbt people, a cut with the earlier, more radical social change approach of the lgbt movement, which was not aimed at being included in (some of) the privileges in society, but to get rid of privileges. Rather than saying "gays into the military", we as queers should demand for straights to get out of the military, and to abolish this militarist, masculinist, and homophob institution once and for all. Utopian? Maybe, but a non-homophob military is at least equally utopian.

The repeal of DADT, even before it will finally come into force, has tremendous consequences for the queer community. We can assume already now that military recruiters will soon begin to target queers for recruitment, presenting the military as an 'equal opportunity employer'. This is exactly what happened in the UK after the ban on gays and lesbians in the military was lifted following a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in 1999. Today, the military is present in gay pride parades (according to the UK mainstream lgbt organisation Stonewall, all three UK armed forces marched in uniform at London gay pride 2008), and advertises in gay and lesbian magazines. In February 2005, the Royal Navy joined Stonewall's Diversity Champions programme, followed in November 2006 by the RAF and by the Army in June 2008, "to promote good working conditions for all existing and potential employees and to ensure equal treatment for those who are lesbian, gay and bisexual". It's either naive, or plain stupid.

In conclusion, for me the repeal of DADT basically means a new stage of our struggle, and a new level of militarisation of queer lives. It is urgent to develop resources to counter this militarisation, such as Bash Back! Denver's Queer Counter-recruitment guide and other counter-recruitment materials targeted at queer people. We don't want to march straight!

Sources: Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, 15 December 2010; Bash Back! Denver: Be One of Those Queers You've Heard About: Undermine The Army's Ability to Fight!, May 2009; Washington Post: For gay rights, is repeal of 'don't ask' military ban the end or the beginning?, 20 December 2010; The Guardian: Sexual harassment rife in armed forces, 26 May 2006; BBC News: UK - Gays win military legal battle, 27 September 1999; Stonewall: Lesbians, gay men and bisexual people in the Armed Forces, accessed 2 February 2011

Andreas Speck


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