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Sunday Radical Roundup: (Don’t) Ask, (Don’t) Tell Memorial Day Edition

May 30, 2010, 11:59 am

Congressional Dems Reach Down And Locate Their ‘Nads: Will long-standing legal discrimination against gay and lesbian service people be struck down this summer? We at Tenured Radical certainly hope so. Although we are more than ambivalent about armed conflict, we are not in the least ambivalent about the right to serve in the military without discrimination because of race, gender or sexual orientation. As Janet Halley argued years ago in Don’t: A Reader’s Guide To The Military’s Anti-Gay Policy (Duke, 1999), this has not been an overwhelmingly popular item for queer activism. The fight for marriage — by which overwhelmingly white, well-to-do queers confer rights and wealth on each other just like straight people — has been far more popular than the right to military service, which is often the path to citizenship, education and income for people who are working-class, immigrant and of color. And of course, many of these people who want to work hard and earn a decent living via the military are queer.

The marriage campaign has also been able to capitalize on lots of cute kids saying on camera how bad they feel because their moms can’t marry like other kids’ parents, possibly the yuckiest but most effective tactic among the bourgeois queers who have made this a top priority and kicked other more substantial economic and political issues aside. Indeed, queers in the military pose quite the problem for activists, because dollars to doughnuts, gay and lesbian soldiers are conservative queers. Maybe, if gay and lesbian activists talked to military people, the movement would even have to stop acting as though Andrew Sullivan is the only conservative queer around.

There are many things that have distressed me about DADT, aside from the fact that every generation of my family has served honorably (two cousins of the Radical as recently as Gulf I), acquiring careers and benefits as a result of their service that they would not otherwise have had access to. Ergo, I object in a very personal way to seeing this form of national service and citizenship barred to people who find it meaningful and useful. But what has distressed me most is that, as the argument has dissipated that queers are unsuited by “nature” for national security roles of all kinds, the argument against queer military service has boiled down to the most despicable dynamic that discrimination relies on: that it is the object of discrimination who causes the problem, not those who discriminate or tolerate discrimination. Thus, the gay man or lesbian becomes the thing to be eliminated if good order is to be maintained, not the intolerance and prejudice of those around hir. This is the implication of this story (in case you needed clarity on this issue) in which queer soldiers raise concerns about whether they will be harmed by other soldiers if DADT is repealed. One noncom explains that it would be fine with him if men and women under his command were queer, as long as he didn’t know about and — what? Get grossed out?

This is why numerous GLBT students are being told by public school districts to stay home and complete their high school diplomas via distance learning: because if a queer kid is being bullied and tortured in school, the best thing to do is remove the kid, right? No matter that it is the school principal’s job to ensure that no child is bullied or harmed — just as it is the officer and NCO’s job to ensure good order in any given unit.
Any officer or NCO who cannot lead when DADT is repealed should be relieved of command. It’s that simple. S/he should be relieved of command because s/he cannot obey orders, and because s/he cannot lead others to obey orders effectively either. And you know what? I think this Radical may have greater faith in the officer and non-commissioned officer corps than the politicians do. Ours is the best trained military in the world, and our military personnel will do their job.

The United States military will have to undo generations of official homophobia to make this work, and they have no one to blame but themselves. I believe they can; I believe that the officer corps understands that it is their job to lead; and that they will make it happen. While there is no lack of racial discrimination in the military, there may well be less than there is in the society at large, since the principles of unit cohesion mandate resisting social forces and beliefs that undermine it (not the reverse, as conservative ideologues would have it.) But as the story I linked above points out, it is the ways in which the repeal of DADT opens the door to full citizenship and zero-tolerance for all kinds of discrimination against queers that has been the endgame all along. Much more than marriage, military recognition of gay rights will unravel structural discrimination against queers because military employment and production dominates our society — particularly in those places, such as the south and California, where anti-gay initiatives have been used so cynically by the Republicans.

Just In Time To Repeal DADT: And by the way? If Zenith students aren’t doin’ it for themselves, their relatives are. Recent grad Peter Lubershane tells me that his cousin Josh Howard has made a documentary film from David K. Johnson’s The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government called — The Lavender Scare. And happy 85th birthday to gay activist Frank Kameny (pictured above, courtesy of Howard’s website) — you are as sexy as ever, and you outlived J. Edgar Hoover!

Summer History Blogging Fun:
Here’s a terrific new history blog written by a former Zenith honors student named Molly Rosner. It’s called Brooklyn In Love and War. As Rosner describes it, the blog is “about the nation’s history filtered through the well-documented relationship between my grandparents. I never knew Sylvia, but she and my grandfather, Alex, wrote hundreds of letters during the years
that Alex was stationed abroad during WWII. Most posts will look at a letter that helps the story of these two people – who are both typical and unique – unfold.” After leaving Zenith, Rosner went on to do a master’s degree in the oral history program at Columbia University. She’s a wonderful and imaginative writer, and you might want to put it on your favorites list. If you are a literary agent, you might want to get in touch with her: the blog would be a terrific platform for a book.

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