Dreams deferred

by on December 19, 2010  •  In Congress, Immigration, Military

Even at its best, it seems, American politics mixes the bitter with the sweet.

Yesterday's vote setting up the final glide path for repeal of DADT was certainly sweet. It vindicated the blood, sweat and tears of thousands of gay Americans who have served the nation honorably only to be disserved, dishonorably by the nation. It will lead to the end of a policy that was never justified or justifiable, the monstrous product of a rookie President who botched his own efforts to do the right thing, a vicious conservative opposition, blindly intransigent military leadership, and a horribly wrong man in a key position, Senator Sam Nunn. 

It took 17 years of hard work by an almost countless number of people to right the wrong of DADT. And of course the ban on military service by openly gay Americans long pre-dates DADT, as do the efforts to end the ban. The list of men and women who had the courage to insist on the dignity of honest service goes way back: Leonard Matlovich, Vernon Berg, Perry Watkins, Miriam Ben-Shalom. The litigation challenge brought by the ACLU on behalf of Matlovich was filed in 1975.

It is impossible to count how many lives were ruined by the various iterations of this policy. For so many of the young men and women who enlist, the military seems to offer a ticket out – of poverty or near poverty, of a future with nothing but dead end jobs, or just of a numbing daily existence. Military service looks like a fresh start, maybe ultimately the chance to go to college. The old policies closed that door for gay kids or forced them to live in terror that they would be found out and forced out. It is sweet to see that era end.

But it is also deeply ironic that the vote to end it came in tandem with the failure to enact the DREAM Act. For thousands of young people, the DREAM Act would have offered a fresh start and the chance to get a better education or to serve in the military without fear. Although the anti-immigrant phobia that led to this defeat is not specifically about gay people, it is profoundly a gay issue in all but name. For starters, it's the same dream. It is also anyone's guess how many gay and lesbian immigrant youth will continue to be hurt by current immigration policy – maybe as many as the number of gay Americans who enlist? More centrally, the DREAM Act is about ending a fundamental injustice that stratifies human beings based on an irrelevant characteristic.

Let's hope it doesn't take 17 years to rectify yesterday's bitterness.



3 Responses to Dreams deferred

  1. Lisa Duggan December 19, 2010 at 11:25 AM

    But Nan…..doesn’t “voluntary” military service also constitute an economic draft? Kids with few options are funneled into the military, where their spirits and bodies are broken as often as they encounter real opportunities of any kind. Why must we *whitewash* the “voluntary” military this way?:

    “For so many of the young men and women who enlist, the military is a ticket out – of poverty or near poverty, of a future with nothing but dead end jobs, or just of a numbing daily existence. Military service offers a fresh start, maybe ultimately the chance to go to college.”

    Sounds like a recruitment brochure. Can we say, “Yes, BUT?” Sometimes military service can offer some kids with few options access to some resources and opportunities, but it also ensures that the poor, colored and desperate will provide the bodies broken in stupid wars that the children of the privileged would never be sent to fight. Ending DADT certainly ends the pile on of horrible treatment accorded to gay and lesbian soldiers, and that’s a good thing. But….do we really want to highlight the end of that policy as offering a golden opportunity to poor queer kids to go kill and be killed in 2 wars so many of us oppose? Can’t we say that this victory is also a tragedy? Military service in this time and place is not something I’d wish on anyone’s kid.

    See Troy Williams, “Don’t Enlist, Don’t Serve” for an alternate view:
    link to bullybloggers.wordpress.com

  2. Bucky December 19, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    So glad to see you remember the wretched and evil Sam Nunn.

    What a nasty piece of work that man is.

  3. Jay December 19, 2010 at 5:08 PM

    In response to Lisa Duggan: one can disagree about whether the volunteer military is fair or whether any individual should or should not want to serve in the military, but the iniquity of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy went way beyond the actual immediate victims of the policy–those 14,000-plus individuals who were discharged and the many thousands more who served in silence and often in profound fear that they would be found out and their careers destroyed–to infect all glbtq people. The policy said that gay men and lesbians were so disgusting that it would be grossly unfair to expect straight servicemembers to knowingly serve with them. This message, coming from the nation’s largest employer, and from the government, made it pretty ludicrous to suggest that employment discrimination was wrong or that we should expect equal protection of the laws.

    I am very happy that the odious policy has been repealed legislatively, but part of me would have preferred an unambiguous and strong ruling from the U. S. Supreme Court declaring the policy unconstitutional. Alternatively, a simple statement from the President of the United States that the policy was unconstitutional and would not be defended in court would have been welcome.

    A question for Nan: Assuming that the repeal of the policy will be implemented in good faith and without discriminating against glbt servicemembers (admittedly a very big assumption), am I right to believe that the Ninth Circuit will soon move to dismiss the appeal of LCR v. USA on the grounds that the question is now moot. If that happens, will the decision by Judge Phillips have any precedential value in terms of any legislation by individuals who might seek reinstatement or damages for the way they have been treated by the military?

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