Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dan Choi is gay. So is "don't ask, don't tell."

It almost goes without saying that the Obama administration's decision to discharge National Guard 1st Lieutenant Dan Choi for being gay is perhaps the most scathingly lame thing Obama has done since taking office.

Choi was one of 38 West Point grads who publicly came out in March in support of a repeal of the military's 16-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which allows gay men and women to serve their country as long as they don't tell anybody about their disgusting sexual preferences. It also means that other military folks aren't allowed to ask. After publicly identifying as gay on the Rachel Maddow show in March, Choi--who studied Arabic languages while at West Point--received notice that he would be discharged. He says he will fight his dismissal and has so far done so publicly, presumably to the surprise of military officials. Maybe they figured it's so shameful to be gay that Choi would never take his fight so public (they perhaps forgot that he came out in a public forum in the first place). Maybe they figured they could easily swat him away, since gay men don't know how to fight anyway.

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You guys, it's 2009. The notion that homosexuality is a choice, that same-sex partnerships are an abomination, that sexual orientation is anybody's business or that we need to avoid making room for gay men and women to take their rightful place in the cultural, political, legal, and social life of our country--that's so 1998.

In the early 1900's, the NAACP waged a war against lynching, not just by arguing that beating, then slinging up, black men was atrocious behavior (if a person didn't accept this stance, then there was no point in arguing) but also by building anti-lynching sentiment by simply stating the facts: keeping a running tally of lynchings across the U.S. via newspaper ads and banners in major cities. Eventually, the anti-lynching arguments became redundant--a critical mass of Americans had simply come to accept the premise that killing a human being based on skin color was abominable behavior.

There comes a point where words fail because they've reached all the people they possibly can. There comes a point where further argument is useless, and all you can do is wait for a critical mass to join together in overthrowing a hopelessly bigoted, hopelessly outdated stance. If the outrage over Choi's discharge and shifting sentiment toward the "don't ask, don't tell" policy are any indication, we may have reached this point with gay rights. Thank Christ--it's about time.


Andrew W said...

The rub with Don't Ask, Don't Tell isn't that our military leadership is necessarily bigoted--rather it's that they still believe our largely southern, conservative fighting force won't accept openly gay soldiers in their ranks.

The Iraq War has blown this out of the water. Often forced to keep openly gay soldiers in the field because of troop shortages, the military now has battle-tested evidence that being openly gay doesn't negatively affect "unit cohesion". If you can fight, if you can get a truck running after it's been IED'd, if you can stanch a wound under fire, you get your buddies' respect no matter what.

So Obama's decision has me concerned insofar as it's continuing a double stereotype: not just that gays can't fight, but also that straight soldiers won't fight alongside gay soldiers. The evidence shows otherwise, and the people supporting such a dumb position should actually ask the troops what they think.

Jennifer said...

I also wonder about the Christian evangelical-political aspect of all this. I agree with the commenter above in the sense that this was the rationale once-upon-a-time, but that not just the Iraq war, but the introduction of WOMEN into the combat zone in Iraq and Afghanistan blew the argument out of the water about gay men fighting alongside straight men. In both cases, the military made arguments about morale and fighting ability going down if, one the one hand, you introduce sexual tension with women and, on the other hand, you activate homophobia in straight men when fighting alongside their queer bretheren.

NPR did a piece about repealing "Don't ask, don't tell" on one of its shows (like Talk of the Nation) and a high ranking (general?) officer agreed that we should eliminate "Don't ask, don't tell"--it would seem that even the conservative military recognizes that it's all bad policy and behind the times (much in the same way that a segregated force post WWII in light of the valor of men of color in WWII demonstrated how wrong-headed racial segregation was).

So (and sorry for this lengthy comment) I don't think this is a military issue; it's a political issue, similar to gay marriage and a woman's right to choose and school prayer and gun control. This is about the political clout of Evangelical Christians who see this issue as part of the on-going culture war they are continuing to fight. Which means that unlike with anti-lynching laws and changing the culture around race (which was really helped in this case by multi-ethnic/multi-racial coalitions of Christians coming together of all denominations and fighting the issue of racial violence and white supremacy) I'm less hopeful/sanguine about changing culture as quickly or as decisively with respect to queer rights.

And yet (and here's my last point), the Obama administration COULD DO IT. I mean, at least as far as "Don't ask don't tell" they COULD repeal the whole damn thing and let the political chips fall where they would. People and pundits may gripe and grumble, but it'd be done and over with and in about 8 years, NO ONE WOULD REMEMBER that it had been any other way (just like most people don't seem to think too hard about the fact that women weren't allowed to serve in combat zones and/or men of color were in segregated units).

Andrew W said...

Right on ya, Jennifer. It's worth reiterating the significance of the military being ahead of politicians on a social issue. How many times has that ever happened?

If Don't Ask was repealed today, the military either wouldn't care or would quietly, relievedly point out that they can now more easily retain their soldiers. But strategically, at this moment, I have to think it would be a bad idea for the President to do so (strategically--not morally). Conservatives are shrinking. They're doing a fantastic job of radicalizing around issues that only 20% of Americans agree with. But gays in the military is still a 50/50 issue unfortunately, which means it would ultimately work to conservatives' advantage. Sure, no one would remember it in eight years, but they probably would during the 2010 midterm elections.

Baseball has a saying that you're only as good as tomorrow's starting pitcher: the same goes for politics and the next election. So don't look for Obama to rock the boat on this.

AAW said...

Hey Jennifer,

Thanks for stopping by my blog and you know where I stand by the ridiculous "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. My hope is America takes a giant leap forward and repeal the stupid law.

AAW said...

Sorry, I meant to say "Jenna" on the Blog. But saw "Jennifer" first on the comment site. My bad.

Madison said...

Jenna, It's nice to have you as a visitor to my blog! Continue your good work. I doubt that DADT will last through the Summer, thanks largely to Daniel Choi's high integrity and courage!


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