Last week, with a vote of 230 to 191, the House of Representatives passed to repeal former President Bill Clinton’s 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that bars lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) service members from serving openly in the military. On the same day the House passed to repeal DADT, so to did the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“This legislation will help make our armed forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity,” President Obama told the Associated Press.
But at the end of the day of all this historic voting, last week, the plight of our LGBTQ servicemembers remained unchanged.
Investigations and discharges for being an openly LGBTQ servicemember will continue on as usual. Why? Because the Pentagon has not completed its study, reviewing how to maintain the military’s “unit cohesion” while integrating LGBTQ servicemembers.
December 1 is the day the country will know the results of the Pentagon study. We will also know if the welcome mat will really begin to unfold for our LGBTQ servicemembers.
So, with the military having the real power to either overturn or to uphold DADT, what was last week’s voting in the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee really about?
Pressure? Posturing? Or, both?
“While the power to actually overturn don’t ask, don’t tell remains with military commanders, many see a congressional vote before the report is completed as political pressure, ” writes W. James Antle III at the American Conservative.
And the pressure comes from both conservatives and the LGBTQ activist community.
Polls have revealed that where the country was in 1993 with DADT is vastly different from where the country is today. As a matter of fact most Americans — even Republicans — are not adverse to the military having LGBTQ servicemembers.
But with midterm elections just five months away and with a Republican anti-Obama movement aggressively trying to retake Congress the chances of repealing DADT becomes slimmer.
In last week’s House vote, 168 Republicans opposed repealing DADT and only five Republicans voted with the Democrat House majority .
For many in the LGBTQ community we are anxious about the repeal of DADT coming to fruition, and feel that last week’s historic voting was more about posturing from the President and his administration than effecting real and substantive change on our behalf.
“For the two of us — and many more who have been working for the repeal of this legislation for months and years — this effort is simply a way for Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon to shift responsibility to one another indefinitely,” Cpl. Evelyn Thomas, and Lt. Dan Choi wrote in an open letter.
And shifting responsibility on repealing DADT is what the Obama administration has been doing since the President took office.
For example, soon after Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the LGBTQ community waited anxiously to hear that steps were being made to repeal DADT. But on June 8 of that year, when the Supreme Court refused to review the Pentagon policy that prohibits LGBTQ servicemembers to serve openly in the military, Obama’s people added salt to the wounds of our LGBTQ servicemembers by stating in court papers that the ruling on DADT was correct because of the military’s legitimate concern of LGBTQ servicemembers endangering “unit cohesion”— a concept totally debunked by a 2002 study.
While the Obama administration shifts responsibility on repealing DADT, Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. James Pietrangelo have begun a Dignity Fast, bringing focus to last week’s compromised vote that still maintains DADT rather than totally doing away with it.
“In response to the United States Senate and the House of Representatives voting on the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, forces are mobilizing for non-violent direct action and civil disobedience. Veterans are ready to spend Memorial Weekend in prison. Fasting will also commence. The simple demands are (1) End DADT firings. (2) Enact non-discrimination. (3) End the insulting, wasteful study. The community knows that the President does have within his power to end the discharges immediately. The President has not responded authentically in ending the firings and inherent discrimination, ” Choi wrote.
To date, more than 13,500 LGBTQ servicemembers have been discharged under DADT, and the number continues to grow. (And African American lesbians have been discharged at three times the rate at which they service).
The posturing last week from Congress was great theater. All the thespians performed their parts well, especially Obama. Why? If DADT is not repealed it gives the President an easy out. It allows the President to distance himself politically by shifting the responsibility and blame for DADT’s outcome from himself to some one else.