Social change, socialization, and the end of DADT

How ending DADT will spread the idea of equality for people of all orientations among parts of the US population which have previously been most homophobic.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise which allowed gays and lesbians to be members of the US military as long as they concealed their orientation will officially end tomorrow. This is a great triumph not just for gays and lesbians but for all people who want to live in a society that accords QUILTBAG people their full rights. [1] This transition will help pave the way to that society.

Homophobia has been waning swiftly among certain sections of the population: for people who are more educated and have a higher socio-economic status, being QUILTBAG is often actually treated as kind of cool, having its own cachet as a way of being “special.” Younger people are also more in favor of QUILTBAG rights; marriage equality is generally considered only a matter of time among the under-30 set in most surveys.

But the military draws primarily on people from the lowest-educated and lowest-SES portions of the population. Even in times of recession, the military is seen by many as a back-up option if a “real job” doesn’t pan out. It is precisely these young people, who come from populations likely to stigmatize QUILTBAG people most severely, who could potentially carry on traditions of homophobia for another generation.

Ending DADT means that these young people will likely experience serving with a gay or lesbian airman, soldier, or sailor in the course of their enlistment. They will learn to see that person first and foremost as a comrade, a fellow servicemember, rather than a nebulous and dangerous Other. And that will make all the difference.

In the study the military did to assess the potential impact of ending DADT, the respondents who said that they didn’t think having gays and lesbians in their unit would be a problem were overwhelmingly those who knew or suspected that they had served with gays and lesbians in the past. Getting to know these people personally, seeing first hand that QUILTBAG folks are people just like anyone else, was the biggest factor in defusing and dispersing homophobia.

Now that service members can be “out” and open about their orientation, a lot more people will be having a first-hand experience of working with someone gay or lesbian. Some of them will be disturbed by it, just as some people were disturbed when the military desegregated. This may be the primary way that people from poorer, less-educated communities come into contact with openly QUILTBAG people, which is why it is such an important step forward in civil rights.

(I know the end of DADT does diddly-squat for trans* folks. But in the communities that lump all QUILTBAG people together, lessening homophobia is the first step to lessening transphobia, and the movements in support of trans rights can build on this foundation.)

Even some older people who hold the military in high respect may be receptive to evidence that removes “reasons” for homophobia. When their sons and daughters come home and tell them that their comrades are all people, equally valuable, and when they see the first openly gay and lesbian service members being decorated for valor, some members of the older generation may find their positions on QUILTBAG rights shifting.

Hate groups such as the American Family Association have been screaming their heads off about all kinds of doom, from the disintegration of the military to more natural disasters. And some conservative people in the military are going to complain that their “right” to discriminate against others is being infringed. I fully expect that the first photos of public displays of affection involving someone in uniform will be splashed all over the conservative news, and the first photos of a gay or lesbian couple marrying with one partner in uniform will be cause for enough frothing at the mouth to make some conservative sites look like they’ve been occupied by a mad barista with a passion for steamed milk.

The only reason these people have to be afraid is if their predictions don’t come true. If members of the American military discover that gay and lesbian people are, well, people, then this crusade of hate will have lost a major stronghold of institutionalized discrimination that protected entirely too much homophobia in the general population. If gay and lesbian people are as awful as these hate-spouters insist, that will become clear, and they will be banned again from the military. But if – just if – gays and lesbians are people too, and not demented perverts out to destroy the world, then a whole swath of the population will learn that, and these hate-propagandists will lose a significant portion of their audience.

Finally, this change is going to force a decision on the federal Defense of Marriage Act. I predict that DOMA will be repealed within five years, ten at the most. I hope it’s sooner, and I hope that the Obama administration’s strategy of not defending it will enable that transition as soon as possible. If that doesn’t happen, though, someone will sue to force the military to grant spouse benefits to people who are legally married in their own state. Whether overtly or not, the end of DADT will be a stepping-stone to the end of DOMA.

The military, like the public school system, is a place where people learn what it means to be American. With the end of DADT, we take another step towards teaching our citizens that respecting civil rights – the very rights the military fights to defend – is part of what it means to be American.


[1] QUILTBAG = queer/questioning, undecided, intersex, lesbian, trans*, bi, asexual, and gay. Coined at the Slacktiverse as the most inclusive non-cis-hetero acronym possible.

DADT, BDUs, and freedom

Shocking news: The military forces its members to break the laws laid down in the Bible! It’s explicitly required in military regulations! They are not allowed to use their First Amendment rights to refuse to participate in these abominable practices!

That’s right: military uniforms are made of cotton-poly blends.

Wait, what?

Some conservatives are complaining loudly that the repeal of DADT will force people in the military to violate their religion’s requirements. This is a specious attempt to use religion as a cover for bigotry. The fear-mongers claim that since they will not be allowed to condemn homosexuals, their religious rights are being compromised. These people are hypocrites, even by what they claim are the standards of their religion.

In Leviticus 19:19, the law specifically prohibits wearing clothes made of mixed fibers. It’s just one chapter after the law in Leviticus that forbids men to have homosexual intercourse. (Lev 18:22) Most contemporary Christians say that this is part of the Old Testament law that they don’t have to follow, just like they don’t have to keep kosher, or be circumcised, or follow any of the other highly detailed laws laid out in Leviticus and other parts of the Old Testament. Usually these Christians say that the Old Testament law was made obsolete by Jesus, and anyway, those laws were made for a time and place and situation, and they’re not relevant now anyway. Anyone who wears a military uniform and claims to condemn homosexuality based on Leviticus is a bald-faced hypocrite.

But many of the same Christians who eat cheeseburgers (not kosher) and wear whatever they want are claiming that their religion requires them to condemn homosexuality.  In fact, there are only a handful of verses that address anything like homosexuality, and the main one is right there in Leviticus alongside regulations about how to deal with mold on your walls and what clothing you’re allowed to wear. If the Old Testament law is irrelevant, either because of Jesus or because of changing contexts, then this law is just as irrelevant as the rest of them.

There is, in fact, one place in the New Testament that addresses homosexuality. But that’s Paul, not Jesus, and Paul is probably describing what today we would call pedophilia. (Note to the Roman Catholic Church: that’s still illegal, by the way.) By the way, Paul is also famous for telling women to cover their heads and be silent in church, which are commandments that most Evangelicals feel free to interpret according to cultural context. Jesus himself never says anything about homosexuality and says remarkably little about sex at all. He was probably too busy condemning those who mistreat their neighbors and just forgot about it. Oops.

Members of the military have restrictions placed on their First Amendment rights. The government bends over backwards to try to protect First Amendment rights of speech and religion, but not all of those rights are the same for military members as for civilians. Military people lose a lot of control over how they look (haircut, uniform, etc. – which is what I was referring to in the opening, because appearance is a form of speech, legally) and over what they can say, and when. It is true that military chaplains who are Evangelical Christians aren’t allowed to push their form of religion on others, and can be disciplined for doing so in ways that violate the ethics of the chaplain corps, although there is actually a much more reasonable argument that the Bible instructs Christians to tell others about Jesus. Too bad: it’s a minimal restriction to ensure the freedom of others. And so is the requirement that the military get used to treating people with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation.

As far as concerns about limiting speech outside of the military, well, as Slacktivist has pointed out, Fred Phelps is evidence that our country values freedom of speech so highly that it’s willing to allow some pretty odious speech to occur. We have other ethical guidelines that tell us not to do things like join the Nazi party or demonstrate with Fred Phelps, even if they are legal. Those ethical guidelines often transcend religion, especially the Golden Rule. Although, come to think of it, I think Jesus did have something to say along those lines.

Conservative says gender essentialism explains military sexual assaults?

From Right Wing Watch‘s current reporting on the CPAC, including comments made during a panel discussion by Elaine Donnelly:

One of Donnelly’s main arguments did not seem exactly respectful of our armed forces: she said repeatedly that servicemembers can’t be counted on – or trained – to control their sexual urges. That’s why, she said, we are losing so many ship captains due to sexual misconduct. Sexual mistreatment of women in the military is not their fault, she said, but it’s not surprising.

I don’t know how many ship captains we’re “losing” to charges of sexual misconduct, but if she’s talking about the most recent case, she’s way off base. Regardless, take a look at that argument again: men are aggressive, especially sexually, and that’s just the way they are. It can’t be changed. Rape is bad, sure, but you know, we just shouldn’t put people in those situations, because people are animals driven entirely by their instincts, which can’t be controlled, so of course bad things happen when you let women in the military, or let them wear short skirts, or, heck, let them leave the house without being accompanied by a male relative and swathed in a burqua….oh wait.

If the conservatives want to see the face of “creeping Shariah,” they ought to look in the mirror. Rape apologism (“she deserved it, she didn’t take care of herself, she never should have been there/worn that/drunk that/trusted him”) is only a short step away from the obvious solution of legalistic limitations designed to “protect” women. The recent piece I was critiquing in the link above only suggested the softer form of social pressure, with advice from Dad not to get in a car with a guy, but really, since conservatives and the Religious Right in particular seem so hell-bent on legislating what happens inside my uterus, it’s not unreasonable to say that they have much more in common with their imaginary enemies, the Shariah-imposers, than they’d like to admit.

(NB: I can’t seem to find a transcript of what she actually said, but one of her flowcharts (yes, she used flowcharts – and bad ones, at that) includes the statement “Gays No More Perfect Than Anyone Else.” Score one for the Mistress of the Obvious here. But since that statement helps lead the path of illogic on the flowchart to “New Forms of Sexual Misconduct,” it seems to confirm that she thinks people in general can’t keep their pants on, especially not when they’re anywhere near a bed. This is probably also a dogwhistle to the vile lie that gay people are just waiting with bated breath to rape their straight counterparts.)

Suggestion to bigots in hole: stop digging

The person who runs the National Organization For Marriage has said on Facebook that homosexuality should still be considered a mental disorder because mental disorders are defined by the American Psychological Association as “impairment of of an individual’s normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning.” Note that the APA decided that homosexuality wasn’t a form of mental illness, under this definition, quite a while ago.

But the NOM representative goes on to say that “one’s NORMAL emotional and behavioral functioning is to be emotionally attracted to the opposite sex and then follow up that attraction with heterosexual behavior.” (sic caps) He then argues, essentially, that the human body is designed to pass on its genes in reproduction, and deliberately going against that design is abnormal.

My husband and I were brainstorming other forms of chosen behavior that prevent one from passing on one’s genes. So far, we’ve come up with the following examples: being a member of the Catholic priesthood; joining the military and dying before reproducing; choosing to marry someone of the opposite sex who is physically incapable of reproducing. I’m sure there are lots more. But let’s just savor the irony for a minute here. Applying this guy’s own arguments to some of his major supporters – Catholic clergy – leads to the conclusion that their behavior indicates they are mentally ill.

And all the folks who say that they’re all for marriage and defending normal Americans from ebil, ebil (sic) homosexuals, especially those valiant defenders of America in the military, well….if they agree with this argument, then all those folks who joined the military before they’d already secured their genetic legacy are clearly mentally ill, in exactly the same way the homosexuals are!