The congressional votes were in a bit more than a week ago, and President Obama signed the bill for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Wednesday. Now will come negotiations.

I have something of a personal stake in the matter, since one of my boyfriends was a military officer, serving for a variety of reasons, one of them being genuine patriotism that led him to want to serve his country. And so was obliged to lead a secret gay life (or, for some time, no sexual life at all). Painful to see.

George Chauncey had an excellent op-ed piece in the NYT (on-line on the 20th, in hard print on the 21st), “Last Ban Standing”, about the long, sad history of excluding gays and lesbians from the military (and hence from full citizenship), leading to many dishonorable discharges, and to President Eisenhower’s 1953 order excluding homosexuals from employment in civilian agencies as well as the military and indeed from employment by private companies with government contracts. Chauncey writes:

This rule was enforced with considerable vigor: even at the height of the McCarthy era in the 1950s, the federal government discharged more suspected homosexuals than suspected communists.

President Clinton attempted to change this, but eventually had to submit to what was billed as a compromise between the old system and the policies urged by gay rights groups, but in fact seems to have served as way of carrying out the old system in a fresh guise. The new policy was Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue — three injunctions having to do with what one set of people could say to others. The military couldn’t ask servicemembers about their sexual orientation, servicemembers couldn’t tell anyone in the military about their sexual orientation, and the military couldn’t pursue sexual orientation by investigating reports or asking people other than the servicemember in question.

In fact, Don’t Pursue seems to have dropped away, leaving a grotesque system in which investigations proceeded by indirect attempts to force servicemembers into telling, often as the result of reports from or testimony solicited from people other than the servicemember in question — material thought to be relevant to the question of whether that servicemember exhibited a propensity or inclination to homosexual activity, or, worse, had secretly engaged in such activity.

A most unpleasant history.

One Response to “DADT”

  1. IrrationalPoint Says:

    “three injunctions having to do with what one set of people could say to others.”

    It’s a set of injunctions that only makes sense under the school of thought that equates more freedom with more privacy (for queer folks). Of course, as you point out, it never really happened that way in practice, and even if it had, privacy really means secrecy in this context.

    In the UK, LGBT people have been able to serve openly in the armed forces since 2000, and that’s brought about some important cultural changes, in that the armed forces now actively recruit LGBT people, as do a number of civilian services like the police service and the fire service who recruit at Pride marches. So where these services once saw diversity as a threat, they now see it as a strength. We can hope that scrapping DADT brings about a similar cultural change in the US too.

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