A commentary and resource on Law and Sexuality by Professor Chris Ashford and guests
The US Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy looks set to finally be repealed. It was introduced back in the early 90’s as a compromise measure and signed into law by Bill Clinton. Books such as The Clinton Tapes make it clear that Clinton believed this was the best they could get at the time and believed that over time people would be more accepting of homosexuality and come to regard DADT as a hypocrisy. To that extent, Clinton has been proven right, although many LGBTQ activists continue to put DADT in the Clinton ‘minus column’ rather than as a plus.
Much has been written on the mechanics of repeal and I don’t intend to repeat that material here. The historic 65-31 vote in the Senate last night, which included eight Republican senators in support of ending DADT has brought praise and condemnation in apparently equal measure. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker described the move as one of the highlights of her time as Speaker. Let’s not forget though that Pelosi will be shortly stepping down as speaker, and will be replaced by the Republican John Boehner. Check out the Advocate here for some excellent coverage.
Work will now need to be done to implement the repeal and I’m confident there will be a few more bumps in the road. Military culture will then take many years to respond to this legal shift. The lines between military banter and homophobia will be disputed and bullying cases could emerge now a a military officer can be openly gay, and thus be a ‘legitimate’ member of the armed forces to be bullied. You can hardly complain you’re a gay man being bullied when there are officially no gay personnel in the armed forces. So, watch out for those bullying cases.
The other aspect of DADT that is worthy of discussion, is how it fits into the wider US political narrative. The Congress that passed this law was a dead duck session, taking place after the recent mid-term elections, but before the newly elected members of Congress take up their roles. As such, it plays perfectly into the narrative that Fox News and the Right have been peddling, that ‘they’ want their country back from these left wing ‘socialists’ who are rushing through ‘anti-American measures’ before the new Congress.
Proposition 8 is an example of the ‘backlash’ that can occur, and it will be interesting to see how the Right adjusts now the measure has been passed.
DADT also apparently appeared in the context of the recent (and ongoing) Wikileaks controversy in which the army intelligence analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning smuggled out oodles of US secrets whilst apparently listening and singing to a Lady Gaga CD. The Right wing commentator, Ann Coulter might strike many of us as being a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic, but her views represent a large swath of US opinion. When she slammed the mere act of singing to lady Gaga as a sign of homosexuality, it’s fair to assume that many Americans would agree.
It’s argued that Manning was in part motivated by his hatred of the DADT policy into leaking the secrets – an offence that has resulted in Manning currently being imprisoned and held in isolation. For Coulter, it is simply that gay men can’t be trusted with secrets and she points to the British homosexual and bisexual spies who leaked secrets to Russia as proof. The trouble with evoking the memory of Burgess and Blunt is that they too were in part motivated by legal prohibition and social condemnation at home. The lesson is surely that if you kick a dog enough, it’ll bite back.
DADT might be repealed but the story isn’t over.