Thursday, August 11, 2011

How Don't Ask Don't Tell Isn't A Step Forward For Everyone

Eva Rivera is a proud lesbian Chicana, daughter, sister and sex worker who can walk in 6 inch heels and twirl naked on a pole in front of total strangers but is still viciously afraid of moths. She hails from Fresno, CA and is a poet and aspiring film maker. You can find her more personal writing on her blog

With the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" drawing closer, I felt it was the perfect time to examine the effects of this repeal and what it means for queer service members and Gay Rights overall. I certainly have my own opinions about the military as those of you who have read my personal blog already know, but for this inquiry I decided to look to those who it affects in a more direct way. My sister, Ana* and her girlfriend Maya* are both active duty military personnel and were generous enough to talk with me about their views of the repeal of DADT, what effect it will have on their relationship and life in the military.

Ana and Maya met in the Army doing the same kind of work and with many of the same aspirations. Ana wanted the discipline, stability and rigorous routine and environment she felt only the military could offer. Maya decided to join to get money for a college education, to aid in gaining her citizenship and to become a more independent person. They fell in love shortly after a cautious period of dating and have been together for a year now. I imagined they would be ecstatic about the repeal of a policy that would erase their relationship and silence their identities and was surprised to hear them question how truly progressive the repeal is.

Ana explains that the culture of the military, branch and rank have a lot more to do with acceptance of sexual orientation than the repeal of DADT. Being queer is being "different" and that simply goes against the uniformity that the military strictly enforces. Much like in the civilian world, you choose who you are out to carefully. Ana and Maya both see sexual orientation as something personal and professionalism and personal privacy is a must while in uniform no matter how you identify. Their experiences being in the closet while serving has forced them to always watch what they say and who they interact with. Even giving me an interview was a risk that required hiding. However, they don't feel the repeal of DADT will change any of this. 

Despite having to censor their words they both strongly agreed that the repeal of DADT is no step forward for gay rights. For one, because of the Defense of Marriage Act, gay service members who were legally married still do not gain most of the benefits straight married couples have in the military such has health care for their partners and many family services. After the repeal is fully transitioned, they will choose to stay in the closet. As Ana puts it "you can come out as gay without being discharged but it will still ruin your reputation". According to her, moving up in the military is all about image and even if legally they can no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation, coming out can still prevent you from advancement.  

Ana and Maya feel that the repeal actually functions as more of an illusion than real progress. Ana points out that it closes a loophole for service members who want out of the military, beleives that is serves to distract from the war and may even be used as a political tactic to increase enlistment numbers. Maya agrees that the repeal is not a step forward and believes the military doesn't really care about the orientation of its personnel, just what political points it can gain. 

I won't deny that the repeal of DADT will certainly increase the moral, security and add a few extra benefits to many GLB service members. Obviously, these are not the views of every queer solider. Stating that the repeal is worthless would diminish the hard work of thousands who have been fighting to advance gay rights and erase the experiences and risks of the soldiers who have come out. Having said that, it would be na├»ve at best, marginalizing at worst, to assume that every LBG soldier is going to benefit from this. Like my sister and her partner, many who won't benefit from the repeal are silenced. We are supposed to be celebrating legalization of gay marriage and the repeal of DADT, after all. Any queer issue that isn't as mainstream as marriage and DADT is considered too radical, too soon, too queer. More so when the issues intersect with any other oppression. Perhaps amidst our celebrations of these victories, we can talk critically about how to work toward truer equalities. 

* Names have been changed for privacy/security