by Troy Williams
There are many things worse than discrimination. Being hit by a mortar blast, losing a limb, living with post-traumatic stress disorder or killing another human all come to mind.
These are just a few of the deadly realities queers will face if Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is ultimately repealed. The one upside to a Republican-controlled House is that we may be able to maintain the protections of DADT indefinitely. However, if the pro-military faction of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political movement succeeds in repealing DADT, closeted soldiers will lose the opportunity to easily escape the horrors of war. DADT has saved an untold number of queer lives. We should praise President Clinton and award every politician who works to keep it in place.
Now, I agree that DADT is discriminatory. It makes liars of soldiers who have sworn oaths of honor and integrity. But war is much worse than discrimination. The ongoing WikiLeaks revelations continue to expose what progressives have argued all along: war brings out the worst in humanity. We see clearly now how politicians, commanders, rogue soldiers and private mercenaries employ torture and thuggery to enforce American hegemony.
Yet I have absolute empathy for these soldiers. I don’t blame them for fighting to stay alive. Few go into the service because they want to fire a weapon at another human being. Most are inspired to enlist by genuine patriotism. Many who are economically disadvantaged need the military to finance college. When a soldier finally acknowledges her sexual identity she may be struck with the fear of losing her rank, career and college fund. Not to mention the shame of being dishonorably discharged.
Yes, it’s horrible to be discharged for being gay. But it’s even more horrible to be tortured by your fellow soldiers.
The culture of the military encourages hazing, misogyny and homophobia. Sexual assault against women and gay servicemembers is frighteningly common. Dr. Mic Hunter, the author of Honor Betrayed: Sexual Abuse in America’s Military lays out the ugly facts: one-third of all the females seeking services at the VA report experiencing an attempted or completed rape. Thirty-seven percent experienced more than one. Four percent report being gang raped. Not by insurgents, mind you — by fellow soldiers. Between 20 and 24 percent of female veterans and 10 percent of male veterans report being raped. Research on civilian rape regularly concludes that only 60 percent of sexual assaults are reported. This number is presumably much lower in the military.
People who do report are often stigmatized and possibly retaliated against. Hunter writes, “Only 12 percent of those who had been sexually harassed used the formal complaint system, because they believed the reporting system was merely in place to protect the chain of command.” (p. 187)
How well do you really think an out gay soldier will fare in this military? Honestly?
War fucks people up. When you kill you lose a piece of your soul. When a soldier dehumanizes people in order to kill them, the effects are equally devastating on that soldier’s psyche. The gay community is rightfully concerned about youth suicides. But suicide rates for veterans are also escalating. The Wall Street Journal reported, “A 15-month-study on the rise in suicides over the last two years found 160 suicides among active-duty personnel, 1,713 suicide attempts and 146 deaths from high-risk behavior, such as drug abuse, in the year ended Sept. 30, 2009.”
And the numbers are rising. The Army reported a record number of suicides for June 2010 — at least one per day. Today we have more vets dying of suicide than in combat. Returning soldiers experience high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. Divorce rates have also soared. Drug and alcohol abuse is rampant among Iraq veterans.
Homelessness is also increasing among them.
Yes, there are worse things than discrimination.
Again, I don’t blame individual soldiers. They make the ultimate sacrifice. Our country should give them absolutely everything they need, including free medical and psychiatric treatment, full-ride scholarships, job training and abundant financial reimbursement. We should hold back nothing.
Our gay leaders have little to say for the plight of veterans. Their only plea is, “Let us in! Let us in so that we can be equal!” I respond, “No. Keep us out! Keep us out of the corporate war machine. Don’t let gay kids kill other gay kids in foreign countries. Protect DADT so queer soldiers have a way to get the hell out of the military when a future hawk president like a Mitt Romney decides to invade Iran.
I get what military service means to the marginalized gay community. It is the ultimate symbol that we are at last “good” Americans. We want to prove that we will bleed and die for this nation. Our desire for inclusion has made us silent to the fact that the military structure itself is a corrupt and corrupting force. National gay leaders may personally denounce war but they won’t mobilize against militarism. They won’t defend queer Iraqis who have lost their lives because they were on the receiving end of a U.S. cluster bomb. Rather, they actually insist that gay people deserve the right to deploy the same cluster bomb. Have we all gone insane?
Repealing DADT will not be a progressive victory for human rights. It will not be a step forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. Rather, it will mean that we will perpetuate the same system of violent oppression. Worse, we will be fodder for future wars. Queers will fill bloodied body bags and flag-draped coffins. For which war profiteer are you willing to die? Halliburton? Bechtel? The Republican Party? They are not worthy of our sacrifice.
My advice to enlisted queer Americans is to get out while you still can. To those of you thinking of serving — don’t! To professional gay lobbyists, stop militarizing our politics. Instead, redirect the untold millions you spend on repealing DADT to college educations for low-income queers. Fund full health care for queer veterans. Encourage lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to denounce war and proclaim peace. Let’s get back to the work of social justice. Long Live DADT.