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But Wasn't It the Democrats Who Gave Us DADT in the 1st Place?

GLN permalink 12-21-2010

The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a victory for equal employment rights at the nation's largest employer, but if that's the only thing we take away from this event, we miss the boat.

The Democratic Party will try to take credit for DADT repeal, but they were the ones who gave us the crappy policy in the first place. Moreover, just weeks ago by playing party politics and thumbing their noses at the rapidly advancing Log Cabin Republicans' anti-DADT lawsuit, they nearly stole defeat from the jaws of victory. Obama's claim that he opposed the suit in court because he wanted an "orderly" repeal of DADT is a load of crap - he just didn't want a wing of the Republican party taking credit for something he had long promised to do. He was cynically using our rights as a political football and nearly lost the repeal as a result. He and the Democratic Party should be called out on that.

To talk only about DADT repeal in the narrow context of LGBT rights and ignore the devastating impact of the U.S. military on the peoples of the world would be arrogance in the extreme. There are over 1000 American military bases outside of the U.S., mostly in countries whose peoples don't want them there, helping prop up scores of U.S.-allied thugs who are widely hated by those whom they rule over. The U.S. is responsible for half the world's military spending - that's not defense, that's empire.

For Americans naive enough to persist in thinking that "our" troops are abroad to "serve" -- helping other peoples or "defending our freedom" -- one need only point to the Wikileaks revelations of cynical U.S. powerplays at the expense of human rights. Stacked up against the continuing enormous destruction of lives and resources caused by the American military, the injustice of DADT paled by comparison.

I don't expect the Human Rights Campaign or the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to ever depart from their myopic "rights-for-gays-only" approach. But to the vast majority of LGBT people who identify with neither of those groups, I would say this: If you want solidarity from non-LGBT people for our struggles, such as in referenda campaigns (which we've uniformly lost over the past few decades), then we cannot fail to give solidarity to the justice struggles of "others," many of whom are themselves LGBT. This is how, with far fewer resources and support from "respectable society," Harvey Milk, et al. defeated Anita Bryant and the Briggs Amendment back in the day. It is due to the lack of solidarity that LGBT political organizations show for "other" struggles that we are routinely whupped when are rights are put to a vote.

Andy Thayer

Co-founder, Gay Liberation Network
Chicago, IL

Response to a critic:

For those not old enough to remember, the passage of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) marked the first step on the road to what became known as "The Republican Revolution" of the 1990s. With the Tea Party-inspired revival of the Republican Party today, it is useful to learn from this earlier rise of the far right, and how it was eventually beaten back.

Below is a reply I wrote to someone who questioned my assertion that the Democrats were largely to blame for DADT passage in 1993.

Thanks for your note about my DADT comment. I remember very well how DADT went down back in 1993, but for the sake of brevity, I couldn't go into it in my comment.

While you're right that the Republicans also were disgusting in that affair, the Democrats were if anything more culpable for this anti-gay attack, because they were the ones who held almost all of the reins of power. And the more you dig into the details about how DADT actually went down, the worse they look.

While it may seem logical to presume that it was the Republicans who led the charge on DADT, it was actually Democrats, led by Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) who first launched the furor over "gays in the military." It is very important to note that back in 2003, like in early 2009, Congressional Republicans were in minorities in both houses, in the political wilderness with seemingly no power to do anything.

In response to Nunn's Fall 1992 onslaught, the White House went virtually mute. During the primaries and general election, the Clinton campaign had become renowned for its 24-hours-a-day message response team, which many credited with being key to his winning the Democratic nomination (for example, it saved his political life when they promptly responded to a Clinton sex scandal on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, for example). So the muted response by Clinton on "gays in the military" was decidedly uncharacteristic. It showed that the President-elect was not willing to spend not even a dime's worth of political capital on LGBT's. Very reminiscent of the current White House.

Back in 1992-93, David Mixner was the most prominent LGBT "Friend of Bill" (Clinton), as members of the President's kitchen cabinet were known back then. In the Fall of 1992, Mixner used his bully pulpit as the President-elect's leading LGBT ally to repeatedly urge the LGBT community to keep quiet about the Clinton's lack of response to Nunn. The current President, by contrast, doesn't do much better. Out of one side of Obama's mouth, he says that he wants LGBTs and others in his base to keep up pressure on him, but out of the other side of his mouth he has his spokespeople calling us "idiots" and basically wishes we would go away.

After Nunn initiated the attack on "gays in the military," the Republican minority smelled blood. They took the ball from Nunn and ran with it. Day after day they launched ever more hysterical attacks on "gays in the military," while our side kept silent. The result of this one-sided propaganda campaign was that the polls went from being modestly in our favor on the issue, to swinging widely against us. The anti-"gays in the military" campaign later broadened into what became known as the "Republican revolution," with the Democrats getting whipped in the 1994 bi-election and the Democrats accommodating with the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (passage of which Clinton bragged about in commercials he ran on Christian right radio stations).

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. By the Spring of 1993 the Democratic Party, roundly being beaten up in the press by the "gays in the military" furor, was desperate for a way out of the issue. So just a week before that year's Lesbian and Gay march on Washington, Clinton's Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, floated in the Saturday New York Times a proposal to allow gays in the military - so long as they were segregated into gays-only units! While implementation of this proposal would have provided fertile fodder for a whole new genre of porn videos, the notion that any late-20th century mainstream politician would countenance segregation in any form was insulting to say the least.

For any LGBTs willing to take their pro-Democratic Party blinders off, Aspin's bizarre proposal should have been a clear signal as to what direction the administration was going on the issue. Yet a week later at the march on Washington, almost no one took on the President (to his credit, Larry Kramer made at least a disjointed, confused critique of Clinton, even though as I've written elsewhere, Clinton's anti-gay record in Arkansas was quite extensive). Instead, speaker after speaker urged LGBTs to stand behind their President, with the result that all of the pressure on Clinton continued to come only from the right. Our defeat on the issue was a slow-moving train-wreck that most LGBTs should have seen coming, but few did.

The face-saving measure that the Clinton administration eventually came up with was of course, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a legislative act which enshrined discrimination into law (previously it had simply been a matter of military regulations) and led to a huge jump in anti-Lesbian and Gay purges over the previous policy.

Finally, it should be noted that a pivotal event in ending the first Republican Revolution wasn't anything that you can thank the Democrats for. Following the 1998 lynching of Wyoming's Matthew Shepard, LGBTs and our allies flooded into the streets in cities around the country. In Chicago alone I recall there were at least six Matthew Shepard marches and vigils within the first month after his murder. This widespread, spontaneous revulsion against homophobia and anyone, like the Republicans, who seemed to give aid and comfort to violent homophobia, played a key role in dethroning Newt Gingrich, et al.

Now that we are facing a second Republican Revolution, this history provides some important pointers to how we can defeat Sarah Palin, the Tea Partiers, et al.


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