Queers Against Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?


December 4, 2010 by tristan savage

A little over a year ago, a few friends and I were talking about a project I think of as the Queer Draft- a way to stand in solidarity with our LGBT brothers and sisters while still rejecting militarism. We were getting pretty frustrated with the turn in the mainstream movement -organizations like the Human Rights Campaign– towards militarist patriotism, uncritically reproducing imperialist arguments about “national security,” “successfully completing our mission,” and so on.

We were against bigotry and discrimination, but thought widening the group of people that could sign up as mercenaries to occupy other people’s countries, kill their civilians, and commandeer their resources was a pretty shady way of seeking equality. So we thought, what if all of us who are against the militarization of US society sent in a letter to the Selective Service (draft board) in which we came out as queers, and informed them that we were no longer eligible for military service and requested removal of our names from the government’s draft database?

The campaign never materialized, but DADT is still center stage in the gay rights movement. I’m interested in having a discussion about if this is really what we want queer liberation to be about?

Less close to my heart, but also questionable, is the centrality of gay marriage as a goal for all gays and lesbians.  Check out this new book from the Against Equality Collective for their “Queer critiques of gay marriage.”

If DADT is repealed, maybe collective liberation will march on, and organizations like HRC will come out against imperialism rather than ask to be a complicit part in it.  But I suspect the desire for inclusion has become so strong -or, perhaps, so colonizing- that it will take a lot of work to turn things back around. My hope remains with queer groups that reach out for collective liberation, maintaining some critical distance from the powerful rather than asking for a place at the imperial table.

11 thoughts on “Queers Against Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?

  1. Mikhail says:

    “We were against bigotry and discrimination, but thought widening the group of people that could sign up as mercenaries to occupy other people’s countries, kill their civilians, and commandeer their resources was a pretty shady way of seeking equality.”

    It’s an interesting viewpoint, but it appears you’re basing it in a misconception. As an LGBT activist of nearly 10 years, I support the repeal of DADT because it isn’t “widening” the recruiting base of potential imperialist storm troopers, it’s extending human dignity to those who are already there. For me, this issue isn’t about war, imperialism, militarism, and so on, it’s about human dignity and discrimination free workplaces–even if you disagree with the work being done. Moreover, the armed forces, historically, have been a great jumping off point for civil rights efforts–after all, it was Truman who desegregated the military and, in turn, was one of the factors that helped set in motion the most important civil rights fight in American history.

    • tristan call says:


      I see your point, and I suspect I am supportive of the work you do, but this is a bigger issue, I think, than whether I agree with “the work being done.” This is an issue of the mainstream LGBT rights organizations explicitly adopting imperialism as their ideology (not implicitly, by wanting to be in the military, but explicitly, by talking about how important it is to effectively occupy Arabic-speaking communities and so on). While I agree that people should fight against discrimination in their workplaces, I think in some cases that can and should be coupled with fighting against their workplaces.

      The experience of African-Americans in the military was, of course, a huge impetus to the civil rights movement (particularly in the 50’s, and again during the Vietnam War)- Charles Payne, for example, has written some amazing analyses of how the ex-military men influenced the development of the NAACP in Mississippi in the 20 years following the war, in the face of extraordinary violence by the White Citizens’ Councils.

      But recognizing that is different from saying that African-Americans should join the military in order to help the US imperial project; there were also many people who resisted US imperialism at that time, working for equality but against militarization (once example that comes to mind is MLK’s SCLC, another is the Fellowship of Reconciliation that helped support its formation, and another would be the Deacons for Defense and Justice, many of whom were veterans).

      • Mikhail says:

        I see where you’re coming from, and I think your example of Martin Luther King is spot on. I feel we share a same fear, a common one really. When leftists win, and dissenters become a part of the core, what aspects of their dissenting position will continue on and what aspects of the mainstream culture will they adopt. That being said, I remain hopeful that even though the fight is centered on conservative institutions (i.e. marriage, military, etc) LGBT culture will remain, in some respects, leftist. In other words, I feel LGBT soldiers would be able to join Iraq Veterans Against the War if they were able to serve fully as soldiers. Does that make sense? It’s finals week and I’m not all here, haha. Also, I’d be interested in seeing the pro-war material by LGBT groups. Thanks for the discusssion.

  2. Will S. says:

    NEW on The Will of The People/ wavnetradio.com

    Why We Must NEVER Repeal DADT


  3. Brian Gerald says:

    Tristan Call, I love you more and more every year.

    While I can recognize that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a discriminatory policy, it is one of MANY discriminatory policies in place in the USA and therefore I’m always saddened that it’s repeal routinely goes to the top of “LGBT” (usually “gay”) agendas. Let’s talk about immigration rights for folks who are queer, let’s talk about job security for folks who are queer, let’s talk about job creation for folks who are queer, let’s talk about violence and harm reduction for folks who are queer, let’s talk about respecting and protecting all sorts of queer families and relationships.

    But by god the last thing we need to be talking about is whether or not we’re allowed to go kill people… many of whom will be queer themselves. The emphasis on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell looks different to queers in other countries.

  4. Alisa says:

    I think it’s presumptuous to question the value of ending discrimination in the context of war and defense. Does an individual have the right to their own values or don’t they? It is not my position to tell someone, I am against war and therefore against you having a choice, any more than it would be for me to say, “I don’t want you to come out of the closet if you are going to join Libertarians. You are entitled to your own sexual privacy and identity, but not your own politics.” Sexual orientation should not disqualify someone from coming to the table and joining the debate, and taking their own stance according to their own conscience.

    • tristan call says:

      Presumptuous, maybe. But doesn’t it seem equally presumptuous to suggest that fighting for “equality” means joining an imperialist organization that explicitly exists in order to defend some people’s interests over others? That is explicitly what the US military does- protect “US interests.” I hope most of us are skeptical enough of that that we don’t buy it, and recognize that it is there to protect the interests of the “US military-industrial elite”, but even if we believe what they say, it is still an exclusionary, hierarchical organization that exists in order to use force to maintain power inequalities.

      That said, you could of course make this argument about almost any institution, and if you reject all such institutions you would have to be against voting, civil rights, families, and so on. Of course that would be a pretty hardcore-purist position that not very many of us would be interested in, but it does present the dilemma, doesn’t it? Should we be clamoring for the right of queer folks to join the Republican Party? The Tea Party? NARTH? Focus on the Family? The Nazi Party? We all have our different thresholds about where we draw the line and say ‘this organization is too inherently unrecoverable to deserve my support or participation. I guess I am suggesting that the military might be one such category- or at least, there might be other ways rather than putting ALL of our effort into joining mainstream institutions and claiming elite privilege.

      • Alisa says:

        We should be “clamoring” for everyone to have the right to join the Nazi party if they want to, yes. Whether we find something distasteful or even horrific is not the issue. Many people are denying homosexuals their rights on the basis that it is immoral. Well, what is morality? How are we any better than bigots on the far right when we also try to impose our own morality on people? Let us start with the basics of human rights – that our government should never be in the business of overlooking qualifications in favor of gender, race, or legal private life. It is not contradictory to be against war and military actions while at the same time insisting that veterans receive quality medical care or single mothers receive a reprieve from deployment if they cannot find someone to care for their child. It is also not contradictory to insist that the military stop discharging experienced Arabic interpreters who may help speed the peace process because of what they do with other consenting adults behind closed doors.

      • Brian Gerald says:

        I used to be right with you, Alisa. In some ways, I still am. For instance, I think it’s important that anyone have the legal right to assemble. I participated in the 2007 Soulforce Equality Ride and the colleges we visited often said, “We have the legal right to private property–to keep you from coming here and talking with our students–and we have the legal right as a private institution to admit or discipline or kickout whoever we want” to which I always agreed, “Yes! You do have that right.” I’m not asking for colleges to loose the right to private property or admissions standards. Instead, I want to live in a world where those colleges would never invoke private property laws to keep out queers in the first place.

        Yes, I want to live in a country where Fred Phelps can protest; no I don’t want to live in a country where he does.

        So yes, I can understand that “LGBT people should have the legal right to join the armed services” but no, I don’t want to live in a country where they–or anyone–do join. I don’t want to live in (and contribute to) a country which uses violence. And so, out of all the places I can put my energy and emphasis, I will NOT be clamoring to allow anyone the right kill someone else.

  5. Mikhail says:

    @Brian, is soulforce going to do any more rides in the future? I attend one of those private institutions that you speak of and would love to see a return.

  6. dennis ray says:

    I am very supportive of the movement.

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