If you haven’t already heard, today was a very important victory in repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell provision. With an impressive 63 votes, the stand-alone bill achieved cloture in the US Senate this morning, and picked up 2 more Republican votes to pass this afternoon. It’s a proud moment in LGBT history, and it’s a credit to every individual and every organization who advocated for this change!
Still, I find myself not as excited as I thought I would. While many in the movement are rightfully celebrating a victory lap, my reaction feels a lot more like “It’s about damn time.” You might say that sounds ungrateful. I’d say you’re right.
My point of view is that this is good, but it’s still not good enough. My bar is high; nothing short of full equality is good enough. I look at this, and it’s an important victory, but it also feels like the smallest possible victory we could have gotten. DADT isn’t off the books yet. We took a compromise way back in the Spring (remember? when the President didn’t want Congress to pursue any legislative repeal efforts) such that the bill doesn’t actually repeal, it just allows for repeal. It’ll still be a couple months (at least) before our LGB servicemembers can finally serve with integrity. We still have to advocate for that day to come, and then we have the long haul of education to diminish the prejudice throughout the ranks that made this such a tough obstacle.
I actually worry that the movement might be overly gracious. It certainly has a history of giving lots of credit to leaders when they grace us with every little accommodation or amount of visibility. I’ve heard plenty of folks ready to give President Obama credit for being so committed (and even spending political capital) to make this happen. I’m not sure I’m inclined to agree anymore than I gave him credit for signing the hate crimes bill last year. If he was actively calling Senators this month, it’d be nice to know about it. He didn’t even make a public appearance to comment on today’s passage.
Let’s not forget the very cruel public condemnation we had to listen to before we could get to this point. I think Senator McCain sincerely believes that Marines are going to lose legs because they’re so distracted by all the gay sex that’s going to happen around them. How a servicemember’s freedom to email their partner back home inhibits the capability of other troops to perform at 110% is beyond me. We also heard plenty of people say that DADT has “worked.” It is impossible to defend DADT without defending homophobia, but that’s what we heard. It’s too much trouble to allow gays and lesbians to be honest because it’s better that they suffer than to disturb the homophobia of some of the other troops. This is nasty, demonizing language that reminds us how inhuman many still find us to be. Even once we achieve full legal equality, we will have a LONG way to go.
Another disappointing reality of the day is how it feels that DADT repeal was passed on the back of the DREAM Act. It reminded me of how bittersweet I felt about the election of Barack Obama and the passage of Proposition 8. There are thousands of young people who are eager to give back to the only nation they’ve known, but because they are undocumented, they have no pathway to citizenship. They are being punished for doing nothing, which strikes me as being cruel and unusual. The DREAM Act would have been good for them, good for the military, good for education, and good for the economy. Unfortunately, xenophobia won out, and thanks to Republicans, these young people continue to exist without real options for their lives. There was incredible cross-support between DADT and DREAM, and the inability of DREAM to proceed is a crushing reminder of the overall ineffectiveness of the Senate, the potential for Republicans to politically obstruct, and the importance of us all advocating outside our own communities and issues.
We mourn the indefinite death of the DREAM Act.
Now more than ever is when we have to push forward. We can be grateful for every step of progress, but every step of progress should support the next. If our leaders are willing to say one form of discrimination against the LGBT community is wrong, then so too should they be ready to say the same of other forms. We must hold them to that and not permit a “that’s enough for now” attitude.
Is it as likely to happen with a Republican-controlled House? No. But I don’t think the movement is going to cave on ENDA or DOMA-repeal because of that alone.
I just feel like today’s victory doesn’t erase the conflicts and complaints that we’ve had. We won in the end, but the criticism from every step of the way is still warranted. The Democratic Party and Gay, Inc. still have to own and learn from their missteps. And ultimately, we all still have a lot of work ahead of us. I totally agree that some folks have worked incredibly hard and earned this victory and deserve a break, but that means they sub out and we press on.
Am I a Debbie Downer? Maybe. But we’re not done, and I’d rather keep my eye on the ball.