Ask... Tell... But Don't Dream.
Never, once in my life have I had an inkling of desire to serve in the military. I remember my friend in High School, Nicki, telling me that her college aspiration was to attend the Naval Academy. My immediate reaction was... "Why?" Her plan had something to do with a longer term goal of working at NASA but she also explained that a military education was prestigious and meant a huge host of future opportunities. At the time, I could not even fathom where she was coming from and focused my own college search on small liberal-arts type schools that would get me as far away as possible from Central Illinois.
Once at college, and in the years since, I identify more times than not with the anti-war, anti-military side of the spectrum. Therefore, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell never felt like my battle. I figured, gay and lesbian folks (Note: DADT nor it’s repeal does anything to address transgender folks in the military), were actually lucky to be off the hook for fighting and potentially dying for our country.
But my idealism and naivety about the issue faded when I looked more deeply at the implications of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. My friend and college in the COLAGE movement, Paulie, opened my eyes to the impact of the law, not just on gay and lesbian folks but their families. Paulie’s mother, a life long member of the military (though now on the civilian side of the military) and incidentally a lesbian, was forced to be closeted to save her job. This meant, Paulie, even as a young child, and her family had to lie. They depended on the military not just for income but for their home, Paulie’s education, and more. Living with lies and secrecy was not and is not healthy for any child or family.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was an unnecessary law that wrongly validated homophobia and should have never been enacted in the first place. The idea that the right to serve in the military was a crucial step forward is complicated, as the fierce folks at Queers for Economic Justice point out. . But to me, the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell means that service members and their families can be real and open and no matter what my feelings are about war and the military, that is a good thing.
Any law that has the basic premise that you should hide a major part of yourself or pretend to be something you are not is wrong. Our country is about freedom and welcoming folks for who they are- no matter their religion, sexual orientation or background, right?
Not so much. Looking at this truth, I am having a hard time fully celebrating the repeal of DADT. Because on the same morning that Senate repealed it, they failed to pass the DREAM Act.
For me, the DREAM Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell have more in common than might be apparent. The Dream Act would have given a clear pathway to young adults to gain citizenship by committing to at least two years of undergraduate study and/or military service. The DREAM Activists, an inspiring group of young leaders organizing for the law, risked so much to be able to ‘come out’ as undocumented youth who were seeking a path to citizenship. Additionally, because many of the Dream Activists wanted a chance to serve in the military, the bill was about giving those who are ready and willing to serve the country a way to do so.
Both bills are also about opportunity. For a young person who entered the United States as a minor,whether they had documentation or not, there was not a lot of choice involved. After years of attending schools here, learning the language, finding community, and growing older in the United States, the Dream Act would have granted them the opportunity for citizenship. The opportunity to contribute to the United States and no longer live in secrecy about their immigration status. And the opportunity to feel like a valued member of the country, not just someone who happens to live here.
Why, then, did several Senators who agreed that DADT must end, also block the Dream Act? Until we recognize that the fear and hatred of immigrants is just as problematic as fear and hatred of LGBTQ people, the DADT victory remains bittersweet.
I hope, with the DADT win sealed, that activists in the LGBTQ and allied communities who fought for it will consider now lending their support to the ongoing efforts of the Dream Activists. Because while DADT is unjust, so was the fate of the Dream Act. And as Dr. King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." I look forward to a future where all young people can ask and tell, but can also dream.