Why opposing “don’t ask, don’t tell” is picking the wrong battle
Since the ’90s, a ghostly siren has been calling the mainstream gay rights movement.
The siren itself has gained the trappings of a wealthy, white, married male. For the past decade, this figure has been the magic Disney prince gay activists are fighting to be legalized into existence – ignoring, of course, that white patriarchal capitalism is the magic prince who makes our modern Western world spin.
Now, the prince also stands at attention – to the American flag, that is. Today’s gay men and women fight for the right … to fight.
As gay rights activists regain their bearings after Republicans successfully blockaded a bill that could have ended “don’t ask, don’t tell,” they may do well to remember their pacifist roots.
In 1923, the War Resisters League was formed in opposition to World War I – one of the first antiwar organizations in America. Two women named Tracy Mygatt and Frances Witherspoon lived in a romantic friendship and helped found the league.
During World War II, Bayard Rustin was a gay black man who served more than two years in prison for ignoring a draft summons. Rustin would later help Dr. Martin Luther King organize the famous 1963 march on Washington.
During the hot Southern California days of the 1950s, a man named Harry Hay walked up and down the beaches with a petition protesting the Korean War. Hay would go on to found the Mattachine Society, the first U.S. organization for gay men.
Hay believed that identifying as queer included a sort of alternate consciousness, which allows one to view others in a subject-subject relationship (as opposed to a subject-object relationship, which Hay argued is an unfortunate premise of too many abusive heterosexual relationships). Hence, Hay felt it was perplexing why men and women with such a queer consciousness would want to be violent towards other human beings.
In 1962, queer pacifist Paul Goodman argued “the war spirit” is spurred in part by state repression of creative growth – in part expressed by one’s sexuality – “and therefore [warring nations] dream up, seek out and conspire in an external catastrophe to pierce their numbness and set them free.” Goodman thus theorized that human beings lust for conflict when we are forced to ignore our most intimate of needs.
It is a worthwhile goal to end discrimination today against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals and other individuals of alternate gender identities and sexualities who desire to serve our country as a soldier in the military.
It is, after all, wrong to marginalize one’s participation in a federal organization based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
But it is so tiresome to hear gay activists appealing to a false ideology of patriotism. You may love your friend or family member in the Marines, but that individual isn’t a hero worthy of every U.S. citizen’s respect just because he or she is a Marine.
Put differently: If you don’t believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are morally justifiable, then it is morally wrong for you to support those wars – which doesn’t mean you don’t support your friends or family, but rather you are critical of the fact that certain wealthy, powerful politicians are sending your loved ones to fight for them.
Gay activists are listening to that siren call of the status quo when they argue, in dramatic tones, it is wrong to discriminate soldiers who live and die for this wonderful country. The real travesty is that anyone should need to take up a gun and die for a country. Early American queers knew this and, while understanding the balance between fighting against marginalization and pacifism, still took a stand against war.