A Marriage of Convenience: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” –a complex and costly policy

February 23, 2011 

Ashley Lukens wrote a great article in the Honolulu Weekly about the recent repeal of the  military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and the complexities surrounding the issue of gays in the military:

One year into earning his bachelor’s degree at Hawaii Pacific University (HPU), John Foster longed for more structure and direction in his life. In 2003, he joined the US Navy and began a career as a linguist. Shortly after, Foster married Amy Carson. During their five-year marriage, the couple, who asked not to have their real names published, remained open about their gay and lesbian sexual identities.

Their story highlights the absurdities of living as a gay or lesbian service member under the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy. It also illustrates the complexities involved in the repeal of the policy, which will soon go into effect. What will the repeal of DADT mean for Foster, Carson and other soldiers–gay or straight, married or single?

She raises complex questions about justice and equality for LGBTQ service members and the impacts and role of the military in U.S. wars and occupations of other countries, including Hawai’i.  Some doubt that the repeal of the policy will amount to significant change in the military culture:

Kathy Ferguson, professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, doubts that the repeal of DADT will significantly alter the military’s homophobic culture.

“As long as the military proudly trains soldiers through the strategic use of sex and gender –“Don’t be a lady, a little girl, etc.,” and as long as contempt for women and homosexuals remains at the heart of soldiering –then gay service members will remain the object of contempt.”

The importance of sexuality in soldiering underpinned the conservative opposition to the repeal of DADT.

Eri Oura, former organizer of the Collective for Equity Justice and Empowerment and AFSC Hawai’i committee member and yours truly were interviewed for this article:

“A change in policy does not lead to a change in culture,” echoes local LGBT activist Eri Oura. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, like gay marriage and civil union legislation, are policy changes. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell does not in any way imply that we can stop fighting for justice for all peoples.”

For Oura, this fight for justice requires that we not uncritically laud the repeal of DADT.

“I remember the day that Obama signed the repeal, there was an air of triumph across the LGTB community. People were really excited about it, my friends included, because it would open up new job and educational opportunities. What people were forgetting is that the military is a vehicle for war. Every day, people are being killed unnecessarily–soldiers and civilians alike. It does not help those of us who are struggling to liberate their communities from the forces of our economic draft.”

So, does celebrating the repeal of DADT bolster US militarism or make us complicit with the US’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Does it implicate LGTB activists in the effects of militarism here in Hawaii?

The fight against militarism and the fight for equality are important political battles in Hawaii. As Native Hawaiian activists struggle for cultural access at Makua Valley, environmentalist fight against the Stryker Brigade and LGTB advocates begin to assess the passage of a civil unions bill, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell raises some interesting questions for local residents and political leaders.

Kyle Kajihiro of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), is particularly wary of the effects of DADT’s repeal on demilitarization efforts in Hawaii. The AFSC focuses on the clean up, restoration and return of military-held lands in Hawaii as a way of moving toward a sustainable, peaceful society.

“We feel Hawaii should not be used as a place to expand US militarism and conduct wars against other peoples,” he explains. AFSC focuses on educating Hawaii’s youth on the realities of military service and promoting alternative ways of serving their community.

But even Kajihiro admits that the repeal of DADT creates a conundrum for progressive activists.

“Although we advocate for demilitarization and alternatives to the military, we are strong supporters of Hawaii’s LGTB youth. The AFSC feels that they should be treated fairly and equally when serving in the military.”

The author generously gave me the last word:

For the Army, no matter how you look at it, the repeal of DADT is a step in the right direction, according to Kajihiro.

“People feel that if they applaud the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, they are somehow endorsing the further militarization of Hawaii,” he says. “It’s not so. Anytime the government has less control over our bodies is a reason to celebrate. That is what the repeal of DADT means — for gay and straight people alike.”


Navy commander loses carrier job over anti-gay videos

January 4, 2011 

A Commander of the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier was permanently relieved of command for producing and broadcasting a series of lewd anti-gay videos to his crew according to the Virginian-Pilot:

Adm. John C. Harvey announced today that he has permanently relieved Capt. Owen Honors as commanding officer of the aircraft carrier Enterprise for showing “exceptionally poor judgment” in producing and broadcasting a series of raunchy videos to his crew in 2006 and 2007.

The paper reports that:

The offending videos became public this weekend, proving an embarrassment to the Pentagon.

The videos, released by The Virginian-Pilot and on Saturday and Monday, feature Honors using gay slurs, pantomiming masturbation and staging suggestive shower scenes. They were played on the shipwide television system during weekly movie nights when Honors was executive officer, or second in command, of the Enterprise. Honors has since become commander of the ship.

Over the weekend, the Navy at first downplayed the videos as “humorous skits,” then called them “not acceptable” and said they were under investigation.

The videos’ existence was not news to Navy higher-ups. In a statement to The Virginian-Pilot on Friday, the Navy said its leadership had put a stop to videos with “inappropriate content” on the Enterprise about four years ago.

Army Commander won’t be sanctioned for advocating anti-gay policy

April 1, 2010

Updated at 11:32 a.m., Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mixon won’t be reprimanded

Advertiser Wire Services

The Hawaii-based commander of the Army in the Pacific will not be sanctioned for publicly urging troops to lobby against repeal of a ban on openly gay military service.

Army Secretary John McHugh said today that Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon has been told that what he did was inappropriate for an active-duty officer but that he won’t receive a letter of reprimand or be forced to step down.

McHugh said Mixon now “recognizes the difficulties in appearing to become an advocate in trying to shape the opinion of the force rather than ascertain” its view on the issue.

“We consider the matter closed as of today,” McHugh told reporters in Washington.

Mixon, who is based at Fort Shafter, wrote a letter to the editor of Stars and Stripes saying he didn’t believe most military personnel would support repeal of the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays. In the letter Mixon urged troops and families to make their feelings known to their commanders and elected officials.

President Barack Obama wants the military to do away with the ban on openly gay service, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates is conducting a review on the matter.

Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly criticized Mixon for his letter.

Mullen was especially pointed, saying officers who didn’t agree with policy should “vote with their feet.”


The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report

Obama, Tea Party Populists, and the Progressive Response

January 17, 2010 

How is the Right organizing to build power in the U.S.?

What are the ramifications for the peace and social justice movements?

How do these trends affect us in Hawai‘i?

Obama, Tea Party Populists, and the Progressive Response

Speaker:  Chip Berlet, Political Research Associates


Friday, February 5th, 2010

6:30 – 8:00 pm

Honolulu Friends Meeting

2426 O‘ahu Avenue

Free admission

The Right-Wing Populists who spawned the Tea Bag and Town Hall protests against Obama are a growing force and working to take over the Republican Party. Meanwhile, centrist Democrats are dominating the Obama Administration and dismissing populist anger at government bailouts that feed the wealthy and starve the poor.

Now, Ultra-Right activists are recruiting from among the angry Tea Bag Populists and targeting immigrants, people of color, Muslims, Arabs, reproductive rights activists, and lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered persons. And they are spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories about economic woes & foreign policy.

Chip Berlet spent over fifteen years as a radical journalist and organizer with student, community, and labor groups before joining Political Research Associates as Senior Analyst in the 1980s. He is co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, and penned the cover story on this topic in the current issue of the Progressive magazine.

Sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee – Hawai‘i, World Can’t Wait Hawai‘i, MANA UH Manoa chapter, and Truth 2 Youth.   For more information contact: 808-988-6266

Download pdf of leaflet