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

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.”


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