Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell is finally dead, 20 years after Bill Clinton permitted the religious right to turn its vindictive gaze on gay and lesbian soldiers. The policy was always a shambles and a fraud. It achieved the precise opposite of its promise: that prudent silence would be respected and that no one who kept his sexual orientation to him or herself would be bothered.
Almost immediately after enactment, gay advocates reported that the military services were engaged in a frantic witch hunt to root out suspected homos; thousands of lives were wrecked. Even when the country desperately needed language and other specialists after 9/11, the vigilantes continued to probe the private lives of the troops, looking for signs of forbidden, same-sex amours.
It was guaranteed that plenty would be found given the enormous appeal of the same-sex lifestyle typical of military service. All the intrusive campaigns to pretend that there were no fags and dykes in uniform were pointless and doomed to fail, but the pretense was important to preserve the military mystique and provide plenty of red meat to Christian fanatics in military careers.
‘There are no homosexuals in the Navy’, said a gay acquaintance of mine in the 1970s after serving two years himself and, by his own description, ‘fucking everything that moved’ during his posting to the Philippines. DA/DT didn’t change that, but it did energize the commissars eager to harass those whom they suspected. Like all thought control systems, it could not wipe out homosexuality or dissident impulses, but it could suppress and pervert them and terrorize people into neurotic doublethink.
Obama will get some credit for the abolition of DA/DT, which he does not deserve. The true heroes of the repeal are its victims and the many advocates, from the late Leonard Matlovich to Dan Choi, who refused to be silenced and refused to give up during decades of abuse from the reactionaries and weaseling non-support from their supposed Democratic allies.
In typical fashion Obama stood aside while the social forces favoring repeal gathered force and overcame their adversaries. Things were ‘trending in the direction’ of repeal, Obama notoriously commented when asked why there had been no movement on the issue for the first two years of his presidency. As Maureen Dowd commented: Really inspiring, dude.
Unlike Ronald Reagan, one of Obama’s admired predecessors, who used his first days in office to fire union members with a stroke of the pen, Obama was unwilling to take unilateral action. Instead, he waited until the uniformed services themselves had grown tired of the failed policy and allowed it to collapse.
There is nothing admirable about the way the country has shucked off this disaster; all the political leadership has played an appalling role, from smiling Bill Clinton who creating it when he signed off on official discrimination in 1993 to demented John McCain and his strutting colleagues now eager to collect their revenge.
The men and women who demanded their dignity and rights and battled them all into submission should not share the achievement with anybody.