(written Tues. 5/27)
I’m on the second (or technically third if you include our stint in Boston) day of the Right to Serve Tour. In order to protest the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy of the U.S. Military, about 20 Harvard students and I are busing around the East Coast doing sit-ins at military recruitment centers and trying to talk with Senators to encourage them to introduce a bill in order to repeal DADT.
I had some discomfort signing up for the trip only because everything military makes me extremely uncomfortable, and I felt that somehow supporting LGBT people’s right to serve openly means that I am pro-military. I assumed however, that for most people on the trip it would be much more about the bigger picture of LGBT rights and our treatment as second class citizens not deserving of equal treatment, and less about the military specifically. I have felt however, that there is pressure to respond to the press as if we are all here because we want to serve or might be interested if we knew it was an option for us or else we will not be taken seriously. I figure that because of my immediate rejection of all topics military, I’m very uneducated about this topic, and this week will be a good educational experience. I have learned a lot about the military so that I can speak about it more knowledgeably, but I will never claim that I am here because I have any interest in signing up or seeing any of my LGBT friends do so.
I have also found myself uncomfortable with how easily as a group we have fallen into using pro-military rhetoric without really thinking it through. One sign that we held yesterday at the memorial day parade in Old Orchard Beach, Maine as we tried to intercept Senator Susan Collins read “Gay troops support America. Do we support them?” I realize that the military itself has the potential for good such as in disaster relief and the ending of WWII. I also realize that until there are no countries with militaries, the United States is going to have one so it does no good to pretend it doesn’t exist, and instead should be engaged with and reformed. There are so many things wrong with our current military (such as the military’s current involvement in world affairs, the way soldiers are recruited, the misogynistic and homophobic culture fostered within the military, to name a few) and DADT is just one of those things. The military might support an America (or a corner of it), but it is not the one that I subscribe to, belong to, or want to see supported.
Although I see people’s service in the military as much more a detriment than benefit to the world I live in (and the world I want to see/take part in creating), I still believe that forcing a person to live closeted is a huge disservice to that person as a human being, as well as a hugely symbolic disservice to the LGBT community. The main reason for DADT is that it is predicted that the existence of openly gay troops in the military will lower “team morale.” This is where my unequivocal, forceful support of our trip comes in. The government’s official and legal stance on LGBT people is that when allowed to talk openly about our loved ones, we only cause discomfort and are therefore a hindrance to team building. There is something very very wrong there.
This becomes clearer when I hear things such as Senator Susan Collins’ speech after the Memorial Day parade on Monday, where she stressed the importance of not just honoring soldiers but also their families. I don’t remember how she found so many words to praise the existence of happy, wholesome, normal families but I do know that she talked for a good five minutes just on that topic. I couldn’t help but feel more angry with each sentence. Not only within the military, but at every level of the politics of this country, the same kind of supportive, positive vocabulary to describe queer families is completely missing. In fact it’s pretty hard to make a community feel respected when the basic right (marriage) allowing them to create what is broadly understood as a legal (healthy) family, is denied in 48 states. And we all probably know how important it is to receive respect from the outside in order to foster it from the inside.
There are only so many times you can see and hear public descriptions of what is “good,” “normal,” “healthy,” as an LGBT person without seeing yourself included in them before you think that you belong on another list somewhere, a list of the unhealthy, secretive, subversive. Talk about mental health issues of the LGBT community (higher suicide rates, higher levels of drug and alcohol abuse); once we are included in public rhetoric as first of all existing and second of all deserving of the same “honoring” as any family, maybe we will start looking at ourselves with the same respect.
I have seen so many examples among my LGBT friends and acquaintances (and lovers) of the effects of this lack of recognition of our sexualities as healthy, and therefore our internalization of the fact that therefore we must be unhealthy, deviant, undeserving of respectful acknowledgment of our queer relationships and families. Although having the legal right to marry someday (in my home state!) is a step, I won’t be satisfied until my loving, compassionate, consensual relationships are recognized as just as healthy and beautiful as those of any person, and included in political/public rhetoric as so. For this week I’m willing and excited to engage with something I feel conflicted about with the hopes that it is a small movement in the right direction.
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