May 30, 2011

Queer Issue: A Few Memorial Day Reflections on DADT and it's Repeal.

As of this writing, DADT repeal legislation has been passed by Congress but still has to be implemented and there is a whole bunch of shenanigans being done by homophobic politicians to prevent and make difficult that implementation.

Whatever. While I believe that repealing DADT was necessary, I never felt that it was the really huge victory that led to so much cheering and celebrating in the queer community. My reasoning for this view is two fold.

First, while I am not a complete pacifist, I am against the current occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. This begs the question, does supporting the repeal of DADT, mean supporting the military occupations Iraq and Afghanistan? While I do not always agree with Mathilda Bernstein Sycamore, she does make a good argument that this is the case in "A Fine Romance: Democracy Now's Amy Goodman and Lieutenant Dan Choi"
In its eagerness to jump on the bandwagon in support of the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the antiwar left becomes complicit with US wars. These reporters can't get past their joy at finding a gay struggle to support, in order to step back and realize, wait: maybe this particular gay struggle is contrary to everything I supposedly represent. That's the nightmare of assimilation we're living in -- add "gay" to any reactionary goal, and the liberals will jump on the bandwagon, but the founding values of gay liberation -- fighting police brutality; challenging US imperialism; ending oppressive institutions like marriage and the military and organized religion; and creating personal autonomy for sexual merrymaking outside of conventional norms -- nope, we rarely hear anything about those queer values.

Irregardless of whether or not supporting the DADT repeal would in fact equate to supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a more pressing issue I want to talk about. While it is often perceived that we treat our veterans with only the respect and dignity that they justly deserve, the reality is actually a bit different. Let me put it bluntly, our country has a truly shitty history when it comes to the treatment of veterans. Not just kind of shitty, really, really shitty.

When I first started this article, I thought I was going to have to search high and low to find the data to back myself up on this. Frighteningly enough, I did not have to.

Let us start with something most people will have heard about, the Washington Post article, "Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility" that uncovered the nightmarish conditions facing returning veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The article opens up with the following paragraph:
Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.

I tried to find information on whether or not conditions had improved at all since the Washington Post report was made in 2007, but failed. The Wikipeda article on the "Walter Reed Army Medical Center neglect scandal" only has information on a few administrators being fired and the government planning a review.

But the conditions at Walter Reed, whether they were fixed or not, is not the only issue. According to a government report by The Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs departments:
-- More than 3,000 cities and counties reported 75,609 homeless veterans on a single night in January of 2009; 57 percent were staying in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program while the remaining 43 percent were unsheltered. Veterans represent about 12 percent of all homeless people counted nationwide during the 2009 assessment;
-- During a 12-month period in 2009, about 136,000 veterans -- or about 1 in every 168 veterans -- spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. The vast majority of sheltered homeless veterans -- 96 percent -- experienced homelessness alone. Four percent of homeless veterans were found to be part of a family. Sheltered homeless veterans are most often single white men between the ages of 31 and 50 and living with a disability;
-- Veterans are 50 percent more likely to become homeless compared to all Americans and the risk is even greater among veterans living in poverty and poor minority veterans. HUD and VA examined the likelihood of becoming homeless among American veterans with particular demographic characteristics and found that during 2009, twice as many poor Hispanic veterans used a shelter compared with poor non-Hispanic veterans. African American veterans in poverty had similar rates of homelessness;

Again, that is not all the damning information I was able to find. According to the Think Progress Twitter Feed @TPHealth:
Something to think about this #MemorialDay: 10.9% of Iraq & Afghanistan veterans are unemployed, 2 %points higher than national average

Also, let me not forget the Time magazine article "Sexual Assaults on Female Soldiers: Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in which we get the following information:
The Pentagon's latest figures show that nearly 3,000 women were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2008, up 9% from the year before; among women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number rose 25%. When you look at the entire universe of female veterans, close to a third say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving — twice the rate in the civilian population.

To sum this all up, those that are cheering for the DADT repeal are arguably also cheering to allow LGBTQIA soldiers the chance to not only risk their lives serving their country, but for them to also face substandard medical treatment, greater difficulty in finding employment, an increased risk of homelessness, and for female soldiers, a greater chance of being raped. Ain't the DADT repeal just grand?

In all fairness, the public is often sold a much different image of the services provided to veterans then the reality of what really goes on. Memorial Day features a lot of patriotic flag waving, but almost no serious talk of the difficulties faced by veterans. At least none that I know about. I dislike public memorials for veterans because to me, they feel like ribbon cutting opportunities for politicians, that allow them to ignore the greater problems faced by veterans at a time when those politicians should be solving them. We owe it to those that have served our country in the military to understand their sacrifices and to see to it that they are treated properly upon their return from war. A couple of nice speeches and statues will not accomplish that at all.

WikiLeaks had a good quote from their article
"2011-05-30 Memorial Day in America: What the US Government Wants Americans to Remember vs. What WikiLeaks Thinks Should Be Remembered" to close this all out with:
American society does not remember the stories that soldiers like Ethan McCord [...] will live with for the rest of their lives. Society does not share the burden of memory that a soldier deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq experiences. It adorns yellow ribbons to the vehicles it drive around, awards medals to soldiers, offers minimal health care and ways to reincorporate into society upon return from deployment but little is done to give soldiers a public fora for expressing the anxiety, anguish, fear, pain or stress that a soldier brings back with him or her from a war zone.


  1. "To sum this all up, those that are cheering for the DADT repeal are arguably also cheering to allow LGBTQIA soldiers the chance to not only risk their lives serving their country, but for them to also face substandard medical treatment, greater difficulty in finding employment, an increased risk of homelessness, and for female soldiers, a greater chance of being raped. Ain't the DADT repeal just grand?"

    Hm, I think I disagree with you. Maybe? Because taking the reverse position on what you just said there seems far more problematic: "Being in the military is bad, and I am pro-LGBTQIA, so to keep these fine people from these potential bad consequences, we should keep in place discriminatory practices to make it harder for them to serve in the military. For their own protection."

    So... yes? I suppose in the name of equality I do cheer to allow all who *want* to join the military equal rights to do so, and potentially face those bad outcomes.

    That's not to say that I disagree with your points about veterans being treated badly. Not at all. I just can't agree with conflating that issue with the DADT issue.

  2. I guess I was a little too sarcastic with that remark and thanks for pointing that out to me.

    However, on the whole, I do not oppose repealing DADT, I'm merely cautious about viewing that repeal as this huge step forward for the queer community.


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