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VIEWS: Queer eyes on what prize? Ending DADT
by Erica Meiners and Therese Quinn
2009-02-25

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So, we've heard that Barack Obama is going to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. As two queer teachers that have been working hard to arrest the militarism of education in Chicago—a public high school for every branch of the military, and two for the army ( and not one of these with a Gay Straight Alliance for students ) , and over 10,000 youth from 6th to 12th grade participating in some form of military program in their public schools—we are not leaping with joy at this rumor. Our reluctance has our allies scratching their heads:

"Isn't this what you want?"

"Equal right to fight!"

"What a success for the gay rights movement!"

"I guess this solves the discrimination problem in military public schools, then."

"Gay kids can join up!"

Sure, we think uniforms are hot, but this—permitting out lesbians and gay men to enlist—was never the purpose of gay liberation, a movement aiming as tenaciously at peace as equal rights.

And for us, it's clear that overturning Don't Ask, Don't Tell ( DADT ) won't begin to address the public policy catastrophe of turning over our public schools, and some of our nation's poorest youth, to the military.

We argue that the system of public education should remain a civilian system. This statement rests on three proposals. First, adults may choose to enlist; youth cannot. Next, schools should educate students for the broadest possibilities and choices; the military narrowly aims to prepare recruits. And last, schools should protect young people and nurture peace; but the military is contagiously violent. From the ugly revelations of Abu Ghraib, and the rash of sexual assaults on military women by men in service, to many veterans' post-service violence turned both inward and outward—its legacy of brutality is so vast that the Department of Defense might more aptly be called the Department of Destruction.

This proposed repeal, far from any big win, offers queers an important opportunity to think about our strategies and goals. Let's not unfurl our victory banner too quickly; instead, we should keep our queer eyes, and organizing, focused on the real prize: social justice.

Yes, gays, lesbians and transgendered folks are discriminated against and excluded from full participation in our society and its institutions, including schools ( read any report about rates of violence against gay students or employment discrimination for out queer or non-gendering conforming school staff ) , military ( DADT—enough said? ) , families ( remember the 57% majority that passed the 2008 gay adoption ban in Arkansas ) and religion ( many religious colleges and universities ban homosexual students, staff, and faculty—legally! ) .

Add to this list the ease with which otherwise smart people, including President Obama, reserve marriage and all its attendant privileges for "one man and one woman" while also claiming they are "ferocious" defenders of gay rights—that's a fairly self-serving stance, isn't it? Yes, gays and lesbians still have a long way to go toward achieving...let's just call it "fully human status" in the United States.

The push to repeal DADT is, on the one hand, a no-brainer—all people should have all rights, right?

But this proposal can also be understood, and it is by us, as an attempt to remap what our social justice goals, as queers, should be—not the right to privacy and the right to public life, and certainly not the right to live lives free from our nation's ever-present militarism and never-ending war. Instead, lesbians, gays, transgendered and bisexuals are encouraged to forget our historical places at the helm of social justice thinking and labor ( to mention just a few, Jane Addams, Bayard Rustin, Barbara Jordan, and of course, Harvey Milk ) , constrict our vision and dreams, and just be happy for an opportunity to participate in a military that depends on poverty and permanent war to keep enlistment high.

Let's forget repealing DADT and cut right to the chase: Repeal the Department of Defense. What about establishing a Department of Peace, as Dennis Kucinich has already proposed? Let's pair that with bear brigades tossing pink batons ( and, of course, an annual teddy bear picnic ) . Or, we can take up the mermaid parade as an organizing celebration, with its dress-up and float creation. Either of these fanciful, and very queer, forms would allow us all to play and create together, and each seems a better activity for a school to take up that pretend soldiering.

Then let's organize for some real social justice goals.

For starters, let's demand universal healthcare, affordable housing, and meaningful living wage employment that supports flourishing, not merely subsisting, lives, for all.

We know we don't need 6th or 12th graders wearing military uniforms, marching with wooden guns on public school grounds. We don't need twelve year olds parsing military ranks or plotting battles. However, we could use more teens painting murals, stitching gowns, and writing code and lyrics. In short, we don't need child soldiers, but we could use more young artists.

A public school system that teaches peace and art, with fiercely equal opportunities for all students. We can see it now: painting classes, soccer clubs, computer gaming classes, drum-kits, comprehensive sexuality education, and musical theatre in every school. That's so excellently queer, and so very just.

Erica Meiners is an associate professor of education and women's studies at Northeastern Illinois University and a social-justice activist. Therese Quinn is an assistant professor of art education at the School the Art Institute of Chicago, and director of the Bachelor in Fine Arts with Emphasis in Art Education program.


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