From Socialist Worker
Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation, weighs in on the debate about the military's "don't ask, don't tell" ban., author of
January 29, 2010
AS HE did on the eve of the 200,000-strong National Equality March in October, President Barack Obama called in his State of the Union speech for lifting the ban on gays, lesbians and bisexuals serving openly in the U.S. military.
It appears that Obama will eventually get around to lifting the "don't ask, don't tell" ban that was established by President Bill Clinton in a 1993 executive order. After all, with expanding wars and occupations amid economic misery, boots on the ground are needed, and dismissing highly trained personnel is costly.
Given our opposition to U.S. wars and occupations, how should socialists and other radicals view this step?
Many leftists express ambivalence or even hostility to the call for lifting "don't ask, don't tell." Why should opponents of U.S. imperialism, they ask, advocate or even care about ending a ban on LGBT people serving openly in the military?
Two left-wing activists and academics in Chicago, Therese Quinn and Erica Meiners--whom I know and respect--co-authored an article that ran in the Windy City Times, titled "Queer Eyes on What Prize? Ending Don't Ask Don't Tell." They argue that a call to lift the ban is "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 wars." Demanding an end to don't ask, don't tell, they write, will "constrict our vision and dreams."
Let me be blunt: As a longtime revolutionary socialist, I would not have selected the battles for equal marriage or lifting don't ask, don't tell as my preferred demands in a newly revived LGBT movement.
As with most social struggles, however, radicals are not consulted before people take to the streets. But hit the streets they have, in the hundreds of thousands, and the question for leftists is, as always: Which side are you on?
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THE DEPARTMENT of Defense employs more than 3 million people in the U.S. and an estimated 66,000 LGBT people are currently serving in the military. At least 600 military personnel have been discharged for homosexuality since Obama came to office--and thousands more since the policy went into effect in 1993. Untold number have been killed and wounded since the start of the current wars and occupations--none of their partners receive death or other benefits that heterosexual partners receive.
First, it cannot be a matter of indifference to leftists whether the federal government places its imprimatur on discrimination against LGBT people, any more than it was during the Second World War, when Blacks and whites served in segregated armed forces. Radicals should both call for an end to discriminatory practices in the nation's largest workforce and oppose in action and words everything that the U.S. military undertakes. Demanding the right to serve is not equivalent to advocating military service.
If activists force the government to concede equal rights to LGBT service members, it would be yet another chink in the system's ideological armor, which only aids the further erosion of reactionary statutes and social norms.
Second, radicals must reject this false contradiction between the fight for reforms and the struggle for revolution. In Rosa Luxemburg's famous pamphlet Reform or Revolution, she does not actually call for socialists to reject reforms, but reformism--that is, the strategy of tweaking the system from above as opposed to transforming it by building movements from below.
Luxemburg had the temerity to write that revolutionaries actually make the best fighters for reforms. Socialists advocate organizing among ordinary people, as opposed to relying on politicians, and we link immediate demands to broader questions of social and economic justice. These methods both strengthen working-class people's confidence and organization.
That remains the potential in this continuing social movement. Thousands who initially took to the streets over equal marriage rights being reversed in California are now demanding full federal equality in all matters of civil law in all 50 states. Many of those same LGBT activists, from San Diego to Gainesville, Fla., are marching in solidarity with immigrants and labor to demand justice in their struggles.
For that matter, the new movement has led thousands of new and experienced activists alike to attend my talks on "Sexuality and Socialism," where capitalist myths are debunked, and gender and sexuality norms are debated, along with strategies for sexual liberation.
Today, more than one year after the new LGBT movement exploded onto the scene, it is demonstrably false to say that its vision has narrowed and its demands have been neutered.
The movement has its hesitations and conservative currents, to be sure, but its future is far from decided. Hundreds of small groups across the country continue to take action on a whole range of issues--from this week's Houston protest of 120 people against the killing of a transgender woman, to a planned action February 4 against the exporting of anti-LGBT hate to Uganda, called for Washington, D.C.
The left-sounding argument that demands for lifting don't ask, don't tell--or repealing the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits same-sex marriage--are mere attempts to reform bourgeois institutions is falsely posed.
Of course, the military and marriage are bourgeois institutions. But so is the workplace. Demands for unionization or ending employment discrimination--which virtually no radical dismisses--are also about reforming bourgeois institutions. Ending workplace discrimination or gaining union representation are significant reforms, but they are just that--reforms of exploitative bourgeois institutions.
Standing outside of developing movements and critiquing the reformist nature of demands coming from thousands of people who are becoming active isn't radical--it's cynical, and it can even engender passivity.
In fact, the more some experienced leftists dismiss genuine protest movements, the more likely new movement activists will slide back into the arms of corporate-backed lobbying groups, with their electoral focus that has been a decades-long disaster.
Politics is a contact sport. Leftists need to get in the game.