Obama shifting responsibly for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Last week, with a vote of 230 to 191, the House of Representatives voted to repeal former President Bill Clinton’s 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy that bars lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer service members from serving openly in the military. On the same day the House passed to repeal DADT, so too did the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“This legislation will help make our armed forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity,” President Obama told the Associated Press.

But at the end of the day of all this historic voting, last week, the plight of our LGBTQ service members remained unchanged.

Investigations and discharges for being an openly LGBTQ service member will continue on as usual. Why? Because the Pentagon has not completed its study, reviewing how to maintain the military’s “unit cohesion” while integrating LGBTQ service members.

December 1 is the day the country will know the results of the Pentagon study. We will also know if the welcoming mat will truly begin to unfold for our LGBTQ service members.

So, with the military having the real power to either overturn or to uphold DADT, what was last week’s voting in the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee really about?

Pressure? Posturing? Or both?

“While the power to actually overturn ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ remains with military commanders many see a congressional vote before the report is completed as political pressure, ” writes W. James Antle III at the American Conservative.

And the pressure comes from both conservatives and the LGBTQ activist community.

Polls have revealed that where the country was in 1993 with DADT is vastly different from where the country is today. As a matter of fact most Americans — even Republicans — are not opposed to the military having LGBTQ service members.

But with midterm elections just five months away and with a Republican anti-Obama movement aggressively trying to retake Congress, the chances of repealing DADT become slimmer.

In last week’s House vote, 168 Republicans opposed repealing DADT and only 5 Republicans voted with the Democrat House majority.

For many in the LGBTQ community we are anxious about the repeal of DADT coming to fruition, and feel that last week’s historic voting was more about posturing from the President and his administration than effecting real and substantive change on our behalf.

“For the two of us — and many more who have been working for the repeal of this legislation for months and years — this effort is simply a way for Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon to shift responsibility to one another indefinitely,” DADT activists Cpl. Evelyn Thomas and Lt. Dan Choi wrote in an open letter.

And shifting responsibility on repealing DADT is what the Obama administration has been doing since the President took office.

For example, soon after Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the LGBTQ community waited anxiously to hear that steps were being made to repeal DADT. But on June 8 of that year when the Supreme Court refused to review the Pentagon policy that prohibits LGBTQ service members to serve openly in the military, Obama’s people added salt to the wounds of our community by stating in court papers that the ruling on DADT was correct because of the military’s legitimate concern of LGBTQ service members endangering “unit cohesion” — a concept totally debunked by a 2002 study.

While the Obama administration shifts responsibility on repealing DADT, Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. James Pietrangelo have begun a Dignity Fast, bringing focus to last week’s compromised vote that still maintains DADT rather than totally doing away with it.

“In response to the United States Senate and the House of Representatives voting on the repeal of ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ forces are mobilizing for non-violent direct action and civil disobedience. …Fasting will commence. The simple demands are (1) End DADT firings. (2) Enact non-discrimination. (3) End the insulting, wasteful study. The community knows that the President does have within his power to end the discharges immediately. The President has not responded authentically in ending the firings and inherent discrimination,” Choi wrote.

To date, more than 13,500 LGBTQ service members have been discharged under DADT, and the number continues to grow. And African American lesbians have been discharged at three times the rate at which they serve.

The posturing last week from Congress was great theater. All the thespians performed their parts well, especially Obama. Why? If DADT is not repealed, it gives the President an easy out. It allows Obama to distance himself politically by shifting the responsibility and blame for DADT’s outcome from himself to someone else.

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