Don’t Ask Obama & He Won’t Tell You

WEST_POINTX390While President Obama’s record on gay rights has never been one to write home about, he was one of the only 3 candidates during the tail end of the primaries to outline an extensive plan to bring equity to the queer community on many important issues. When he emerged as the nominee, people focused in on the rights he had not supported, like marriage, ignoring his promises to ensure health care coverage, pensions, etc. for domestic partners, to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, allow same sex partners the right to petition for legal status of immigrant partners, recognize homophobia as a legitimate cause for an asylum case, and ensure an end to workplace discrimination.  These goals were outlined clearly on his pre-election website and outlined here on this blog during the election. In fact, as an Obama voter and current supporter of his administration, I was among the most vocal in pointing out his promises for women and the queer community in the blogosphere/amongst some feminist groups because, while I think he had things to work on, many people seemed to assume he was more misogynist and homophobic than any other candidate. They reported attitudes and policies that were never endorsed or directly contradicted by the Obama team as if they were true and they were willing to cost us the election over these “misconceptions.” However, as his first 100 days has shown us, he has done more than most critics believed he could or would for women’s rights. He has also publicly endorsed ENDA and supported immigration reform that benefits same sex couples and women. He has also begun to tackle the horrible economy, and re-establish the global image of N. America, including our leadership, humanitarian efforts, and our credibility in the Global South, all the while emphasizing diplomacy.

Call me naive, but based on that record and the promises on his website, I thought we’d be all right. I somehow still think that if something is in writing, even on the internet, it is real. I forget how easily people edit or delete text on the internet and then pretend they never said it.  If google didn’t capture it or has already updated its archived pages, the only thing left of the original record is someone who now looks wrongheaded for referring to it. Well, I guess that makes me wrongheaded . . . You see, all those promises have been taken down and replaced with a generic statement of support for the equality of all people.

The issue of what was said during the elections and what is being done now that Obama has been elected is coming to a head. Surprisingly, where he seems to be overwhelmingly failing, in an otherwise critically engaged and equity creating administration, is over the military.

  • Obama’s promises to close Guantanamo have been set back and may include the use of diplock courts or deportation to equally heinous detention centers
  • Obama’s promise to bring troops home has been totally compromised by his escalation in Afghanistan and the need to clean up Bush’s mess throughout the region, including in Pakistan
  • While Obama has made good on his promise to end torture, he has basically given the people responsible for violating the Geneva Convention a free pass while foot soldiers pay the price for “following orders” (and they should, but not alone)
  • Obama’s promise to end contract armies in Iraq led to the end of Blackwater’s contract (ended today) but simply replaced their contract with a new company of private soldiers AND allowed Blackwater to continue to be the main policing and protection force in all of the South of Iraq
  • Obama’s promise to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a key issue that set him apart from Clinton in the first debate in which this question was asked, hasn’t even made it on to his agenda for the year

While some of these things are unavoidable, many of them are not. And while all of them are important, the last one is garnering national attention because of the dismissal of a West Point Graduate and critical officer for ongoing Middle East intelligence.

Dan Choi appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC on March 19, 2009 as part of her discussion of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and Obama’s unrealized promise. He is a founding member of the Knights Out, a group of queer West Point grads offering to help in the transition from the Clinton DADT era to the Obama administration’s era of promised recognition of the critical contribution of GLBTQI people in the military. Here is that interview (which mysteriously cut out the minute Choi identified as gay):

A month and half later, Dan Choi received a letter of discharge stating that his appearance had “negatively affected the good order and discipline of the New York Army National Guard.” (The Advocate) They also supposedly offered him honorable discharge if he did not speak out on the issue. Dan Choi chose to be brave and speak:

While I do not support war as a solution to international problems nor do I believe the current efforts in the Middle East should ever have been engaged in, I think that pacifists, hawks, and everyone in between can agree that it is never prudent to dismiss qualified soldiers from their posts over issues of identity or any other issues that have no bearing on their performance. More than that, in a time of multiple wars, when the military is desperate for soldiers, to turn people away who are qualified and willing to serve is a travesty at best. To turn out people like Dan Choi, who is a fluent Arabic linguist, we are fighting multiple wars in the Middle East is ridiculous and dangerous.

Obama said so himself in an exclusive interview with the Advocate before Dan Choi was dismissed:

But I think there’s increasing recognition within the armed forces that this is a counterproductive strategy — ya know, we’re spending large sums of money to kick highly qualified gays or lesbians out of our military, some of whom possess specialties like Arab-language capabilities that we desperately need. (The Advocate)

Yet, as the video above shows, Obama has backed off his promise to end DADT in his first year. Instead, he has replaced it with the vague promise of “it will take time.” Yes, Mr. President, it will and all the more if you are doing nothing to change it but hand writing platitude filled notes to our troops.

15,000 troops have already lost their jobs and hard earned benefits because of DADT. According to Knights Out, 65,000 more stand to lose their jobs if ever outed. For those who claim to support our troops, where is the support for them?

Please join me in telling the President that he needs to support all of our troops by emailing him the powerful phrase, uttered by Dan Choi in support of his brothers and sisters in arms:

“Don’t lie. Don’t Hide.”

Give Dan Choi and the 15,000 others dismissed on DADT back their jobs & benefits


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