What Does The DADT Repeal Actually Mean?

Hey, remember how Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was officially approved for repeal in the House and Senate last week? I KNOW ME TOO. You may have been vaguely aware at the time that there was some fine print underneath the giant DADT REPEALED! headline, but figured that you would look into all that later. Well, I think later is roughly now, so let’s take a look at that.

If you feel like you’re a little fuzzy on the details, there’s a reason – a lot of what needs to happen is pretty vague and unsubstantiated. Basically, the repeal has passed through the House and Senate, and is waiting for the next step – certification by the President. Together with his top military advisors, Obama is supposed to declare, by the power of his signature, his belief that repealing DADT won’t affect the military’s fighting ability. Which is kind of the hundred billion dollar question.

As Senator McCain has demonstrated, there are a variety of ways to interpret the information we have on that issue, and no one knows what Obama and his advisors will come up with, or how they will draw that conclusion. Obama has definitely indicated that he plans to give the certification; the signing is on Wednesday at 9:15 am. But the full repeal won’t take place until two months after that letter of certification is signed, after the military has done their analysis. Some, like Dan Choi, have implied that this certification might come later rather than sooner. Specifically, he said “…if you drag your feet and politicize this with your theoretical calculations as you have these past two years, you will be guilty of abetting those who loudly proclaim homophobia from their platforms and pulpits.” Defense Secretary Gates has said:

“I will approach this process deliberately and will make … certification only after careful consultation with the military service chiefs and our combatant commanders and when I am satisfied that those conditions have been met for all the services, commands and units.”


And once this hurdle is passed and DADT really is over, there’s a whole other set of questions. Not to sound like a right-wing military official, but – really, how are we going to make this work? The New York Times has helpfully detailed every social barrier to full integration of open gay and lesbian servicemembers in the armed forces, and while they don’t come close to being a reason not to repeal DADT, they do give one pause about how exactly this is going to work out, at least in the short term.

“Coming from a combat unit, I know that in Afghanistan we’re packed in a sardine can,” said Cpl. Trevor Colbath, 22, a Pendleton-based Marine who returned from Afghanistan in August. “There’s no doubt in my mind that openly gay Marines can serve, it’s just different in a combat unit. Maybe they should just take the same route they take with females and stick them to noncombat units.”

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that gay Marines already serve in combat units and are just forced to lie about it – because everyone seems to feel like ignoring that fact, so why not? – it seems like a lot of people think that while there’s nothing wrong with gay people, some changes need to be made. NYT says that “most of the approximately two dozen Marines interviewed said they personally did not object to gay men or lesbians serving openly in the military,” and that’s actually about as statistically sound as any research the military has done, so let’s go with that.

Regardless, I can see how interacting with some of these servicemen in a combat situation could be tense; one Marine interviewed predicted that there would be “a difficult transition period during which harassment of openly gay troops would be common.” Because, as his comrade says, “Being gay means you are kind of girly. The Marines are, you know, macho.” Other thoughts, from a former Navy man who called in to NPR:

JOHN: Well, my only concern about this is when I was in the Navy in the ’80s, you would be in so much trouble as a guy if you were caught near women’s berthing quarters on a ship. They absolutely kept berthing quarters separate.

Now we’re going to have straight guys having to live with homosexual guys and straight women living with homosexual women. If a straight guy doesn’t have privacy from a homosexual guy, why are women going to have privacy from men?

CONAN: Well, some would argue…

JOHN: If we don’t, if straight guys don’t have privacy or straight women don’t have privacy, then nobody should have privacy.

CONAN: I can understand your point, but some would point out that there are a lot of lesbians and homosexual men in the military now, and the housing arrangements seem to work out OK.

JOHN: That doesn’t make it right.

CONAN: So you would advocate that there should be separation now?

JOHN: Well, yes. If – basically, in a crude way, it comes down to: If I don’t get to look at the women, then gay guys don’t get to look at the straight guys.

CONAN: All right, John, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

I guess most simply, the problem is this: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is a symptom, not the cause, of a deeply homophobic institutional attitude in the military (and rest of the country). Repealing it is undoubtedly the ethical and American thing to do, but it won’t change the homophobic and misogynistic climate, at least not overnight. Everyone seems to be in agreement that things can’t continue as usual, but what needs to change is a point of contention. Do gay people need to be housed separately, like “females,” or does the rest of the military need to attend some serious diversity training? It’s a question that I’m sure will be torturously played out in every form of media and John McCain’s press statements over the next few weeks.

Some changes are at least marginally positive; the president of Harvard notes that she’s glad she can welcome the ROTC back onto campus soon. They were originally denied access to campus because then-dean and current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan had denied them; she felt that DADT was at odds with the campus’s non-discrimination policy. Now students could once again have the option of attending school with the tuition paid by the military, and not later being forced to pay all of it back if someone outs them.

On the other hand, some (Christian conservative) people are concerned that, aside from curtailing a Marine’s freedom to take a heterosexual shower, a DADT repeal might also oppress military chaplains. The Christian Post observes that “In Canada, they don’t allow chaplains to preach… about homosexuality,” and expresses fear that the same thing may come to pass here. They also write that “we know how it is going to end up according to the Bible,” which sounds excessively ominous, but their concerns are probably shared by many.

And while many of you already know, it should be acknowledged – the passing of the DADT repeal came at the same time that the DREAM Act failed, which would have allowed a generation of young people a path to citizenship. Without it, thousands of youth who are working and attending universities in this country, contributing to our nation both economically and personally, may never be allowed to experience its benefits and protections. While we’re glad that this one victory for our particular marginalized demographic could be won and we will be allowed to serve the country we call home, we’re saddened that anyone else was denied the same right, and sad that these things are left up to the debate of politicians and government officials at all.

In short, no one is really sure what’s happening or what will happen next, least of all the people in charge of making it happen. Sometimes (or arguably always,) progress is scary and confusing. But progress it is, and we’re proud and grateful that this is a moment we’re alive to witness.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 767 articles for us.

50 Comments

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    Thanks for the explanation, Rachel.

    When I read all of these articles though, and hear about people saying that “we should have separate quarters” or “gay men shouldn’t be in combat units”, I get a little confused. Even if you were going to have a policy like that, the fact is that many gay 18- or 20-year-olds simply don’t know they’re gay yet, or aren’t sure. What do you do then? I know coming out was hard enough for me, and I had a period of about 5 years of going back and forth, thinking “am I or aren’t I?”, and I didn’t even have to worry about whether I was breaking some sort of military policy.

    You know, what about that gay boy who’s lying in his tent at night in Iraq thinking, “I really don’t know if I’m gay, but I should make a decision right now, because if I am, then I guess I’m in the wrong tent/unit/whatever,” and then he panics and he can’t do his job properly? You know?

    Anyway, I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I’m just sayin’. It doesn’t make much sense.

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      Seriously. I went to a woman’s college, and if you’d told me that I had to decide whether to stay in the Straight People Dorm, or the Gay People Dorm, I probably would’ve had an aneurysm. That period in my personal development sucked enough when the only thing I had to worry about myself (and my neglected boyfriend).

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    Proof that Elena Kagan is not qualified.

    She denied recruiters access because of “their” discrimination. However, DADT was NOT the military’s policy.

    It was the law of the land, passed by Congress and FORCED by law on the military.

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    Rachel K,

    You are young and idealistic, and one cannot fault you for that. Homophobia may be a root problem. So, since you are idealistic, I ask you, how do YOU think you should deal with a persons’ (assumed damaged) “homophobic” feelings and thinking? Is legislation the *real* way to solve it? Does *that* answer all the questions? If it does not, does the implication that we have “corrected” this mean that everything outside the rules we have written is ok because it is “legal” and therefore *not* bad? And does this at all deal with a person’s heart? Isn’t *that* where the real problem lies?

    Please understand this also: Accommodation is not a one-way street. I feel that you label all people who do not see this issue as you do as “homophobic” and that would be very un-accepting of you when you are fighting for others to be accepted. Do you see where that *may* be a problem? Some of those people may *just* be “homophobic” having a fear for no good reason. Some may have no fear, but oppose the concept of homosexuality as being anything other than a damaged outlook on life, very similar to the very way you see *them* as damaged. Many are probably both. The attitudes of the “homophobes” and the “homophobe bashers” are almost mirror images of each other. There is hate on both sides.

    So what are you doing to reach out to those people that validates that they should reach out to you? You may not see this yet, but in time, I think you will. If not, the circle of hate just spins around one more time, no matter how you change the laws.

    ;'{P~~~

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      (NB: I’m using the words ‘queer’ and ‘queer folk’ as umbrella words to describe people whose sexuality, gender identity or gender expression differs from the norm. Likewise, ‘homophobia’ will also be inclusive of transphobic attitudes, as the two are inseparably linked. )

      You’ve written a lovely, reasoned response, but I think that you’re coming from a side, and therefore logical bias, that Rachel unfortunately doesn’t share. (having her own logical biases to deal with).

      “Is legislation the *real* way to solve it?”
      Clinton-era legislation is what got us into all this. The only appropriate way to reverse said legislation is, well, more legislation, because that’s how the legislature works.
      Is legislation good, in this case? Actually, yes. Is it the only thing being addressed? No – Rachel even says that “it won’t change the homophobic and misogynistic climate, at least not overnight”. However, one step can have effects significantly further down the road, as it leads to greater social acceptance and tolerance of queer folks.

      Also, because this bugs me: if your point of view is that gay people are equal to straight people, and should be equal to straight people, those who “don’t see [the] issue as you do” *ARE* homophobic, by definition.

      Is there hate on the part of queer communities against homophobes? If there is, I would argue that it fundamentally differs from that displayed by the aforementioned homophobes. Not all queers are part of Bash Back!, much as not all homophobes are part of Fred Phelps’ church. That said, there’s an issue of degree – homophobes deny queer identities legitimacy as a matter of routine. Queer folk, however, argue that homophobia is bad.

      Do you see the difference? While queerness is a central part of someone’s identity (again, not in all cases! But in enough that this is a valid point), homophobia is rarely such a central part of who a person is that it constitutes part of their identity.

      To your final question, “what are you doing to reach out to those people…?”
      The change in legislature, combined with a movement (women’s lib, civil rights movement, etc.) actually does lead to a more accepting society. There are data that show that homophobia is significantly lessened in people with at least one openly queer friend. By changing societal values, we change society, and it really is as simple (ideologically) as that.

      PS: your constant use of scare quotes around the word ‘homophobes’ (and its variants) is unnecessary. We understand what the word means, it’s an established concept. And if you were quoting, as a note, it’s not necessary to do so after the first time. That said, I think your arguments were well thought-out, albeit lacking in data(which I would be happy to provide to support my points, should you want it).

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      This attitude is problematic: “I feel that you label all people who do not see this issue as you do as ‘homophobic’ and that would be very un-accepting of you when you are fighting for others to be accepted.”

      This is not much different from saying, “By opposing intolerance, you are not being tolerant of intolerance, therefore you are just as intolerant as the people you oppose.” This does not make sense. I do not need to accept someone’s support of racist/sexist/ableist/homophobic attitudes in order to be an accepting person. As seventeen noted, homophobes want to deny queer people rights on the basis of an intrinsic part of themselves (in most cases), whereas anti-homophobic activists merely want to prevent homophobes from making life more difficult for queer people. Those are very, very different things – morally.

      Defending homophobes’ right to misrepresent, discriminate, oppress, and/or hate is not noble.

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      From your comment: “The attitudes of the “homophobes” and the “homophobe bashers” are almost mirror images of each other. There is hate on both sides.

      Homophobia is a choice. Homosexuality isn’t.

      People CAN choose homosexuality or lean towards the homo-side of their bisexuality if they want to, and some do. But most feel it was something they were born into.

      Regardless, this is truly a sad world we live in, where people still think there’s actually a debate to be had regarding bigotry. Bigotry is wrong. You can compare bigotry to whatever you want to and claim there’s a similarity or opposition there, but whatever you compare bigotry to, bigotry is still wrong. Compare it to abortion and bigotry is wrong. Compare it to apple-picking and bigotry is wrong. Compare it to wanting equal rights and bigotry is wrong. It’s just wrong. That’s a fact. That’s the whole conversation.

      Bigotry is unnecessary hatred. Whereas sexuality is a thing every human must grapple with and live out — straight, bi, gay, pan, asexual, everyone — hatred is not. Human beings are not biologically required to pick a thing to hate in the same way that we are wired to pick a thing to mate.

      I’m not saying these things to argue with you, Clearbrook because I don’t think we should have to entertain or feel obligated to defend equal rights for all human beings on Autostraddle.com or consider the conversational rights of people who deny our civil rights. You won’t be censored or deleted, but nobody should feel obligated to reply politely or reply at all to the ‘issues’ you ‘raise.’

      I’d like to take this chance to speak in general to conversations like this that regularly occur on Autostraddle — this is no longer just for you Clearbrook. It’s actually not really for you at all, but these are my feelings and I want to share them.

      There is no argument to be had here. It’s done.

      Often, the next step is to turn the debate around by claiming you came here with an open mind until the mean bully girls attacked you and say how mean we are (derailing for dummies 101). As queer women we will then feel soooo guilty since we’ve spent our entire lives figuring out how to be SUPER POLITE to people who are making COMPLETELY IRRATIONAL INSULTING arguments. But anyone who says that bigotry is comparable to sexuality is saying a really, really, really fucking mean thing, no matter what the tone (which is usually condescending) and we don’t have to entertain that.

      Many AS readers have to have arguments like this every day — with their friends, families, co-workers, etc. But they don’t have to have those arguments here unless they want to. This is a safe space, and anyone who dares to enter it in hopes to defend homophobia on any level — BECAUSE IT IS NEVER OK, NEVER — the onus is on YOU, my friend, to enter with civility into the conversation, it is not on us to bend ourselves to fit your hatred into our worldview.
      +
      Again I’m not interested in debating you (you can pick this apart as well, I’m sure) so don’t waste your time on replying to me if that’s what you’re in the market for.

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    These people are so stupid. Repeal of DADT means that gay men and women get to have the CHOICE whether to serve openly or not; not that they’re forced to be openly gay when they risk harassment and homophobic violence.

    Plus, I don’t get the straight guys living with gay guys thing. Silly me, I thought gays were attracted by gays, not by straights! I think the straights are being a little paranoid here and maybe are a little afraid of the feelings THEY could develop being close to the gays more than the potentially harassing behavior of the gays. And I also think it’s time that women and men mixed.

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    i was in the military
    i never met anyone in the military who gave a shit about someone being gay or not. in fact there was an incident as basic where the two girls told our command sgt major (because they thought they were “caught”) they hooked up and then our drill sgts came to their rescue with some shit like “look no one gives a fuck that your gay but policy is key in the military and you just have to be careful if you want this job”

    in fact when going over DADT policy every single cadre member, first sgt, command sgt major, whatever, has said “look if you’re gay i don’t give a fuck, do what you want. this is just policy that i am forced to tell you. i just want you to protect me out in the battlefield” or something corny like that.

    and i know i’m missing the whole point of this article (i think) but i do see why it wouldn’t be fair if a man and woman cannot sleep in same quarters then homosexuals who may be attracted to each other shouldn’t eigther but i’m actually 100% sure that this is an issue no one will give a shit about because it just means more bullshit work for the NCOs and commanding officers to deal with.

    and whatever to that guy in the navy, he picked the military that chooses to go out to sea with a bunch of a men

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    People are more “whoreaphobic” than anything. Most gays in military are whores whom want to shack up with potential lovers. Lying that they are not gay then sleeping in the room with other men. Men and women don’t shack up on a military base like whores. These wierdos will never repect the true essance of marriage and exclusive relationships. Now all we have nothing more than a bunch of military homosexual whores basically. If they were men living with the women in the same manner they would be called whores as well. It ain’t about being a gay it’s about being a full on whoredog. The gay whoredogs-devil dogs whatever…

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      “CUE THE WHORES !………WHERE ARE THE WHORES?…..can somebody get the damn whores out here?……I don’t know—check in wardrobe…..christ I need another job…..somebody else go find the Elves, they follow the whores out after the musical number…..”

      alright then, the new Xmas espresso machine is working a-okay

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        Sorry, I was trying to make fun of “Reality” with a quote from Tommy Boy, but I replied to the wrong one the first time. It was a joke, albeit not a very good one.

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    Of course legislation is the first step in fighting prejudice. Being forced to lie about who you are sends the message to society that being gay is shameful. It seems empty to argue for tolerance when the government actively endorses such discrimination. I’m confused as to how you would suggest we go about changing beliefs in every ‘person’s heart’?

    Repealing DADT tells people ‘don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall’. I’m excited

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    This comment section had me so engaged and excited and in the time in took me to publish my comment the bigots have shown up with their baseball bats. How do these people find the site? I was really looking forward to a good discussion. :(

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    It’s funny, reading something roughly paraphrased as, “You know, it’s the homos that are the whores in the military,” seeing as there’s a fuck ton of heterosexual promiscuity and domestic violence in the military as it is. This notion that heterosexuals who serve are, by default, these perfect angels of virtue when left to their own devices and absent of homosexuality is either insanely naive or willfully ignorant.

    I know good men who have been in some horrific shit in Iraq and and Afghanistan who have cheated on their wives while on deployment. They served with serious honor, but that doesn’t mean they honored their vows. I’ve known female soldiers who were raped or molested by their male counterparts, and who were ignored or reprimanded upon reporting the crimes. I have a straight, married, female friend who had a bunkmate in Iraq concoct a story about her and her other bunkmates having wild orgies so as to destract from the fact that she was getting ready to be outed for infidelity. This person tried to use DADT in a combat deployment to try and cover her own behavior.

    I’m not trying to malign the services – my brother serves, as do several of my friends, and they are all good people. But the military is just that – made up of people, and people are flawed. Gay or straight, acting like straight people are miraculously less whorish than gays in the same setting really doesn’t even warrant the words I’ve made an effort to write.

    You just don’t know the way the world fucking works, in or out of the military if you don’t see that.

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    What I like most about DADT being repealed is that now in my town (near a large army base), girlfriends, boyfriends, and partners can do simple things like be there to say goodbye when lgbt soldiers are deployed…without the fear of outing them.

    “Support the troops” means all of them.

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    can i just say that you homophobic groups really should stop commenting here. i mean, we don’t go to your sites and start talking about how much i love pussy in the comment boards. ITS NOT OUR FAULT YOU’RE LIKE IN LOVE WITH US.

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    I could understand all the hair-pulling, screaming, whining and running around headless chicken style if the USA was the first military to let gays serve openly but since a whole bunch of other countries have been doing it for some time and, as far as I am aware, the sky hasn’t in fallen yet why don’t they just take a look around, borrow suitable ideas for sleeping arrangements or whatever else might be troubling them and get on with it.

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        Well the sky in the UK has an unprecendented (providing you don’t check against previous years) amount of snow dropping from it and its buggering all the planes, trains and roads up but I don’t think we can blame the gays or the army for it. Its probably David Cameron’s fault.

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          Yes, I feel this is con-dem induced snow, absolutely. EVERYTHING is David Cameron’s fault. FACT.

          I think best practice is the answer here as has been correctly pointed out. Other countries in the world fight with openly gay troops among the ranks and are suitably effective in combat. Maybe the US could just ask nicely how they do it? I’m sure us Brits would tell the US, we’re nice like that. (Apart from David Cameron)

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