Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, When Race, Gender and Sexuality Collide

'A t-shirt sends a silent message as protesters deliver petitions demanding that Rep. Ike Skelton apologize from comments characterized as offensive to gays.' photo (c) 2010, Missouri News Horizon - license:

The fight to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was largely seen as an issue for the GLBT community.  Though the acronym refers to sexuality and gender identity, what many fail to realise is that it is representative of so much more.  Many people who fall under the umbrella of GLBT, also have another area of marginalization that is often ignored outside of a very specific subsets.   Having to negotiate two areas of oppression means that one is even more targeted by society because both identities work together to make the individual in question a target of hate. 

After two years, the ACLU has finally managed to win full separation pay for those members of the military who were dismissed involuntarily after 2004, for being gay. This was a long time coming and certainly owed to former service people; however, it does not even begin to address the wrong that was done to them.   The issue becomes even more complicated when we take into account the fact that women and POC were over represented in the numbers.

According to Colorlines, a 2010 Service Women’s Action Network report found women and people of color were disproportionately discharged under don’t ask, don’t tell:

Even though black women comprise less than one percent of servicemembers, they represented 3.3 percent of all don’t ask, don’t tell discharges. Women in general appear to have been targeted under the policy. According to a 2010 Service Women’s Action Network report, women were 15 percent of the armed forces in 2008, but comprised 34 percent of the don’t ask, don’t tell discharges. People of color represented just under 30 percent of active duty personnel, but 45 percent of don’t ask, don’t tell discharges.

Could there be any more evidence of why intersectionality must be the linchpin of all social justice movements? There can be no single issue space because all oppressed communities by the nature of the makeup of humanity, include people who straddle multiple identities at various times.  Those who share multiple sites of oppression are exceedingly vulnerable, even within communities to which they rightfully belong.  This is specifically why as marginalized people that we can never afford to refer to any issue as outside our purview.

No matter what ism you choose to focus on, it is systemic. This means that there are forces aligned specifically to target the group in question and assure that they never get the equality which is their human right.  When you look at the aforementioned numbers, it is clear to see that not only were these servicemembers dismissed because they are gay, but because they also have another area of marginalizaion, which rendered them even more vulnerable and yet, the fight to end DADT was largely seen as a fight for the LGBT community.

Though now this horrible law is a thing of the past, it is worth noting that this does nothing to help trans service people.  Their fight continues on and yet the media and many organizing groups outside of the trans community consider this issue to be solved.

Having just one site of oppression to negotiate can be tough.  I can completely understand why it is that so many get caught up and focus on their single issue but by doing do so, they are furthering our discord between worth and value, not helping to build a world in which all people are created equal.  Single issue sites, just by the nature of their exclusiveness, create yet another form of oppression.  They tell people within their own community that they don’t belong and further the ‘othering’. 

Intersectionality cannot be a buzz word which we pull out to prove how aware we are, while doing nothing in support of recognizing that this approach to social justice organizing is the only path forward for any and all social justice movements. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell wasn’t just an issue for the GLBT community, it was an issue for all people interested in social justice.  This is why we need to move away from saying things like, “I’m a GLBT ally, I’m an ally to POC, I’m an ally to disabled people, or I’m an ally to women” and instead say, I’m an ally to social justice movements because if even one group remains oppressed, we are all oppressed in someway.

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