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“Having To Hide Who They Are in Order To Serve Ends Today”

September 20, 2011

A powerful read.

That’s why the right wing fixated on gays in the military — because if the world could see that gay men and women were proud, effective warriors, and were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, it would shatter the careful apparatus of myths they’d spent generations creating, the fiction that said gay people were only interested in their own pleasure and not, in equal parts to everyone else, in the noble effort to serve the greater good. It would shatter the myth that gay people are incapable of self-sacrifice and unworthy of first-class citizenship.

The image of two gay soldiers who — like straight soldiers — may even form a happy, healthy couple, striding confidently across the grounds of a U.S. military base, causing no harm but no longer needing to hide, is bound to further retire that myth, to help bring the U.S. military and our society at-large, more fully into the twenty-first century. Two hundred and thirty-three years of having to hide who they are in order to serve ends today.

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From Thomas Jefferson to Martin Luther King, Jr. and beyond, our nation’s most brilliant and passionate advocates for freedom have taught us that discrimination’s victims are not only its targets but its perpetrators. As a slaveholder, Jefferson was well-positioned to inveigh against the harm wrought to the master’s soul by the unrestrained greed of slavery (which rightly earned him charges of high hypocrisy). One of King’s greatest intellectual contributions to our understanding of American freedom was that integration liberated not only African Americans but segregationists and indeed an entire country. It did this by changing a political and economic system that had held itself back by summarily disqualifying some of its best talent, but also by changing people’s insides — by repairing psyches where needless hatred, anger, repression and a false sense of superiority had been allowed to fester.

The passing of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a victory for all Americans. But it’s not the end of the line. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” — the policy and even the mere phrase — says much about who we are as Americans. What we do in its wake will help shape what it means to be an American in the twenty-first century — well beyond the rise and fall of this bizarre and convoluted law. As we bury this policy, we must ask if we’ve learned anything from its many failures. What its history suggests is how far we, as a culture, have yet to go in achieving a vision of democratic freedom marked by genuine moral autonomy, one which does not rely on collective fictions — about sexuality or about anything else — to function.

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