Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Aurora levins Morales
Thinking about Hate Crimes
title("Who's Lying to Who in â€¦
Capitalist Globalism In Crisis
Central America: A Disaster That â€¦
Remembering Betty Carter
Civil Rights & Patriotism
The Algerian crisis
Cops That Maim And Kill
Dennis bernstein and larry Everest
Union Wins Election At Ucsf â€¦
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Civil Rights & Patriotism
"stoke of the pen"-- that the current administration's infamous "don't ask/ don't tell" compromise has actually made the situation of gay men and lesbians in the armed forces worse. This emphasis on overcoming anti-gay discrimination in the military has, however, prevented the movement from taking a more progressive, and harder, look at the symbolic and material meaning and world of the military. Two recent "military" issues have helped define where the gay movement is in relation to the issue. A new turn in this old story has just occurred as legislators are attempting to find ways to crush smaller motions to--particularly in academia--to counteract the military's anti-gay policy in the form of the Solomon Amendment.
Even the name is misleading: the Solomon Amendment. It has the ring of wisdom and fairness. Yet beneath its biblical resonance, this fairly obscure amendment to the 1997 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act is the latest attempt by conservatives to wipe out gains made by gay and lesbian activists. After more than two decades of fighting for and winning anti-discrimination policies on college and university campuses, gay-rights advocates now find that their work is in jeopardy. All signs indicate that this is the beginning of a new right-wing onslaught on legal protections for gay people.
As written by Republican congressman Gerald B. H. Solomon of New York's 22nd District, the amendment states that "none of the funds made available in this or any other Department of Labor, Health, and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for any fiscal year may be provided by contract or by grant (including a grant of funds made available for student aid) to a covered educational entity if the Secretary of Defense determines that the covered entity has a policy or practice (regardless of when implemented) that either prohibits, or in effect prevents . . . the maintaining, establishing, or operation of a Senior Reserve Officer Training Corps [ROTC]" or "entry to campus or access to students (who are 17 years of age or older) on campuses for purposes of Federal military recruiting."
In simple language, this means that a school stands to lose money if it has banished ROTC programs or forbidden recruiters from branches of the armed services from coming on campus, because of the U.S. military's policy of discriminating against gay men and lesbians. Of course, if the school allows the military back on campus, the funds will be available once again. The ramifications of this could be tremendous, especially where student loans are concerned. Boston College estimates that it would lose up to $1.5 million in Perkins loans and work-study grants, according to an open letter sent to students, faculty, and staff this past September by interim dean James S. Rogers. Other schools could be hit even harder. In some cases, this loss of federal funding could seriously harm a school's ability to seek and maintain diversity in the student population.
Although the Solomon Amendment is relatively new, the place of the U.S. military in institutions of higher education has been contested for decades. During the Vietnam war, for example, many students, professors, and administrators demanded that ROTC units be banished from campuses and that work on defense contracts be canceled because the U.S. government was involved in an undeclared, illegal, genocidal war. Protesters argued that the only way to "do the right thing" was to sever all ties with the military. The sentiments were similar when queer activists began challenging the military's gay ban. As schools began to expand their anti-discrimination policies to include protections for gay people, it was military recruiters--offering job opportunities only to avowed heterosexuals--who were denied access to campuses. This action angered the armed forces, the federal government, and those (mostly heterosexual) students who supported the rights of the military to recruit on campus.
What especially disturbed the military and its defenders was that gay activists and their allies were using the existing principle of anti-discrimination, an ideal that is difficult to argue with. To many conservatives, exiling recruiters from campuses was a blatantly gay slap in the face, yet there seemed to be little they could do. The Solomon Amendment cut through this dilemma by punishing those schools that barred recruitment or ROTC, without ever using the word gay. For gay activists and college administrators, the result has been some conundrums of their own. For starters, the amendment was introduced in such a way that hardly anyone noticed. Because it never mentions homosexuality, it seems to have flown beneath the radar screen of gay legal experts, notes the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) Jennifer Middleton. This problem was compounded by the fact that legal enforcement of the amendment has been selective. Some schools that bar recruiters have been notified that federal funds will be denied unless the policy is reversed; others have not. Meanwhile, the schools affected have not mounted a unified response. New York University, for example, has refused to comply and lost federal funding, while Harvard has complied with the most minimal requirements of the amendment (allowing recruiters on campus but doing nothing more to aid them) and preserved its funding. This lack of focus has made it difficult to mount a protest against the amendment.
The ACLU is investigating ways to circumvent the amendment's demands, but little effort has been made on the part of the schools to organize a collective response. At this point, it seems there is little that can be done. Middleton says that although constitutional challenges have been investigated, there is no strong legal case against the Solomon Amendment. In fact, the ACLU has determined that if such a case were to go to the Supreme Court, it would likely lose. At this point, the ACLU is focusing on helping schools maintain a policy of minimal compliance.
It is not surprising that the Solomon Amendment should come at this point in history. While its direct aim is to undercut anti-discrimination policies affecting homosexuals, it is clearly part of a much larger attempt on the part of conservatives to undermine and eliminate a wide range of legal protections, including broader affirmative-action and confidentiality laws. The Solomon Amendment should be viewed as one more step--a crafty, innovative, and dangerous one--in eroding the numerous, if fragile, gains we have made to secure equal rights for gay men and lesbians.
Obviously it is important for gay rights advocates and academics to find ways to counteract the Solomon Amendment, but the terms of the debate are skewered. Many progressive and leftist homosexuals have long argued for a critique that attacked the military, the U.S. policy it enforces, and militarism in general. Yet the mainstream gay rights movement--particularly when it is insisting that gay people should get some basic civil rights they are lacking because to be "loyal Americans"--has chosen not to focus on this at all. No where is this clearer than in the campaign that Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer--a lesbian who was forced to resign her post after she came out--recently waged, and lost, a fight for a congressional seat. Here the complications of what it means to be a "loyal American" and a lesbian/gay person were displayed for all to see.
It is 1995 and there on the television screen was Glenn Close playing Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer as she challenged the Armed Forces rabidly homophobic military policy. Standing tall, proud, and butch in her Navy uniform and wearing her Bronze star for bravery in Vietnam Close was a Hollywood vision of gay and lesbian pride, a sterling example of American patriotism, and Serving in Silence, the made-for-TV movie, was a dazzling feat of entertaining agit-prop that humanized for many heterosexual Americans the plight of lesbian and gay military personal.
This past November, as if in a made-for-TV sequel, Margarethe Cammermeyer ran for seat in the House of Representatives from the Second Congressional district outside of Seattle, Washington. In her campaign photos she was as proud, handsome and butch as Close was in the film, and--as in the film--in all of her press material Cammermeyer studiously promotes her involvement in the Vietnam war as a sign of her bravery and a symbol of her loyalty to America. But it is the specter of Vietnam that haunts not only Cammermeyer's constructed public image as a "real" American (as well as her involvement in this disgraceful chapter in U.S. history) but highlights the increasingly dominant role that militarism plays in American life and politics--and, more importantly, how this militarism has affected the gay rights movement.
Certainly Cammermeyer's role in the Vietnam war--she served as a nurse in field hospitals between February 1967 and May 1968, a time of intense fighting and the bloody Tet offensive --was small yet reading through Serving in Silence, her 1994 autobiography, is a disquieting experience. Here Cammermeyer presents her experience in the mythic, my country-right-or-wrong terms that define, in its blind dedication to unthinking patriotism, an almost fanatic nationalism: the sort of Americanism" that has always been used against everyone who did not fit the American ideal.
In Serving in Silence Cammermeyer has no sympathy for anyone who protested and resisted the war - "...I didn't understand how anything but cowardice could make citizens run from their own country to avoid serving.. I couldn't see anything... that showed me they were acting out of principle." She also snidely attacks the "South" Vietnamese for being uneducated, slow, or lazy. "By noon the Vietnamese nurses were exhausted and wanted their customary mid-afternoon nap. There was nothing to do but accommodate them, and for several hours they all slept as we continued with out duties." In explaining the resentment and hatred that U.S. troops felt towards all Vietnamese, Cammermeyer resorts to the classic racist argument that all Vietnamese looked alike. "You could never tell who was the good guy and who was the bad guy." Worse yet, Cammermeyer's configuring of an ultra-conservative national identity prohibits her from admitting that the U.S.'s Vietnam policy was a mistake. Cammermeyer claims that while her view of the war has changed somewhat over the years she cannot discuss "whether or not American should have been in the war... to many [American] lives were lost. [I] cannot regret or denigrate America's participation in the war because to do so would be to take away from the sacrifice of those alongside whom we served."
While Cammermeyer's inability to recognize the murderous harm of the Vietnam war is shocking --and her tribute to American lives lost is overtly insulting in light of the fact that while 58,000 U.S. soldiers lost their lives, 3,000,000 Vietnamese soldiers and civilians (including untold numbers of women and children) died. What is at stake here is not what she did during the war, or even how she feels about it now, but how this explicit, unapologetic militarism promotes her image as a loyal American and good citizen--a stand that has enormous political and social ramifications for what it means to be an American" and how the gay movement makes its moral and political arguments.
The mainstream gay rights movement's central argument is predicated on the notion that gay people deserve equal rights because homosexuality is an insignificant "difference" and that gay people are capable of being as brave, loyal, patriotic, as any "good American." This idea finds its most blatant manifestation in the "gays in the military" fight and it is a theme that runs through Cammermeyer's book as well as memoirs by James Holobough, Mary Ann Humphries, Joseph Steffan, and Jose Zuniga, all of whom have fought to stay--homosexuals--in the armed forces.
The result of this argument is both ironic and tragic. On one hand, the insistence that gay people be given equal rights because they are patriotic Americans ends up negating the existence and the importance of their homosexuality. What if Cammermeyer had refused to fight in Viet Nam because she thought the war immoral? Would she be any less an American? Would she not deserves equal rights. When basic civil rights--not to mention human rights--are linked , in any way, to a prescribed national loyalty they are in a dangerous and tenuous position. Secondly, when patriotism--particularly the kind that Cammermeyer embraces in
Serving in Silence--is so inextricably bound up with unthinking support of U.S. foreign military policies it becomes dangerous both to the U.S. and to the world. Since Vietnam we have seen two decades of aggressive U.S. military policy--the bombing of Libya, the occupation of Lebanon, the invasions of Granada and Panama, the Gulf War, the recent bombings of Afghanistan and the Sudan--that many U.S. citizens and certainly many countries around the world see as dangerous, even criminal economic and political excursions.
What does this mean for gay people and gay rights? Primarily, it effects how we argue for gay rights. While the fight for just treatment of gay military personal is ostensibly a civil rights issue, it has taken on, for gay activists as well as the popular media, a metaphorical quality as well. Gays in the military (and gay people in general) are worthy of equal treatment because they are loyal, patriotic Americans. The constant presentation of Margarethe Cammermeyer as a war hero and a "good American," in her book, the TV film, in her campaign material, reinforces this idea.
But secondly, this--extremely limited--definition of who is a "good American" hurts us all because it places the battle for equal rights in the context of supporting specific, usually very conservative and often militaristic, U.S. policies. The fight for gay and lesbian rights has traditionally been conceptualized as the quest for gay people to becoming full American citizens--as activist Torrie Osborn writes, to "come home to America." But this is a parochial, provincial position and in many ways the gay rights movement in the U.S. has acted blindly and awkwardly. As gay people struggle to "become Americans" it behooves us to really look at what being an American means in the world today. Isn't it better to attempt to become individuals and a community whose identity comes from acting morally and righteously. To be a community whose commitment to freedom, social progress, and human rights make us citizens of the world and not just of the United States. As long as we attempt to become free by being "good Americans" we can only be as free--and as just--as America is today.
Michael Bronski is the author of The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash, and the Struggle for Gay Freedom (St. Martin's Press).