No Time to Stop

With time running out for equality, we can't afford to indulge fears of failure on DADT repeal

There’s a strange and unsettling mood floating around these days after the shellacking delivered to Democrats by Republicans in the midterm elections. It’s not unexpected, as we all know that positive legislative progress for LGBT issues will come to a screeching halt come January.

Well, let me amend that. ”Screeching halt” would imply that there had been some great legislative momentum and progress in the previous two years. You don’t halt a vehicle that’s stalled. So, I suppose it would be more accurate to say that the already stalled LGBT legislative agenda will not be receiving a jump start in 2011.

But that’s not the strange mood I’m seeing. What’s unsettling right now is that as we look at the small remaining window of opportunity to possibly achieve one of the community’s biggest goals, repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a sense of defeatism has fallen across many activists and bloggers and others who serve as the public voices of our community.

Just to be clear: I understand the frustration and the feeling that DADT repeal could fail, despite the work our community has done, despite the support of the American people, despite the promises of the politicians we elected to represent us. I did myself write a column a few weeks ago, ”DADT Goes Fubar,” that hit those same notes of despair.

So, when Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Amos publicly split with Pentagon leadership on repeal — citing, unsurprisingly, the old canards of ”unit cohesion” and ”combat effectiveness” — it would seem to signal that the obstructionism being pursued by Sen. John McCain (R) was poised to win the day. After all, reports that Sen. Carl Levin (D) was looking at dropping the DADT repeal provision in order to ensure the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would have to cast a pall over the prospects of a lame duck Senate being able to corral the Democrats and a handful of Republicans to make repeal happen.

But, even as the bad news has trickled out, the White House has continued to signal its desire to see DADT repealed in the lame duck session. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the same, putting forward the argument that legislation would be the best course for an orderly implementation of the repeal, as opposed to waiting for a court order that many seem to think inevitable. And some senators, including New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman (I) have publicly called for repeal to move forward now.

Add to that the initial leaks from the long-awaited Pentagon study due on Dec. 1 that show most of the military unconcerned with the existence of gay and lesbian servicemembers, and there are reasons for some cautious optimism.

Not that it’s guaranteed to happen. Not that it’s going to be easy. Not that it will come without at least one or two nasty moments (likely courtesy of McCain, whose flexible sense of personal honor will certainly lead to grandstanding on the Senate floor).

But when people react to the post-election situation with flat declarations that ”DADT repeal is dead,” it really is buying into defeat. If we assume we’ve lost then we stop fighting. If we stop fighting and agitating, then yes, we will lose.

Might we lose anyway? Of course, since nothing in Congress is certain when it comes to equality for our community. Should repeal fail, we’ll have plenty of time for gnashing of teeth come January. Until then, we need to fight hard to achieve what equality we can while the opportunity still exists.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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