Today is the one-year anniversary of lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers being able to serve openly. With that in mind, I’m reposting this essay from December 19, 2010 — an essay (entitled Dan Choi: I Am Somebody! Autumn Sandeen: I Am Still Not Recognized As Somebody.) where I highlighted how with repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) doesn’t include trans people.
On this anniversary of the effective date of DADT repeal, let’s not forget the T in LGBT.
I have heard many senators and congresspeople use variants of Admiral Mullen’s pro-Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) repeal phrase of relating to how DADT “[f]orces young men and women to lie…to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” For example, from the floor of the Senate yesterday (December 18, 2010):
Senator Carl Levin: …A policy, which in Admiral Mullen’s words — memorable words — quote “Forces young men and women to lie to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”
Young transgender servicemembers, transsexual servicemembers, and servicemembers who identify as both transgender and transsexual still will have to lie to defend their fellow citizens.
Dan Choi tweeted the following yesterday:
I am somebody!
I deserve full equality!
I am somebody!
Indeed, Dan Choi had much reason to state “I am somebody” yesterday…much reason to celebrate. He even received a tweet from Senator Harry Reid, about an hour prior to the final vote:
My friend, Dan Choi, is closer to being a somebody who likely will be able to resume his military career as an out, gay, U.S. Army Officer. I’m very, very happy to have participated in direct action on the White House Fence with Lt. Choi in standing up for liberty, equality, and justice. I’m incredibly happy he may be able to serve his country in military uniform again.
That said, if anyone noticed back in April and November, I never led the “I am somebody” chant from the White House fence. Repeal of DADT was not going to result in my peer transgender community members and me being closer to being somebodies, able too to serve our country in uniform without having to lie about who we are.
Many of us transgender veterans had made a conscious decision to not tie the future transgender people’s open military service to the lesbian, gay, and bisexual people’s open service. Allowing transgender people to serve in the military openly will require much more accommodation than allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to serve in the military openly requires. We also know America isn’t Great Brittan, Canada, or Australia — the more conservative American people aren’t as ready and prepared for the open service of trans servicemembers as they are prepared for the open service of lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers — and even most of those countries didn’t tie the service of LGB servicemembers to T servicemembers.
So, many of us T veterans took the position of supporting our LGB servicemembers and veterans, and waiting.
So while passage of even this watered down version of DADT repeal is a big win for LGBT community, it’s not a direct win for the T subcommunity. Passage of a fully-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) — one that includes employment protections for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression was a higher priority for most in the T-subcommunity, but for some reason the Democratic 111th Congress seemed only to be able to pass one piece of LGBT legislation a year, and even the repeal of DADT seemed incredibly iffy right until the end.
In other words, for me, passage of DADT repeal doesn’t leave me able to shout “I am somebody!” with the same sense of community achievement that Dan Choi had the pleasure to shout “I am somebody!” yesterday. I’m glad he could, I’m a little meloncholy I couldn’t.
Frankly, I am still not any more of a somebody in the legal sense than I was the day before yesterday. Clearly, my transgender peers and my personal freedom, equality, and justice weren’t improved with repeal of DADT. Many of we trans people are very, very happy for our LGBT community’s win, but it does come with a sense of melancholy, in that the passage of DADT repeal doesn’t improve life for transgender Americans.
Freedom, equality, and justice isn’t about me or you, or your subcommunity of the LGBT community or mine, or about any other demographic group we may belong to. Freedom, equality, and justice is about us. If an issue is an issue for even one subcommunity of the LGBT community, it’s my issue. I fought for repeal of DADT because our fight is about us, and not about me.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel a bit meloncholy because yesterday’s DADT win wasn’t about me or my subcommunity of the LGBT community.
For the next two years, we won’t see movement on repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), nor will we see movement on ENDA because of the incoming Republican Congress and their “culture war.”
DADT was prioritized over ENDA in this congress in all likelihood in large part because there was a clearer way forward, and our DADT repeal “lunch counters” were easier to identify, and the discrimination easier to articulate in simple terms, so the targets were easier to identify and target.
But if…but if…But if we see return of Democratic Party control of the House and Senate in 2012, will we see a higher priority put on repeal of DOMA, or a higher priority placed on the promise of ENDA? I can tell you what most in the transgender subcommunity of the LGBT community would prefer to see happen first, and that would passage of ENDA.
As the GetEQUAL e-blast pointed out regarding the passage of this DADT repeal bill (emphasis added):
Make no mistake — DADT is not yet repealed. There is still work to do. There is still a long process ahead, but we vow to keep the pressure up until the policy is fully and completely repealed. There are still people — especially our transgender sisters and brothers — who are unjustly left behind by this legislation.
I fought to see DADT legislatively repealed, and I took to the White House Fence twice over DADT; I went to jail twice over DADT. The legislative win on DADT yesterday is a win for LGBT community that I’m incredibly glad to have played a small part in, but my joy is somewhat tinged with melancholy. [T]ransgender sisters and brothers…are unjustly left behind…