DADT and the Logic of Endless Concessions

I’m not a legislative guru, but I did go to high school. When snide bullies shove you around and demand your lunch money day after day only the most self-effacing loser responds by not only forking over the contents of their wallet but tossing in their physics homework to boot.

The Democrats’ attempt to pass repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, along with the immigrant reform DREAM Act, via a war funding bill went down to defeat yesterday. To be honest, I thought it was predictable. As I wrote last week, it was also a totally unnecessary and unprincipled concession for LGBT activists to throw their support behind $700 billion for wars and occupations in order to end a policy that even the overwhelming majority of Republicans now oppose.

Perhaps we can use this as a teaching moment. Endless concessions to the wingnuts are not producing gains for working people and oppressed minorities, but fueling the right wingers to demand —and win—even more.

Most Americans wanted genuine, single-payer universal health care—instead we got a plan that more deeply entrenches private insurance in the long-term and led to 40 percent increases on health care premiums today.

Millions of Americans celebrated in the streets when Obama won, not only expecting an end to wars but an end to an era of racial division and repugnant cultural values. Yet in the face of Republican Islamophobia around the “Ground Zero mosque,” we have Democrats like Obama who one moment give a nod to religious freedom and the next cave in to the crux of the issue by suggesting that building a mosque near Ground Zero may not be wise, as if all Muslims are stealth terrorists. Most Dems have just remained silent on the issue, while Sen. Harry Reid echoed the more tempered bigots.

Millions of LGBT activists have mobilized over the last 18 months to demand repeal of DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act and even marched by the hundreds of thousands for full federal equality. Yet now we have activist leaders and bloggers conceding that we must accept Harry Reid’s cynical congressional maneuvers to insert repeal of DADT through reactionary bills like war funding. Why?

Today’s New York Times quotes Northwestern law professor Andrew Koppelman making the salient point: “The gay rights movement has been a spectacularly successful movement for cultural change.” Exactly. Why should we pretend as though LGBT folks remain the pariahs of yore and grovel at the feet of any legislator to allow our rights be slipped in through the basement door?

What’s more, how can we expect solidarity from our Muslim and Arab brothers and sisters—who are the victims of this war funding—if LGBT progressives are willing to throw them under the bus when the Dems offer divide-and-conquer shenanigans? Well-meaning people and sincere LGBT activists are being swindled into thinking that we must opportunistically place our own demands for equality against our desires—and others’ urgent needs—for an end to these wars.

What’s so tragic in this case is that popular consciousness is moving in our direction as a result of our activism.  We not only shouldn’t do this, we don’t need to!

We are equal and must start being treated that way legally. While politicians of both parties treat our rights as if they are playthings, we don’t need to act as if theirs is a sane strategy.

Gang, we’re not in high school anymore and we don’t need to let ourselves get picked on by bullies—whether they’re on the Republican football team or the mathlete Dems. Let’s have the self-respect to brush ourselves off and reiterate our demands on our own terms.

If we are going to suffer some setbacks, can we at least hold onto our dignity and humanity and act in the spirit of solidarity that got us this far in the first place?

Sherry Wolf  is a public speaker, writer and activist who is available to speak on The Struggle for LGBT Liberation and How Can We Unite to Fight the Rifght at your campus, community center or union hall for a moderate fee. Wolf is the associate editor of the International Socialist Review and author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation (Haymarket Books, named one of the Progressive’s “Favorite Books of 2009”). Contact Sherry at: sherrywolf2000 at or find her on Facebook. Check out the video of Sherry speaking with Cleve Jones and the cast of Hair at the National Equality March.

3 responses to “DADT and the Logic of Endless Concessions

  1. I watch in horror as the Dems (from Obama on down) continue to play it safe, play nice, don’t make waves while the right-wing , fascist, bed-wetter wing-nuts go into a meltdown ON EVERY SINGLE ISSUE. Whereupon the Dems, with notable exceptions (i.e. Grayson & Wiener) go all Emily Litella, as in, “never mind”. If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.

  2. I am totally with you, but I also want to know what action to take place besides just giving up on the Democrats.

  3. This is why I say that ultimately the question of marriage equality and of ending DADT will land before a court before congress ever moves on the issues.

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