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May 13, 2009

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As I noted on 2nd May (via the Bilerico Project), and have pointed out a couple of times on this website President Obama has degayed the civil rights section of the White House website. That is, the long section on "Supporting the LGBT Community" is no longer there (versionista cite), and so - gone is the public promise which used to say:

Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
Yet another casualty of Barack Obama's "continuity in the military" policy: maintain Bush policies until further notice. (Or a casualty of Obama's friendship with Rick Warren: take your pick.)

In all honesty: I am unsurprised. Sad and outraged, but unsurprised. Obama never did strike me as the type to stand up for LGBT rights under pressure.

I think it's important to include a link to a story describing Obama's handwritten letter to a correspondent on this issue, received May 5, 2009, which I will quote below in full:

Sandy - Thanks for the wonderful and thoughtful letter. It is because of outstanding Americans like you that I committed to changing our current policy. Although it will take some time to complete (partly because it needs Congressional action) I intend to fulfill my commitment. — Barack Obama.

I am more-or-less willing to believe him when he says that he feels bound to follow a Legislative path on this issue - but as you note the legislation could move faster, and the whole set-up-a-commission thing was discouraging (especially as I didn't hear about any particularly fast action on actually setting up the commission, though I admit that I don't follow the issue closely). I'm sure everyone involved is having flashbacks to the persistent claim (maybe truth, I dunno) that the gays-in-the-military debate crippled the Clinton administration aborning, but I think that the country has changed in 16 years and that with figureheads like Lt. Choi it can be gotten through Congress. At the least, I'd like to see Obama speak up on the issue, maybe meet Lt. Choi.

I think there is a very specific reason why the Lt. Choi story has gotten so much ink. And that is to create some pressure on Congress to repeal DADT as soon as possible.

As you said hilzoy, the left criticized Bush an awful lot for overutilizing executive order to get around things. Obama could, but that would just continue a major negative temndency on the part of the executive.

I read the first line of the first comment, knew who wrote it and what it would say and skipped right past it.

Jesurgislac, you are reading an awful lot of significance into a relatively trivial change on a website . . .

jes: "Or a casualty of Obama's friendship with Rick Warren: take your pick."

Does Rick Warren want to keep DADT? Or do you just assume it must obviously be so?

I would love it if you could find me a link on his position on that. I haven't been able to find one.

...and a relatively trivial firing of a relatively trivial soldier, rea.

I mean, so what if Lt. Choi becomes the first gay soldier sacked by Obama for his sexual orientation? What does that matter, next to maintaining respect for the orderly and legal process of discrimination against LGBT people, which, obviously, Obama can't do anything about directly, because, er...

Fun fact: Did you know that most of the lesbian, gay, and transgender survivors of the concentration camps got no compensation from the German government for being imprisoned? A law had been passed making it illegal to be gay, and the criminals who had been sent to concentration camps for their crimes - including those condemned for the crime of being gay - were not entitled to compensation.

Fun fact: Did you know that most of the lesbian, gay, and transgender survivors of the concentration camps got no compensation from the German government for being imprisoned?

And the thread reaches Godwin's limit in six posts. Is that a record?

I think there is a very specific reason why the Lt. Choi story has gotten so much ink. And that is to create some pressure on Congress to repeal DADT as soon as possible.

i was thinking Obama's M.O. here is to let a couple of these cases blow up and attract enough attention that Congress would be forced to act. he can always get them their jobs back, once the law is changed.

though maybe that's wishful thinking on my part.

I think most of us on this website agree that DADT should be repealed-the only question is timing. Obama has a helluva lot on his plate right now. -do we want to put this on his plate too?

I think that this is more something to be done NEXT year, after health care reform, reviving the economy, Afghan war, Iraq war, Supreme court nomination , etc.
And I think following the legislative path woulds be the best way.

cleek: i was thinking Obama's M.O. here is to let a couple of these cases blow up and attract enough attention that Congress would be forced to act. he can always get them their jobs back, once the law is changed.

This method would strongly imply a certain lack of humanity towards these people as individuals, plus a certain confidence in Congress as more humane and responsive than Obama himself.

Wishful thinking w.r.t Congress, without evidence: after all, they - unlike Obama - have not actually committed to making a change in DADT. I hope you're not actually wishing for Obama to possess that kind of inhuman disregard for LGBT people.

Stonetools: I think that this is more something to be done NEXT year, after health care reform, reviving the economy, Afghan war, Iraq war, Supreme court nomination , etc.

Yeah - human rights and equality for LGBT people is ALWAYS something than can be done "next year", "when things improve".

Someday.

I have always thought that the DADT policy impugns the professionalism of our service members. If a soldier or sailor is so lily-livered that he gets the heebie-jeebies from serving aside someone whom he knows to be gay, is that person in the right job to begin with?

Shouldn't we as a society expect a bit more courage from those who bear arms in our name?

Pace Jesurgislac, I have to agree with stonetools on this one: President Obama is facing a lot of opposition to a lot of his proposals and programs (and not just from the Rush Limbaugh crowd) over a raft of significant economic and military issues. Attempting to repeal DADT, while a worthy goal in and of itself, will probably spark a firestorm of infuriated opposition from the Religious Right and their enablers, if for no other reasons that 1) Obama is for it, therefore it must be bad, and 2) Homophobic bigotry wrapped in religion is one of the last (quasi-)acceptable prejudices in out political discourse.

While it is certainly disappointing that President Obama, despite whatever personal feelings he has on the matter, has not taken any concrete towards ending this disgraceful policy, it's hard to imagine him actively blocking or rejecting a repeal of DADT. As long as it is seen (or can be spun as) someone else's initiative.

From the Civil Rights section of the White House website:

He supports full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. He supports repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security, and also believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Perhaps it could be stronger, but it's hardly an abandonment.

I was thinking Obama's M.O. here is to let a couple of these cases blow up and attract enough attention that Congress would be forced to act. he can always get them their jobs back, once the law is changed.

The impression I get is that, once a person is out of the military, they're gone.

I'd like to see Obabma invite back some of the generals that Bush fired/forced to retire. They could replace some of the current ones that don't seem to understand the concept of "Commander in Chief".

Yeah, Obama has a lot on his plate, but there are some things that need to be done *now*. Opening Guantanamo and Bagram to the International Red Cross are examples. It'd just be a stroke of the pen.

Jay C: Attempting to repeal DADT, while a worthy goal in and of itself, will probably spark a firestorm of infuriated opposition from the Religious Right and their enablers, if for no other reasons that 1) Obama is for it, therefore it must be bad, and 2) Homophobic bigotry wrapped in religion is one of the last (quasi-)acceptable prejudices in out political discourse.

And when will that ever change? If that's Obama's motivation for not repealing DADT unless someone else is willing to draw fire - throw themselves on the grenade for him - well, then he never will. If what matters to Obama is how well it will play with the Republican party and/or the religious right, then sure: it'll be just like the inaugeration, invite Rick Warren to be the public face of the Obama administration and push Gene Robinson to the side so he's not actually out on stage with the President.

YouCouldLookItUp: Perhaps it could be stronger, but it's hardly an abandonment.

Oddly enough, you could look it up too - that wasn't what was on the website on April 30th. It got put back. Perhaps, because of all the people who nodded nicely and said "Just you wait, the nice President will give you gay people equal rights when he feels it won't outrage the religious homophobes too much". But perhaps, because of the people who weren't quite so passive and who actually complained... who didn't just assume Obama can do no wrong and LGBT equality can always wait.

The impression I get is that, once a person is out of the military, they're gone.

actually, people have been reinstated after being discharged, even for homosexual conduct (Kindred v. USA, for example).

Actually, the 'repeal' language just got added back in. It was removed from the website and after complaints returned to the website. I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from that (both the initial removal, which is troubling; and the return which is good if it is meant).

Part of me really wants to believe that Obama and the Democrats who control both Houses of Congress will change it. But I've never really had the impression that gay issues are particularly important to Obama. I like him for lots of reasons, but I've never been convinced that he thinks they are very important.

My impression of gay rights and the national Democratic Party has always been that it was a way to secure votes, but that their heart was never in really taking action. (Except maybe against gay people when the politics worked well--see Clinton and the Defense of Marriage Act, and/or remember that it was Democrats in Congress who spiked allowing gays in the military and instituted DADT).

I'd be happy to see that change. But I'm not stupid enough to die holding my breath for it.

Oh and to head off a possible tangent, I'm aware that the Republican Party wasn't pro-gay. But back when I was voting for them, I didn't take the gay issue in mind because a) the candidates I voted for weren't anti-gay and b) since national Democrats weren't going beyond lip service to gay issues, and were actively working against them in some area, I didn't feel it was a difference worth choosing my vote over.

But my point is, that even with Democrats in control of both houses and the presidency, I wouldn't necessarily expect DADT to be repealed. After all, it was passed when Democrats controlled both houses and the presidency.

Oh and I forgot about the general HIV travel and immigration ban. Wasn't that supposed to change too? The legislature got rid of it last year. Why does it seem to still be pretty much in force with the INS?

@jes

Yeah - human rights and equality for LGBT people is ALWAYS something than can be done "next year", "when things improve".

Someday.


Don't be an idiot. Saying that this year is not the time doesn't mean an indefinite postponement- it means recognizing that timing is important, and that we can't get everything that we want, politically, RIGHT NOW.

Doing this next year, when the economic crisis is abating and when health care reform has hopefully passed, means that we can focus on it some more and thus have a better chance to pass it.

@sebastian

But my point is, that even with Democrats in control of both houses and the presidency, I wouldn't necessarily expect DADT to be repealed. After all, it was passed when Democrats controlled both houses and the presidency. .

I think that times have changed and that the Democratic Party has changed. Among other things, we are in two wars and we frankly need as many warm bodies to throw into the fight as we can get . On a kind of raw, practical basis, we can argue that DADT is cutting down on pool of available recruits.

Well, it has to be done by Congress, unless you believe that the unitary executive's Commander-in-chief powers trump the power of Congress to prescribe regulations for the armed forces (and that way lies legal torture). There's a bill before Congress, which Obama supports. The problem of course is cloture in the senate, as usual. I don't see what more Obama can do at this time.

stonetools' post is concern trolling of the highest order, given his/her posting history.

If we're supposed to wait quietly with hands folded and not push for Congressional repeal of DADT until the economic crisis subsides, we will be putting off justice indefinitely. Things are very likely to get much worse before they get better on the economic front.

And this isn't "putting anything on Obama's plate" that he didn't ladle right on there himself.

"The problem of course is cloture in the senate, as usual."

My understanding was that it hadn't passed the house either. Did it pass sometime?

OT (but related to Obama flip-floppery) the show trials will go on.

See also this article on Gitmo bringing Kafka to life.

Actually Hilzoy's link states that the bill has not made it out of committee even in the Democratic controlled House.

Nell: If we're supposed to wait quietly with hands folded and not push for Congressional repeal of DADT until the economic crisis subsides, we will be putting off justice indefinitely. Things are very likely to get much worse before they get better on the economic front.

Plus - these are actual soldiers actually being given their discharge for being the "wrong" sexual orientation. This isn't something abstract. This is like telling Lilly Ledbetter "look, sure, we all want equal pay for women - but until the economic situation improves, you'll just have to take a back seat to the important stuff". People who are actually going to lose their jobs - lose their careers, in some instances - because the President feels it's just not right to disrupt the current military policy of injustice with any executive order fulfilling a campaign promise to stop this injustice.

This is directed especially but not entirely to Jes.

I am a bleeding-heart liberal from way back. I was a teenager when the larger civil-rights desegregation struggle started at Little Rock in the late 50's, and the first presidential election for which I was eligible to vote was Nixon/Humphrey/Wallace in 1968. When my high-school youth orchestra travelled to DC in 1961, we actually feared for our African-American concertmaster, and had decided that if he was refused service anywhere, all 100+ of us would walk out.

What's the point? That *ALL* civil rights and suffrage movements are incremental. There's a REASON why they are referred to as "struggles." Yes, I really, really want my gay friends to be able to get married and have full rights outside of a handful of states. Yes, I really, really want it to be a civil and criminal matter when a gay person is discharged from the army or any other job, for sexual orientation. Yes, I really, really want it to be as out of bounds for a politician or entertainer to mock gays and their aspirations as it is to call me a k*ke or Obama the N word. And yes, i understand your frustration, just as I understood Stokely Carmicheal's and Malcom's frustration decades ago. But it *IS* a struggle. I think the good guys will win in the end, and I expect fifty years from now Obama will be viewed as the catalyst, as LBJ is now in the history of civil rights. But it ain't gonna' happen overnight, no. Sorry.

EFGoldman: and I expect fifty years from now Obama will be viewed as the catalyst, as LBJ is now in the history of civil rights.

If there's any justice, no, he won't. But yeah - Presidents frequently get credit they really don't deserve, for good things that happen that they had nothing to do with but grabbed onto successes while being unwilling to take a leadership role. Such is Obama on LGBT equality, but it wouldn't surprise me if, when I'm in my 90s, I'm reading smug little American histories for schoolkids about how Obama was the "catalyst", not about how he was a coward who was scared of making change happen and didn't like to stand up or speak out against injustice.

Jesurgislac, what exactly do you think Obama ought to do with respect to DADT?

I expect the Congressional leadership to move the bill forward at a tactically opportune time later in the year. I think we have the votes in the House to pass it, byut I worry about getting 60 votes in the Senate. But, Obama really doesn't have much role in this, other than to provide moral support and sign the bill if and when it passes. But you talk as if it were all up to Obama . . .

I can't speak for Jesurgislac, but there is no excuse for the Obama administration to not move faster on HIV travel and immigration ban. Congress got rid of its hurdle on the issue last year under Bush. Now it is up to the Department of Health and Human services to remove the ban, an executive department.

There will be little chance of losing political capital with removing the HIV travel and immigration ban. You can make the argument that repealing DADT is not a smart idea due to political capital with the economy, health care, and cap and trade (I am not agreeing that the argument is a good one), but you can not make the argument for the HIV travel and immigration ban.

In fact keeping the status quo loses Obama political capital for it makes people who voted on gay issues feel like they are at the back of the bus. At least if Obama removed the HIV travel and immigration ban it will show that he hasn't forgotten about his campaign promises, and it will remove any uneasiness/disillusionment that any of his gay supporters may have.

The HIV travel and immigration ban is such low hanging fruit...

"Obama has a helluva lot on his plate right now. -do we want to put this on his plate too?"

Yes, he has a lot on his plate. But I also see this as too easy an excuse for not addressing something like Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

As Nell noted, economic issues could very well dominate Obama's entire first term. I'd hate to see important social issues just put to the side.

While DADT is a human rights issue, it also hurts our military and quite possibily our national security. Seems to me Lt. Choi is exactly the kind of dedicated, educated, multi-talented soldier we want in today's army.

If Lt. Choi is willing to put his life on the line for the safety of me and my family, I salute him. Only an idiot would kick him to the side.

i've been out and around since before leonard matlovich came out all those years ago and shook things up a bit with the military. and it does indeed seem odd and incredible to me that here we are some 25 years later still arguing or talking about this essentially same issue. that so little has changed in the american landscape in a way, it really does show me that homophobia is (still) incredibly entrenched in our culture.

i mean to use some prevailing macho american lingo, lol, obama should be a 'real man' like truman was (on this issue) and just immediately 'de-segregate' and 'integrate' the armed forces. that was 51 years now, july 1948.

"Executive Order 9981 addressed four areas: First, it declared the President's policy of equality of opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin. Second, it created the President's seven-member Committee on Equality of Treatment in the Armed Services. Third, it authorized the Committee to examine existing rules and determine what changes would be necessary to carry out the policy of integrating the services. And fourth, it directed all executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government to cooperate with the Committee in its work."
http://www.majorcox.com/columns/truman.htm

it's so easy looking back to see how sane and right that was to do, and also courageous of truman too. now why exactly he did it or what all the social and political resistances were that he had to overcome to do it, well i don't know the historical details, but i do know it was the right thing to do. and obama should do the same and he could easily amend the Order to read something like "persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, national origin or sexual orientation."

"but i do know it was the right thing to do. and obama should do the same"

There wasn't a federal law against integration. Obama could act to not enforce Pub.L. 103-160 (10 U.S.C. § 654), but he can't repeal it by executive order.

I think the state of the travel ban is what strongly makes me suspect that Obama's administration isn't very interested in dealing with gay issues.

Congress has already acted, President Bush signed the bill, yet still nothing.

I presume that at SOME point the administration will act on that, but considering that there is no major barrier to act on it now, the lack of action makes it pretty obvious that the administration does not want to act.

Since the administration seems to not want to act in a case where all Congressional barriers have already been removed, I find it hard to trust that the administration is acting strongly (if at all) in cases like Don't Ask Don't Tell where further Congressional action is probably necessary.

rea: Jesurgislac, what exactly do you think Obama ought to do with respect to DADT?

Declare a moratorium on military personnel being discharged for sexual orientation / gender identity, pending the commission's investigation.

The pious comments that Obama ought to respect the rule of law kind of ignore the point that this law declares anyone LGB or T to be a military criminal not because of anything they've done, but because of bigoted and outworn prejudices about how no one but a heterosexual / cisgendered person can be a proper soldier. What kind of person respects that law?

Don't Ask Don't Tell Don't Pursue was initially envisaged, remember, as a means of preventing the appalling injustice of having good military personnel discharged for their sexual orientation. The idea was that the military authorities would just ignore a person's sexual orientation. Instead, DADT has been used as a justification for the kind of military discrimination it was intended to discourage.

If Obama feels he should go through due process of a military commission to investigate if LGBT personnel who are not closeted affect the performance of a military unit, then it makes sense to declare that means until the commission has made its full report, and Congress has considered it and made a final decision on repealing DADT, no one will be expelled from the military for having a sexual orientation that's not purely heterosexual, or a gender identity that differs from the one they were given on their birth certificate.

Then the commission can spend as long as it likes trying to find some evidence that the UK military, or the Israeli military, or any other military in which LGBT personnel can serve openly, is somehow inferior to military units in which LGBT personnel are required to serve in the closet under threat of expulsion or court-martial. But while it's trying to find the evidence, LGBT personnel can serve openly in the US military... and the commission can try to find some evidence that that damages the performance of the US military, too.

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