By: HH Brownsmith
According to the United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration, defending one’s country is one of the responsibilities of citizenship. During the Civil War, WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam War black men enlisted with hopes of returning from the battlefield to greater equality in the states. Japanese people joined up during WWII to avoid internment camps. Latino folks have been and are continuing to be recruited for the war in Afghanistan with the promise of an expedited path to citizenship. As disgusting as this bargaining is, the model is not hard to understand. You kill for us and we’ll call you an American (if the political and cultural climate allows for that and you don’t die).
But what if you aren’t given the initial “privilege” to enter into battle for the country? Some gay, lesbian, and bisexual people struggled with this conundrum from the creation of the armed services until September 2011. In the lead up to the repeal of Clinton’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Don’t Pursue policy, the debate became unsurprisingly dichotomous. Straight moral conservatives and a couple of churches (the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, namely) issued statements against the repeal. Liberals, including some affirming churches, and mainstream gay activists spent all their energy telling the world that members of the LGB community deserve the chance to fight and die for American interests. Meanwhile, other peace churches were holding their tongues on the sidelines and radical queer liberationists were being ignored, per usual.
Mainstream gay activists, the folks who brought you the battle for marriage equality and hate crimes legislation, say that the question at the core of the big DADT debate is “Why weren’t we allowed to serve openly?” My questions, queries echoed by queer activists who believe we have bigger things to worry about than marriage certificates and putting more people in prison are “Why did we ever want to serve closeted or otherwise?” “Why is responsible American citizenship something LGB folks are coveting?”1
Gary Lehring describes what gay people are up against in the armed services well, “Although aversion to homosexuals is present in all facets of society, in no other part is the hostility toward them as absolute or as codified as it is in the armed services.”2 LGB people served silently and when found out prior to DADT and after its implementation; were in many cases beaten, raped, imprisoned, and eventually discharged dishonorably without chance of future employment in any field. When Barack Obama overturned DADT, due primarily to low recruitment numbers, none of these abuses were addressed. Gay people didn’t ask for an apology they just repeated these tired old assimilationist, nationalistic lines “We love our country.” “We believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” “We’re just like you.”
Queer folks are rare in the scheme of oppression. Be clear, I’m not positing that discrimination against queers is particularly more heinous, but it looks very different than racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and ageism. As a queer person, it is possible to be rejected by country, community, church, and family if one’s sexual orientation or gender identity comes to light. This difference may lose a person every support system they have ever known. So perhaps the LGB folks begging for a place on the killing fields were asking for a support system they had been denied by every other institution.
Remember those peace churches standing quietly on the sidelines? This was their big break. This was the hour when Christians had the opportunity to make amends, gather the scattered sheep, and remind folks, gay and straight, that enlisting to further institutional violence is harmful to the beloved community. Furthermore, the church had the chance to make clear that citizenship in this community, Christian citizenship entails a service of the God of life, solidarity with the people of God, and a care for the creation of God. American citizenship demands voting, serving jury duty, obeying all laws just and unjust, and taking up the sword to defend the empire. With these stipulations in mind, American citizenship is antithetical to Christian citizenship. You cannot serve two masters.
The history of queer struggle was not a single-minded sprint towards the day when we could enter an institution, prescribe to the same gender performance as the bulk of straight cisgender people, and sacrifice the bodies of brown people in occupied lands on the altar of the racist, patriarchal state that is America. Our history is complex and largely dominated by our participation in and leadership of anti-war, anti-state resistance. As a radical Christian and a radical queer woman, I split myself in two far less than outsiders might imagine. The state is bad for queer people. The state is bad for the church. My identities have big intersections. But when this debate reached its final hour a little over a year ago, my queer friends were resisting and my church was silent.
Is the liberal church so afraid to appear homophobic that it cannot question any gay desire? When will the church and queer folks be ready to hold one another accountable about the things that matter? Where was the church in this debate to remind queer folks of the most important citizenship?
*Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are allowed to serve openly as of September 2011. The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Don’t Pursue did not make it possible for transgender people to serve openly. Trans folks are considered medically unfit for service by the United States Armed Services
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