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The Historic Repeal of DADT

I’m in Washington DC, and it was especially exciting last evening to be here while the Senate voted to repeal DADT. I’ll blog more about my trip in general later, but wanted to share some thoughts about this historic event, the repeal of DADT. I’ve caught some flack on Facebook about my perspective of this, but I’m sticking to it. Here are some of the points I feel need to be made about what happened.

First, few votes can be seen as being as historic for Civil Rights of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans. While there have been some other pro- LGBT legislation, Box Turtle Bulletin aptly points out:

As far as I can tell, this is the very first piece of pro-gay legislation that is not attached to any other piece of legislation making its way through both chambers of the U.S. Congress on its way to the President’s desk. Please correct me if I’m overlooking something, but I cannot think of any other federal pro-LGBT legislative accomplishment that has been achieved through a straight up-or-down vote as a stand-along bill. Repealing DADT itself is historic itself, but doing it this way changes everything!

I wrote last week, when Leiberman and Collins signaled they would move ahead with a stand-alone bill that this would change everything, and I stand by that claim, even if some Facebook friends don’t want to read the writing on the wall. So, passing an equality-based bill as a stand-alone bill, strictly on the merits of the bill. That is historic for Gay Civil Rights.

Secondly, the bill will end unequal treatment of gays and lesbians in the military. The Armed Forces are perhaps the greatest symbol of gender roles, where real men are soldiers, right? This is one reason why anti-gay groups have worked so hard to keep DADT intact, because when gays and lesbians are treated equally in an environment like the military, equality out in the private sector will come far easier than ever before. The lies and misinformation about gays and lesbians will still be attempted, but the truth will also become far more apparent, and the lies will lose some of their power. This is very much a first step towards full equality everywhere, and the anti-gay bigots know it.

But there are two other aspects of this vote which are very important to recognize, even if they are less clear cut and more speculative.

Nate at FiveThirtyEight, writes that one aspect of the vote was due to the fact that repeal of DADT was so well supported by the American people in general. Lawmakers were reluctant to be seen as voting for discrimination when the general public is against to it. Nate’s entire post is a great read, but here is a summary:

All of this is just Politics 101: when a policy initiative enjoys the support of 60 or 70 or 80 percent of the public, it is liable to garner some bipartisan support. By contrast, the Dream Act, which has received much less polling but which Gallup showed as having the support of a notably smaller majority (54 percent) of the public, received fewer Republican votes, and also saw several vulnerable Democrats — like John Tester of Montana — break ranks.

For me the big question is, how did this happen? How is it that such a large percentage of the electorate supported repeal, and why are the numbers not similar for other Equality measures like ending work-place discrimination? I’ll leave that for other blog posts, but feel free to add your comments. If we can get such a large number of folks to support this, can’t we do the same with other pieces of LGBT Civil Rights legislation? I think we can.

But for me the last important point that deserves attention, is a continuation of what I wrote last week. The way this bill happened signals a major failing of the Democrats, and those LGBTQ activists who rely solely upon the Democrats. Their approach was to attach DADT to the Defense Authorization Act, so that no one could vote against it. They didn’t have enough faith in the merits of Equality. They did the same thing with the Matthew Shepard/ James Byrd Hate Crimes legislation. But the GOP wasn’t having it this time around, and so two Senators- Leiberman and Collins introduced this as a stand-alone bill, and the rest is now history. For all the power of their majority, the Democrats couldn’t follow through on Equality, but an Independent and a Republican could.

This does not mean that the GOP is more LGBT Rights friendly than the Democrats. But it does mean, that the general approach of the Democratic Party to LGBT Rights is flawed and failing, and if we want to see LGBTQ Equality, activists will need to seek out other avenues than simply hoping the Democrats will care enough to try and do something.

Photo credit: By vpickering

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