Today is one of those days where you wake up and can’t believe that yesterday actually happened.
Military homos, I’m glad to report that the gay military partners’ negotiations with the Pentagon yesterday went as well as could have been expected, under the circumstances. I’m glad to report that it seems like they will be using our input in their study, aka the Comprehensive Review Working Group, or CRWG (typical DOD for you there).
I’m glad to report that it seems that we have somewhat counterbalanced the bullshit survey. (Don’t even get me started on that survey. I will say, though, that at the Pentagon I spoke to one of the people working on the study, and s/he said that the survey was a lot WORSE before s/he recommended changes! I don’t even wanna KNOW what it looked like. Probably like some Krafft-Ebing case study.)
Should I tell you about the meeting, or about the epic time I had with the other queer military partners? Or the lobbying?
The meeting. And then the partners and lobbying in another post. Keep an eye out.
Honestly, I thought I had gone into the wrong room that morning.
We met at this hotel in DC, together with the people who were there for the Lobby Day. I came in wearing jeans and a Black Panther-style T-shirt with a fist, having combed out an extra-special Afro for the occasion. After all, they said it was the “Final Assault”. I had assumed we were going to assault someone (verbally, of course).
But the room was filled with older white folks in suits and ties, pouring expensive-ass hotel tea and munching muffins. They were pretty much all Ardent Democrats (with a few Log Cabin Republicans thrown in to make the thing “politically diverse”).
However, I’ve never been accused of being unable to mingle. I sat down and chilled with them. In fact, it was very interesting for me to see how people who work with existing political channels actually roll. I had never visited a senator’s office, other than for sit-ins. Throughout the day, I gained valuable knowledge about how Democrat/Republican-style politicking works.
I have a few theories as to why there were so few (six) people of color and young people (four to ten, depending what you mean by young) at the event. For one, we had to travel on our own dime, and most people travelled a long way. One dude even flew over from Europe. I believe the cost of travelling narrowed the participants down. The only way that could be helped is through more funding – which is in short supply everywhere.
For two, outside of actual gay military families, many people with a serious interest in repeal are HRC-type people. If you’ve ever been to an HRC fundraiser, you’ll see what I mean. The HRC is to Democrats what Log Cabins are to Republicans.
The Meeting With The Pentagon
Anyway. We military partners had our own forum, and we spent the morning talking about tactics for the Pentagon meeting. We wanted to show them that we are indeed pissed at the raging inequality they sanction every single day that this law is alive—but we also wanted them to know that we hadn’t come to the meeting to voice those grievances, but work with them on repeal implementation (since they apparently think it’s gonna be this huge thing that might ruin the whole military for decades to come).
That was basically how the meeting went down. Twelve of us took a bus over to the Pentagon and sat down with them. We met with Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s main lawyer, and a Major General Biscone. They sat at the head of this long table while we – about 20 of us—lined up down the sides in cushy chairs like the one Biden sits in behind Obama. Me and another partner I had made friends with sat at the end and swerved our chairs out so we were directly across from the brass. Other lawyers lined the edges of the room.
We were all nervous – not because we were star-struck by the general or anything, but because we knew this was our ONLY CHANCE to have a say in how our lives are going to go in the next couple years. What if they were hostile? What if they dismissed what we had to say?
Johnson opened the thing up with a disclaimer: “I have no interest in your last names. I have no interest in the identity of your partner. I just want to hear from you.”
And they did. As one dyke partner put it: “They shut up and listened.” They took profusive notes while we broke down what it’s like to live under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and how they can go about changing their institution. We could tell they were surprised by a lot of it. At one point, Johnson interrupted a partner and said, “Wait—why can’t you go to promotion ceremonies?”
Seriously? But it was our one moment to school them, so we refrained from sarcasm. (Well, I tried. Most of the time.)
You could tell that though they knew a lot about the law, we were talking about things that had never even occurred to them. What to tell your kids. What to do when your partner’s hospitalized on base. How to communicate when a partner’s deployed. I think they were even surprised that we were in such serious relationships — some of us had grandkids, even.
They did ask a couple dumbass questions. One partner who was prior service was saying that she would definitely reenlist if DADT were repealed. Johnson was like, “And would you expect credit for missed service?”
She looked him square in the eye and said, “I don’t expect credit for something I didn’t do, sir.”
Burn! But mostly, they just listened. At the end of it, Johnson got up and said, “When I came into this room, I didn’t understand what a huge risk it was for you to come here. Now, I think I do.”
We were really glad he said that. It made coming there worth our time. I wish I could tell you all the things everyone said and the great points we made. One woman asked Biscone: “If all military benefits were taken away from straight servicemembers, how many do you think would stay in the service?”
We made it clear that we didn’t want “special” benefits. We had already learned on our own how to survive under the law – no thanks to them. We just wanted the fear to end. Fear was a huge recurring theme during the whole meeting. I still don’t think we got it across to them. I don’t even understand it myself because Captain Awesome and I only recently got involved in this.
We did an awesome job. All of you who were at the meeting – and you know who you are, though no one else does – I applaud you. I think we really made a difference. Time will tell how big of one.
A Few More Thoughts
As a flaming radical dyke, I feel somewhat dirty inside for having made nice to the Pentagon. Forget the Pentagon! Last time I was even NEAR the Pentagon, it was for an anti-war protest, and their cops chased me on horses!
But I can get down with a cease-fire for negotiation purposes, since they’ve expressed interest in doing the right thing. I feel that nonviolence was the best tactic to use for this particular issue at this particular time.
I mean, we military-affiliated homos are caught between a rock and a hard place. If we improve “military readiness” by allowing queers to serve openly, we’re improving the U.S.’s ability to set up commands in Africa (why?) and basically colonize the world. But if we don’t push for repeal, life is going to remain very, very hard for us. What would you have done in my place?