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War is more than a queer issue
By Burkely Hermann
In a recent discussion on reddit, I mentioned the views of genderqueer activist Dooler Campbell who has said time and time again, that war is a queer issue because “our military is being used to promote and push forward an imperialist and neoliberal agenda that is damaging to people across the world, including...non-heterosexual people...people are being killed, queer and trans folk included...these acts are justified through the rhetoric of gay rights...US military presence negatively affects the lives of gays and lesbians in the countries we are bombing.” People dismissed this view saying that “US militarism didn't apply to all LGBTQ people...that war was a trans* issue...[and no one said that] Gay Inc. should...link up with the waning US anti-war movement, to oppose militarism since it is an issue that affects LGBTQI people worldwide.” In summary, there people were saying that I didn't know what I was talking about, and that militarism is completely unrelated to QUILTBAG (Queer/Questioning, Undecided/Unidentified, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans*, Bisexual, Asexual, and Gay) people. I use this term because I am tired of using LGBTQ and debating how many letters to add to it, and QUILTBAG just makes it easier. This article is for those naysayers and many others.
“Many of the most important changes for LGBT people in the past five hundred years have been a result of war...the main way war effects 'queer people' is in its direct effect on gender. Certainly after the American Revolution, gender roles in the colonies changed radically. We had to invent a 'new' American Man who was the antithesis of the British man. The Civil War, in which 620,000 men (many of them under 21) lost their lives was also a turning point in defining what it means to be a man. I would also argue that the Vietnam War changed the lives of LGBT people in conjunction with the youth counter culture, feminism and Black Power movements.”- An except from Michael Bronski's book, A Queer History of the United States as noted by the Bilerico Project
Some people like those in the r/ainbow subreddit, may reject this approach and say that it doesn't take into account all of the factors, especially the assertion that war has a direct effect on gender. However, there is one recent example in whistleblower Bradley Manning. In a recent article, The Guardian noted that “from childhood, Manning began to have feelings that would eventually lead to a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which occurs when an individual feels they belong to the opposite gender...Another defence witness, Captain Michael Worsley, a clinical psychologist who evaluated and treated Manning between December 2009 and May 2010 [said] “I think being in the military and having a gender identity issues does not exactly go hand in hand.” The Bradley Manning Support Network added to this, with Nathan Fuller writing: “Dr. David Moulton, the defense’s expert on forensic psychiatry, reviewed Manning’s medical records and history, and diagnosed him wit Gender-Identity Dysphoria (GID), also known as Gender-Identity Disorder, along with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and some traits of Asperger’s. GID is the desire to live in part or completely as the opposite gender, and/or the feeling that one was born with the ‘wrong’ gender...Dr. Michael Worsley, the clinical psychologist Manning saw in Iraq, testified about their therapy sessions and Manning’s issues while he was deployed. In May 2010, he diagnosed Bradley with GID along with an anxiety-related but unspecified personality disorder.
The doctor discussed how GID isolated Manning and gave him great stress, as gender is a core part of our identity, adding to the pressures and difficulty he already endured as a homosexual soldier under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT)...Revealing oneself as homosexual in the military could result in a court-martial at the time, and even today after DADT’s repeal, revealing one’s desire to be the opposite gender would result in administrative separation from the Army. Manning had no real support system to reach out to about his issues.”
Then there was the statement by Bradley Manning himself, who had undergone the gender identity issues. In his full statement, he quickly said, “at the time of my decisions, as you know, I was dealing with a lot of issues-- issues that are ongoing and they are continuing to affect me.” This must be accompanied by a Wikleaks statement noted, “he has sat for three years in pretrial detention, while the government assembled 141 witnesses and withheld thousands of documents from his lawyers...But Mr. Manning’s options have run out. The only currency this military court will take is Bradley Manning’s humiliation. In light of this, Mr. Manning’s forced decision to apologise to the US government in the hope of shaving a decade or more off his sentence must be regarded with compassion and understanding. Mr. Manning’s apology is a statement extorted from him under the overbearing weight of the United States military justice system.” Still, Manning isn't the only QUILTBAG person who was effected, as it was more broad. Some like have written what we should take back gay pride to honor Manning while others have written that Gay Inc. which has “invested millions lobbying for "gays in the military” won't support Manning because it may “undermine their carefully-crafted plea for admittance to the military [and] addressing it as a gay issue would mean looking critically not only at the specific discriminatory policy of the military, but also at the very purpose of the military...It would mean considering how such rhetoric hides unpleasant truths about economic domination in our world, understanding how such domination relies on structures of power embedded in social relations of class, race, and gender.” One author on Socialist Worker questioned the reasoning of Lisa Williams, who denied Manning as Grand Marshal of the San Francisco Pride Parade with three very relevant questions: “What about the violence carried out by U.S. military forces against the LGBTQ people of Iraq and Afghanistan? The death and destruction inflicted by military drones against the people of Pakistan and Yemen, plenty of them queer? Or the countless LGBTQ Palestinians forced to endure the trauma of living under Israeli apartheid and occupation in Gaza and the West Bank?”
Such a discussion leads us to discussion of how war and militarism negatively affect QUILTBAG people. In the months leading up the start of the Iraq War in 2003, the Gay Liberation Network put out a strongly worded statement: “a full-scale war on Iraq is against the interests of most people in the world, including most LGBT people in the United States...[because] more than 100,000 people were killed in the last U.S.-led war on Iraq...A new ground war taken into the heart of Iraq's cities would likely kill many more, including U.S. personnel...A new U.S. war will indirectly kill people in our community here at home by diverting necessary funds away from already scaled-back social service programs...A new war on Iraq is immoral...Most of the world's peoples overwhelmingly oppose Bush's war, even if some of their leaders can be bribed or coerced by US military and economic might into supporting it...we in the LGBT community have a similar obligation to support our community, and other communities at home and abroad, by opposing Bush's war on Iraq.” After the war had started, a user on Zspace named AFSC which represents the American Friends of Service Committee, wrote on ZNetan article titled Is War a LGBT Issue? The article itself notes the following: “[the] war on Iraq and "the War on Terror" will not protect the human rights of LGBT people in war-torn countries. The International Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) says, "The U.S. policies of military aggression have served to render those who deviate from sexual and gender norms and people living with HIV/AIDS especially vulnerable to state-sanctioned violence and discrimination."...In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, a number of community-based LGBT programs serving youth, people of color, and victims of violence reported surges in instances of domestic violence and in hate violence...Finally, the war is distorting the LGBT movement's ability to evaluate violence...What is striking, however, is the level of fear that accompanies discussion about the war and the possibility of taking a stand against it...This climate of polarization, intimidation, and fear sometimes creates the mistaken impression that LGBT anti-war activism is not widespread...Many more LGBT programs and organizations providing basic education and services are experiencing or expecting similar debilitating cutbacks and reductions in donor and foundation income.” These articles are not the only ones that note the problems with supporting war and militarism.
“Violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is wrong. So is violence against people in Afghanistan and Iraq. But in the bizarre culture of identity politics, there are no alliances among the oppressed...The brutality of Matthew Shepard’s killers, who beat him to death for being gay, is a product of a culture that glorifies violence and sadism. It is the product of a militarized culture...This hyper-masculinity is at the core of pornography with its fusion of violence and eroticism, as well as its physical and emotional degradation of women. It is an expression of the corporate state where human beings are reduced to commodities and companies have become proto-fascist enclaves devoted to maximizing profit. Militarism crushes the capacity for moral autonomy and difference. It isolates us from each other. It has its logical fruition in Abu Ghraib, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with our lack of compassion for our homeless, our poor, our mentally ill, our unemployed, our sick, and yes, our gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual citizens.”- Chris Hedges
The idea that war is a hate crime is affirmed by the organization protesting the NATO summit in 2012 noted, “militarism...is an implicit attack on alternative sexualities and gender identities.” There is sadly something deeper. This deeper meaning is noted by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, the person who originally founded the now extinct SF Gay Shame: “Suddenly there are all these stories in the news about violence in Iraq against gay people...somehow violence against gay people in Iraq can be separated from the endless US brutalization of an entire country in order to pave the way for more oil industry profiteering. Worse than that...the protests around this issue, actually legitimize the US occupation by pointing to anti-gay hysteria in Iraq as proof of the savagery of an entire country, when instead they should be pointing to US militarism as the impetus...People lash out at whoever is the most vulnerable -- women, young people, old people, people with disabilities, sexual deviants, homos, immigrants...What about -- US: STOP KILLING EVERYONE!!! That would be a better start.” The reasoning of certain antiwar gays mentioned by Sycamore is a bit absurd. Let us consider that “centuries of de jure and de facto racial discrimination led to the present-day disparities among people of color, including LGBTQ people of color...[and] many LGBTQ people of color are part of immigrant families who originated in countries wrecked by war, genocide, resource shortages, economic and natural disasters—countries where LGBTQ people might have also faced persecution because of their sexualities, gender identities and political leanings” as noted by Funders of LGBT Issues. Additionally, Alex Blaze noted that war itself it inherently anti-LGBTQ: “adding hate crimes legislation into the Defense Authorization bill took attention away from the debate on war funding and put it on LGBT people...Queerness in all its forms...is problematic for authoritarian figures of all stripes, and any war is going to involve, on some level, both sides fighting against queer populations...It's no surprise to me that the US has the biggest and most-used military in the world and is alone among Western nations when it comes to banning LGBTQ people from the military...for those of us who live even a little bit outside of those gender roles that we were assigned at birth, we should know that the real enemy is authoritarianism and fundamentalism.”
Such commentaries about how war and militarism, tied into the capitalist system itself, negatively affect QUILTBAG people pushes an imperative for a new approach. It must be more than just same-sex marriage, as one site hosted by Urban Habitat argues, and challenge the whole system. This is in part what Ryan Conrad writes about in a journal, We Feel Differently, “In the fall of 2011, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the United States military policy of banning out gays and lesbians from serving in the armed forces, was relegated to the dustbin of history...While the urgency of talking about and challenging the drive to overturn DADT has passed, it is critical to continue reflecting on its legacy and the continued normalizing of the militarization of our everyday lives that DADT’s passing has further enabled.” After this, there is a quoted part from Against Equality: Don’t Ask to Fight Their Wars, that has an introduction by activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore that includes her personal story growing up.
“QEJ [Queers for Economic Justice] believes military service is not economic justice, and it is immoral that the military is the nation's de facto jobs program for poor and working-class people. And since QEJ organizes LGBTQ homeless people in New York City, we wanted to remind the LGBT community and progressive anti-war allies that militarism and war profiteering do not serve the interests of LGBT people...military service is not economic justice...Furthermore, QEJ understands that there are LGBTQ people in other parts of the world, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan, who have been killed, traumatized, or made disabled directly as a result of the recent US-led wars, or who have become vulnerable targets by fundamentalist backlashes to US imperialism. We stand in solidarity with other LGBTQ people around the globe, and do not condone violence against them or their home countries so that “our gays” have the “right” to serve openly in the military.”- Queers for Economic Justice
Such criticism is something that is not heard often at all. This is evidenced by the fact that the War Resisters has written a PDF outlining ten reasons why queers are negatively affected by militarism. There must be a push to revitalize the weakened anti-war movement which has had its energy diverted during the Obama presidency. Following what Lesbians and Gays Against Intervention (LAGAI) believes, there must be to “demand that queer issues never be put on the back burner [and] accept nothing less than full civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, but...[with no] queers or straights...in the military,” with a serious debate about connection of marriage to capitalism. In the end, with these ideas the anti-war movement can be fundamentally reformed so it can not only push for peace, but also for greater rights for those hurt physically and psychologically by war itself, not only veterans but also QUILTBAG people.