Black Women Disproportionately Impacted by “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
African Americans are overrepresented in the U.S. military, especially in the Army. The percentage of African Americans in the military still exceeds that of the general population: around 17 percent in the military, versus 12.8 percent in the U.S. population.
We also know from the 2000 census data that an estimated 65,000 men and women in uniform are gay or lesbian and are serving on active duty and in the National Guard and Reserves, while there are at least one million gay veterans in the U.S.
Too often we think of these figures as mutually exclusive: to paraphrase Gloria Hull, "all the gays are white, all the blacks are straight, and where does that leave the brave?"
According to U.S. Census data, black women with same-sex partners serve in the military at 11 times the rate of women overall. And new pentagon data shows that while women make up approximately fifteen percent of the armed forces, they account for nearly half of all "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) discharges from the Army and Air Force. Pentagon data show that African American women are discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" at three times the rate that they serve in the military.
For many people, the face of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is often a white and male face, a stereotype unfortunately often reinforced by the media and advocacy groups who have focused attention on the stories of white gay men who have been discharged. Too often, gay issues are seen reductively as gay white male issues and people can only be understood in terms of one social identity: people are racial minorities OR gay men and lesbians. There is a resistance to understanding identities that are complexly configured by multiple social identities: black and gay and a woman.
When we fail to recognize identities that encompass multiple social locations, we can miss the full impact of a policy like "don't ask, don't tell."
It's time to put a new face on the "don't ask, don't tell debate."
Jeanne Scheper, Research Director, Palm Center
Resources related to this post:
"New Data on Lesbian Discharges Has Historical Precedent: Palm Center Says More Research Would Be Beneficial," Palm Center Press Release, June 23, 2008.
"Gay Men and Lesbians in the U.S. Military: Estimates from Census 2000" by Gary J. Gates, The Urban Institute, 28 September 2004.
"Black Same-Sex Households in the United States: A Report from the 2000 Census" by Alain Dang and Somjen Frazer, 2005.
"A History of the Service of Ethnic Minorites in the U.S. Armed Forces" by Rhonda Davis, Palm Center White Paper, 2003.
"U.S. Military Integration of Religious, Ethnic, and Racial Minorities in the Twentieth Century," by Margot Canaday, Palm Center White Paper, 2001.
Conduct Unbecoming: The 9th Annual Report on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the Service Members Legal Defense Network, 2003.