Don't: A Reader's Guide to the Military's Anti-Gay Policy (Public Planet Books)

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9780822322856: Don't: A Reader's Guide to the Military's Anti-Gay Policy (Public Planet Books)
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In Don’t Janet E. Halley explains how the military's new anti-gay policy is fundamentally misdescribed by its common nickname, “Don't Ask/Don't Tell.” This ubiquitous phrase, she points out, implies that it discharges servicemembers not for who they are, but for what they do. It insinuates that, as long as military personnel keep quiet about their homosexual orientation and desist from “homosexual conduct,” no one will try to pry them out of their closets and all will be well.
Not so, reveals Halley. In order to work through the steps by which the new law was ultimately drafted, she opens with a close reading of the 1986 Supreme Court sodomy case which served as the legal and rhetorical model for the policy revisions made in 1993. Halley also describes how the Clinton administration’s attempts to offer Congress an opportunity to regulate conduct—and not status—were flatly rejected and not included in the final statute. Using cultural and critical theory seldom applied to explain the law, Halley argues that, far from providing privacy and an assurance that servicemembers' careers will be ruined only if they engage in illegal conduct, the rule activates a culture of minute surveillance in which every member must strictly avoid using any gesture in an ever-evolving lexicon of “conduct that manifests a propensity.” In other words, not only homosexuals but all military personnel are placed in danger by the new policy. After challenging previous pro-gay arguments against the policy that have failed to expose its most devious and dangerous elements, Halley ends with a persuasive discussion about how it is both unconstitutional and, politically, an act of sustained bad faith.
This knowledgeable and eye-opening analysis of one of the most important public policy debates of the 1990s will interest legal scholars, policymakers, activists, military historians and personnel, as well as citizens concerned about issues of discrimination.

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Janet Halley provides a close reading and provocative history of the 1993 revisions to the U.S. military's antigay policy. Possibly most shocking is Halley's account of how Congress and the Department of Defense rebuffed the Clinton administration's attempted compromise policy based on a status/action distinction. Halley shows how the status/action distinction has completely collapsed; self-identification as gay is taken to indicate a propensity to engage in gay acts--and consequently as equal grounds for discharge.

Ironically, as Halley notes, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund itself had "argued that sodomy was a necessary element of gay life" in an amicus brief in Bowers v. Hardwick, the landmark 1986 Supreme Court decision denying privacy protection to homosexual sex. Hardwick is at the heart of Halley's argument; as many have noted, the Georgia statute in question applied to all acts of sodomy, both heterosexual and homosexual. The Supreme Court, however, directed its opinion only at homosexual sodomy and, as Halley puts it, "in their hands, sodomy and homosexual persons became metonyms of one another," establishing the foundation for the military's misnamed "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

This is a dense, thought-provoking little book, certainly worth looking at for anyone interested in the legal and political aspects of the issue of gays in the military. Ultimately, her analysis suggests, political and intellectual bad faith have resulted in an unconstitutional policy that exposes all military personnel (not just homosexuals) to intense sexual scrutiny and restricts both their speech and acts. --Julia Riches

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"For more than a decade, Janet E. Halley's groundbreaking work in queer legal theory has made hers a central voice in law and sexuality studies. For anyone interested in understanding the rhetorical battlefield of the U.S. military's anti-gay policies, "Don't" is a must."--Kendall Thomas, Columbia University School of Law

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9780822323174: Don't: A Reader's Guide to the Military's Anti-Gay Policy (Public Planet Books)

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