On December 18, 2010, the Senate voted to repeal the 17-year-old anti-gay policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). President Obama signed the repeal into law on December 22, 2010, making it one of the few campaign promises he kept.

But this reform was not handed down from above; it was the result of organized popular pressure on Obama and Congress. The bill’s passage in the immediate aftermath of the tax cuts sellout indicates how Obama hoped to use the DADT repeal to placate angry progressives.

While the repeal still has to go through certifications and a 60-day waiting period, once the DADT repeal has gone into full effect many gays and lesbians in the United States’ largest workforce, the military, can finally choose to be open and honest about their sexual orientation with whomever they choose.

Grassroots Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) activists had already shown that they were willing to employ mass campaigns, civil disobedience, rallies and marches, including the historic 200,000-strong National Equality March in October 2009, to demand “Full Federal Equality.”

On top of that, however, was the overwhelming public support — around 75% — for repealing the DADT policy of the Clinton era (CNN Poll 5/25/10.) According to the NYTimes, “70% of surveyed service members believe that the impact [of a repeal] on their units would be positive, mixed or of no consequence at all,” (11/30/2010). Even 58% of self identified conservatives supported repeal, (6/5/2009).

The repeal of the law was not a brave step by Obama toward equality, but instead the repeal of an untenable and unsupported policy in the hopes of winning back support from progressives who are increasingly disgusted with the Democrats’ pro-corporate policies. With a congressional approval rating the lowest seen in Gallup history — at 13% after the November elections — it is clear the eight Republicans that helped to push the DADT repeal also realized they couldn’t continue to maintain a policy opposed even by a majority of conservatives (Gallup poll, 12/15/2010).

Activists Emboldened
The Republican gains at both the federal and state levels in the November elections undoubtedly mean a more difficult legislative environment to challenge anti-LGBT laws. At the same time, however, the movement for LGBT equality is likely to keep growing, with new groups and activists entering the struggle.

Reflecting the growing confidence of the movement, the day after the November elections Robin McGehee, director of GetEQUAL, wrote: “We will hold Democrats and Republicans accountable who fail to come out and lead or actively oppose us on key progressive issues,” saying these included “LGBT equality, pushing for climate justice [and] protecting a woman’s right to choose.” She continues, saying “we’ll continue to take to the streets until we see the political closets of D.C. come crashing down around us.”

In this context, the repeal of DADT is being seen as a victory of the growing protest movement, emboldening activists to push forward. Fresh attacks from an overconfident right wing could, in fact, act as a “whip of counter-revolution,” pushing new waves of young people especially into defensive struggles. At the same time, every half-step or capitulation by the Democrats will also continue to push forward the left wing of the movement, which has embraced the idea of mass struggle and bold demands against the mild-mannered and compromising lobby-based groups who have dominated the LGBT movement in recent years.

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