Posted by: Catherine Lugg | December 28, 2010

DADT repeal and the politics of US public schooling (Part 2 of a two part essay)

With the announced death of the military queer ban “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”), I’ve been musing as to what this all means for the politics of US public education in the imperial age. While my initial sense is “not much will change” at present, I think the integration of queers into the US military brings more pressure to bear on public schools to better integrate queers into their student and professional bodies. So, what follows are a few observations:

First, if “the homosexual,” one of the most despised of Americans, can now serve openly and honorably in the most fiercely homophobic of all US public institutions–the military–states and local school districts are going to be hard pressed to justify their “no promo homo” laws and policies. These laws and district policies supposedly ban the “promotion of homosexuality” in public schools, but their effect is to suppress queer people who work and study in public schools. These are “fall back” laws and policies that came with the end of sodomy laws–the latter which had long criminalized queer identity. While queers are no longer statutory criminals thanks to the US Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, (2003), the no promo homo laws force public schools to maintain studied silences on all things queer. For queer kids and employees, it imposes a governmental closet, a public school version of “don’t ask, don’t tell” upon their lives.

That said, “no promo homo” laws and policies should fail First Amendment scrutiny on two counts. 1. Queers aren’t criminals (see Lawrence v. Texas, 2003), so, public schools are not promoting and will not promote supposed criminal behavior by discussing queer lives–which is the espoused rationale for “no promo homo” laws and policies. Furthermore, by suppressing queer identity speech, the public schools are violating students’ First Amendment rights, and by extension, employees’ first amendment rights (although adults do have much fewer constitutional protections as public employees). 2. No “promo homo laws” also are rooted in “heresy prevention.” In some religious denominations, queer identity is seen as a religious heresy. The religious belief holds that sexual orientation and gender identity are “fixed” and divinely non-queer. Consequently, these adherents argue that no child of religious parents should be exposed to the possible heresies of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered identities (link is homophobic!)–for fear of their own children “turning gay,” and therefore, becoming religious heretics. But our secular public schools should not be in the business of enforcing religious dogma (see the on-going brouhaha over evolution and the laughable “creation” science). As result, “no promo laws” should also flunk the religious entanglement test. So, no promo homo laws and policies actually violate two separate strands of First Amendment jurisprudence–speech and religion.

Another practice rooted in no promo homo laws is that of public school administrators and teachers outing queer students to their parents. As the litigants in a particularly nasty Texas Case note:

KISD requires that its staff disclose the sexual orientation of their students to parents, without consent and without any genuine, legitimate, and compelling governmental interest in doing so. KISD’s policy is that staff are under a legal obligation to disclose this information. Superintendent Clements is a final policymaker for KISD. The KISD Trustees merely rubber stamp his decisions, delegating its policymaking authority to the superintendent, who is free to create and implement operating policies as he sees fit. Therefore, nonconsensual disclosure of sexual orientation is a matter of practice, custom, and the de facto policy of KISD. KISD’s policy was a moving force behind the deprivation of S.W.’s constitutional rights.

Link to the petition.

Besides inflicting real emotional trauma on queer students and putting them at risk of physical violence and being thrown out of their own homes by homophobic/transphobic parents, no promo policies and laws are a great target for litigation–a very expensive proposition for districts and states which are increasing strapped for cash. A far cheaper and less traumatic solution is to quietly flush these laws and policies down the public policy toilet.

The less straight forward cultural change wrought by the demise of DADT involves student guidance. This covers both formal guidance issues and the more common, more informal guidance provided by faculty, staff and fellow students. If the military is now accepting queer personnel (at least LGB people, the ban on trans people remains), the press for compulsive heteronormative behavior (see CJ Pascoe’s fabulous work, “Dude, You’re a Fag” ), particularly for young men, should start to abate. If gay male identity legitimate for the US Marine Corps, who sell themselves as the elite of the elite, then gay male identity is legitimate for a host of fields and professions. That said, the on-going sexist and abusive behavior towards females in public schools, unfortunately, will probably continue.

The demise of DADT might also bring particular pressure on states and districts regarding their queer employees. As historians Karen Graves and Jackie Blount have documented, public school teachers and administrators have had to be demonstrably “non-queer” and for administrators, the professional requirement has been to be homophobic. Much of this homophobia and heteronormativity has been driven by Cold War prerogatives that mandated public educators be aggressively non-queer (i.e., gender conforming and heterosexual).

Furthermore, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to deny queer public educators the same employee benefits as their non-queer peers. If queer identity is no longer an existential threat to the US empire, the denial of equal employee benefits to queer employees is solely based on religious bias, and this is something public schools are Constitutionally barred from engaging in. I would suggest to teacher and administrator unions that these benefits be woven into their collective bargaining agreements whenever possible. If that avenue is closed, which is the case in many “right to starve states” (states that are pathologically hostile towards public educator unions), it would be better to weave these “equal benefit” provisions into the public school code. The actually economic costs are miniscule (which was Rutgers’ experience) and the message to queer employees invaluable.

With the death of DADT, the non-queer requirement should fade, although given how deeply entrenched it is in educator professional cultures, I suspect this will take longer than the integration of queer students into public school life. Overall, with DADT’s demise, I expect incremental changes to public schools, but these will occur. In some locales, particularly in those areas with strong civil rights protections for queers, things should move more swiftly, while snail-like progress can be expected in less-hospitable venues. But the remaining cornerstone upholding the US empire’s hostility to queer identity, the military queer ban is dead. I expect the fallout from DADT’s demise to ripple across all US public schools.

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Responses

  1. […] the military was and is way ahead of some parts of the country on this (*COUGH* SOUTH CAROLINA! […]


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