The Deployment of Race/Sexual Orientation Analogies in the Debates about the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy

Devon W. Carbado

IN THE CONTEXT of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" controversy, gay rights proponents argued that the military’s historical discriminatory policies against Blacks is like the military’s current discriminatory policy against gays and lesbians; that the rhetoric the military em­ployed to justify and legitimize the politics of segregation in the armed forces is the same as the rhetoric the military employs today to legitimize and justify the politics of "the closet" in the armed forces.

Several Black anti-racist proponents who intervened in the public debates about the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy challenged the Black/gay analogies the gay rights proponents advanced. Specifi­cally, they argued that Blacks are not like gays; therefore, the mili­tary’s discrimination against Blacks is not the same as the military’s discrimination against gays and lesbians. This chapter argues that the pro-gay rights employment of, and the Black anti-racist responses to, race/sexual orientation analogies rendered the experiences of Black lesbians and gays invisible. Both the deployment of the analogies and the anti-racist responses reflected an oppositional construction of Black and gay identities, a heterosexualized conception of Black peo­ple, and a white representation of gay and lesbian identity.