Human Rights

Somebody Has to Say It: “Queers Can be Fodder, Too, Now!”

By Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) is dead. The U.S. Senate killed it yesterday. It was inevitable.

After 17 years of keeping military personnel shackled in their closets, not to mention living in constant fear of being found out and discharged, DADT is on its way to becoming another of those unfortunate policies that this country will look back on with a sense of moral indignation, as in, “How could that happen here?”

When the partying in the queer community subsides, perhaps some folks will realize that our sweet victory has a bitter side as well: without a plan on how to deal with what has been referred to as the “poverty draft,” a lot of poor and working-class queers with no means to go to college will end up in America’s two endless wars that only benefit those with all the money.

As the saying goes, “Rich kids end up in college, poor ones in the military.” Statistics seem to bear that out, with more than half to two-thirds (depending on which study you believe) of recruits coming from lower middle-class or poor households.

It’s no surprise. The military bills itself as a place to get an education, to learn skills, to make oneself ready for good jobs in civilian life. Whether it’s true or not is up to debate, but it’s certainly the perception that the military’s slick PR campaign wants us to buy.

And it seems to work.

After all, what other options do poor and working-class kids have? Times are really tough, unemployment is sky high, and jobs are being sent overseas by greedy corporations eager to increase their already obscene profits (which were at a record high in the last quarter). College students, the ones who can manage to go to school, are up to their ears in debt. It’s not going to get any better. Tuitions keep rising.

Military officials have admitted in newspaper articles that the bad economic times have been good for recruitment. Chicago’s Breaking News Center website quoted an Army official as saying: “When unemployment increases, military enrollment—especially among ‘high-quality’ recruits with a high school diploma who score well on aptitude tests—increases in kind.”

Is this why queer leaders were so anxious to end discrimination against gays in the military? So that poor and working-class queers who might once have considered the military off limits can now rush out to their local recruitment center and sign on the dotted line for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan? Kids who feel that they have no other choice, an idea that is happily reinforced by pushy recruiters looking to fulfill their quotas. Those who entice young people into the military (which they can sign up for even before they have the right to vote or drink) now have a whole new pool of potential applicants. Imagine them heading to the local high school Gay/Straight Alliance to spread the good news about the repeal.

I understand the historicity of this moment, I really do. I know that discrimination is wrong, no matter where it is practiced.

But it seems to me that if the queer community doesn’t work in coalition with other groups to help build economic opportunities for poor and working-class young people so that they don’t have to feel the military is their only choice in life, then we are condemning queer kids to the same fate as their straight counterparts.

That’s not equality, that’s insanity.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a writer, performer and activist, editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: the early years of gay liberation (City Lights), and co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italian-American Writers Sail Beyond Columbus. To view his creative stuff:, December 19, 2010