Two days ago the military defense bill did not pass, pushing back both Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act. In its most simple, boiled down argument, these two issues bring up one question for me: who can be an American?
Being American, at least to me, means having access to a certain number of rights, and being able to feel entitled to them (not having to doubt that you’re American). Rights such as citizenship, public education, freedom from violence, social mobility, freedom of speech, and representation at a number of levels, including the media and politics. When these rights are depicted as privileges, it’s usually a group that doesn’t fit someone else’s (someone more powerful’s) definition of who should represent America. Is this getting complicated?
Let me rephrase. Extending all of the rights of the Constitution to a group of people means that group is part of the United States. Likewise, limiting a group’s rights sends the message that you’re limiting their American-ness.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell prevents openly GLBTQ folks from serving in the military. It literally tells people “We don’t want you here. Go somewhere else.” Repealing it would say “You are part of our country and you love it just as much as anyone else. We trust you with its safety, because we trust you.”
The DREAM Act would allow the children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and help them go to college. Not passing it says “You’re parents don’t belong here and neither do you. Go back to where you came from, or suffer the consequences.”
I’m for repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and passing the DREAM Act. People don’t choose to be queer, or to have their parents circumvent immigration laws. But right now, we’re withholding privileges that would be rights if we really considered them fully American.