Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Captain Domi served for fifteen years in the U.S. Army as an enlisted soldier and commissioned officer.  She posted the following on the Blog “The New Civil Rights Movement” and we thought it worth reposting here:

Dan Choi: Comments Unbecoming

My friend Dan Choi uttered a truly despicable analogy of Harry Reid, Majority Leader of the Senate, last week by likening him to a “pussy” that “will bleed once a month,” because of Reid’s “weak” leadership in failure to pass a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal measure in September.  Just so happens, Dan’s very demeaning analogy was recorded by Village Voice journalist Steve Thrasher on Oct. 27, who reported his words in a lengthy feature for all the world to see and read.The statement Dan made had nothing to do with sexual orientation, or DADT.  Rather, his words reveal deeply-held beliefs that are predicated upon sexism that equates women with weakness.  His rationale:  Women bleed, women are wounded, thus unable to wield power effectively.

Inside the LGBTQ community, the issues of sexism, racism and classism are continually at play, as we all struggle to unshackle ourselves from a myriad of oppressions.  Yet, it remains true and unspoken, that sexism is an undercurrent in all forms of oppression.

Dan’s ugly insult to all women evoked righteous anger from the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network, who released a joint letter addressed to Dan late yesterday condemning his words and wrote ”there is no room for misogyny, racism or other forms of hate speech among people who are working to end discrimination and bring about equality in the military”.

The signatories have demanded an authentic apology from Dan that indicates that he truly understands–really gets,  just how insulting his utterances were.  SWAN has also offered to meet personally with Dan to discuss the issues raised by his comment.

For many of us, this incident is an ugly reminder of having been hazed and sexually harassed by men in the military, These painful experiences are searing to one’s soul.  I can remember being called a “dyke,” a “whore,” and a “bitch.”  I was so frequently objectified, that when someone would refer to “females” I just knew and understood that I was less than, less worthy and less important than men in my  unit as an enlisted woman (my situation improved considerably after becoming a commissioned officer, although I did experience sexual harassment later in my career which led to my decision to leave the Army.)

Dan Choi’s comments were indeed unbecoming.  Nonetheless, the LGBTQ community is now presented with an opportunity–a unique moment to explore how the specter of sexism remains an unacknowledged barrier to achieving equality.

Here is the SWAN letter:

Dear Dan,

The Service Women”s Action Network (SWAN) and the undersigned advocacy organizations were shocked and extremely disappointed by your comments about women in your recent interview in the Village Voice. You should know as we do that there is no room for misogyny, racism or other forms of hate speech among people who are working to end discrimination and bring about equality in the military, and throughout society.

Your comments about women are irresponsible, indefensible and inexcusable, and you should publicly acknowledge that fact.  As a human rights advocate, you should know that degrading one group of people to promote the rights of another disserves everyone.  Your sexist comments also undermine SWAN”s efforts to achieve our policy objectives, which include promoting equality for all servicemembers.

As an organization that advocates for equal opportunity for all servicemembers and veterans, SWAN is keenly aware that there is still a tremendous amount of misogyny both within the military and the LGBTQ community, and that misogynistic and homophobic language is rampant in the military.

Comments denigrating women”s bodies, or suggesting that simply being a woman is abhorrent, are unacceptable. Unfortunately, this type of language is all too familiar to women in the military.

As a direct result of misogynistic language, a hostile work environment for servicewomen–both heterosexual and lesbian–is allowed to thrive. Hate crimes, sexual harassment, lesbian-baiting, gay-bashing and sexual assault have flourished. Adopting and promulgating hate-filled speech against women only serves to increase the danger that servicewomen and LGBTQ servicemembers face on a daily basis.

We must hold you accountable for what you say as a spokesperson for equality. We encourage you to render a genuine apology, rather than a half-hearted, perfunctory tweet on Twitter. We also encourage you to discuss this issue with us further. It is part of our mission to educate the public about the serious challenges facing military women and women veterans, and we”d be more than happy to assist you in deepening your understanding of these issues.


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