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“It’s a Kākou Thing”: The DADT Repeal and a New Vocabulary of Anti-Subordination, 3 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 905 (2013)
UIC Law Open Access Faculty Scholarship
  • Kim D. Chanbonpin, John Marshall Law School
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The repeal of DADT represents the triumph of non-discrimination rhetoric, while the MLDC's report stands for a renewed effort to expand the military's affirmative action policies for the benefit of people of color and women: two historically subordinated groups in the U.S. military. The repeal of DADT may have purchased equality for LGB service members, but at a premium. The strategic decision to rally around the non-discrimination model, I argue in this Article, will reinforce the continued subordination of LGB service members. As an alternative, I propose the application of kakou principles to military policies and programs for integrating LGB service members.

Kākou, in the Hawaiian language, literally means “us” or “we.”According to the study of clusivity in the field of linguistics, language and word choice can be deployed to communicate either exclusion or inclusion. More figuratively, kakou signifies collective action to address a social problem. Therefore, when one says, “it's a kakou thing” to describe an event, the speaker means that everyone is invited to participate. On a deeper level, “it's a kakou thing” also means that everyone's participation is required to make the event a success. If exclusion is a primary means of subordination, as I will argue in this Article, then the notion of inclusion as manifested in the value of kakou provides a new way of re-imagining anti-subordination justice work. In comparison to the dominant non-discrimination model promoted during the DADT repeal movement, kakou is concerned with substantive equality and requires an awareness of difference for the purpose of gaining collective strength based on individual differences.

The history of the DADT repeal exposes the consequences of vocabulary and word choice in progressive social change advocacy. To achieve the goal of repeal, mainstream DADT repeal advocates successfully utilized the narrative of non-discrimination and formal equality--that is, gay soldiers are no different than straight soldiers, according to the rhetoric of the repeal movement, and therefore they should be treated similarly. But under the terms of the repeal, the military will not consider sexual orientation or the history of LGB subordination to be relevant factors in recruitment, retention, promotion, or other personnel decision making. In achieving the repeal under these terms, LGB service members have been deprived of access to and benefits from the military's equal opportunity (EO) and diversity programs. As a result of the strategic deployment of the non-discrimination narrative by repeal advocates, sexual orientation and gender identity has been completely eliminated from the military's discourse about diversity.

Part I provides factual background by chronicling the U.S. military's history of unequal treatment of marginalized groups--namely, people of color, women, and LGBTQ people. Part II introduces a new conceptual framework for understanding the harms resulting from the military's historical subjugation of these groups. Borrowing from the field of linguistics, Part II uses the notion of clusivity to describe laws and policies banning or restricting certain groups from military service as exclusionary and, by contrast, describes redress efforts such as affirmative action as inclusive. More specifically, Part II proposes the use of the Native Hawaiian value of kakou as a way to reimagine anti-subordination scholarship and activism. Utilizing the kakou paradigm, Part III describes the military's efforts at remedying the subordination of marginalized groups. Part IV sets forth my proposal that the military should adopt, as it does in the context of affirmative action programs for people of color and women, kakou-imbued programs to repair the historical subordination of LGB service members.

Citation Information
Kim D. Chanbonpin, “It’s a Kākou Thing”: The DADT Repeal and a New Vocabulary of Anti-Subordination, 3 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 905 (2013)