Why do we celebrate Pride? It’s a fair question.
We celebrate it because in a world where members of the LGBTQIA+ community have to fight to justify their existence, Pride Month offers a chance to celebrate their identities and help other members of the community find affirmation. Millions of queer people worldwide grow up in communities or households that lead them to hide who they are and feel shame, and until that has thoroughly and unequivocally changed, there will always be a need for Pride Month. There is no shame in your identity, and you should feel free to celebrate who you are.
Among DC characters, Kate Kane has always embodied the spirit of Pride. The heroine known as Batwoman is one of Gotham’s most valiant protectors, but it almost didn’t end up that way. Kate Kane’s life almost took a different path, one that would’ve placed her in the United States Army instead of the Batcave. Faced with a crossroads, Kate was forced to choose between giving up her lifelong dream or denying her own identity.
To understand Kate Kane’s origin, we need to talk about DADT, commonly known as “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” DADT was an American policy that was enacted in 1994 regarding homosexuals serving in the military. As the name implies, it allowed for people who identify as queer to join the military—provided they keep their sexuality a secret. The policy was in effect for over ten years, through 2011. At the time DADT was enacted, there had been a debate about ending the longstanding ban on gays in the U.S. military. DADT was seen as a compromise, which is infuriating to consider.
The reality was that under DADT, gay service members were still effectively barred from the military and those who were already serving were regularly discharged once their queerness was known. It just stated that if you were a gay enlistee, you had to keep that thoroughly to yourself—it was an acknowledgement of a status quo that had existed for generations, but that was never officially endorsed prior to then. Make no mistake, there were LGBTQIA+ soldiers in the military before DADT, and after the policy was enacted, they were still stigmatized and forced to stay in the closet.
No so-called compromise should ever involve someone being forced to deny their sexual identity, and that brings us to Kate Kane. Detective Comics #859 flashes back to a time before Kate was Batwoman, when she was an Army cadet training at the prestigious West Point. The comic was published in 2009, two years before DADT was repealed. During some downtime, Kate and another cadet named Sophie Moore enjoyed a tender romantic moment together. The moment was private and had no adverse effect on her military training, but that didn’t matter. Someone found out and Kate was called into her colonel’s office.
Colonel Reyes tells Kate that someone had reported her interaction with Sophie, but he’s willing to sweep the incident under the rug and look the other way if Kate simply denies the allegation.
“Sir, all I’ve ever wanted since my mother and sister were murdered is to serve,” Kate explains, letting the readers know exactly what is at stake. Kate’s father, Colonel Jacob Kane, is a decorated military hero who Kate idolizes. She has spent a good part of her life preparing for a military career. It’s part of her identity, but is it enough to deny her true self?
“A cadet shall not lie, cheat, or steal, nor suffer others to do so,” Kate ultimately responds. “I’m sorry sir, I can’t. I’m gay.”
Kate’s confession effectively ends her military career, shattering the life she had worked so hard to build for herself. It’s a powerful moment, made more resonant by the fact that Kate’s choice was a real one faced by many men and women in the military at the time. Either deny their true selves or be discharged from the military. Both options were infuriating.
Kate could have lied to Reyes, graduated West Point and gone on to have become a respected and decorated servicewoman. But just because she could have, doesn’t mean she should have. Forcing someone to lie about who they are as a person is reprehensible, and Kate shouldn’t have to be subjected to it. In fact, as Kate pointed out, lying would have gone against the code the military had taught her.
This moment says so much about who Kate is as a person and serves as a potent reminder of why Pride Month is needed. Kate Kane will not hide who she is. She is not ashamed of her sexuality and knows love is something you should never have to hide. In a world that encouraged Kate to deny her true self, she felt pride.
Kate could have lied and avoided discharge. She probably would have excelled in her career, but she wouldn’t have been happy. She would have been forced to live a lie. Still, the temptation had to have been there. Considering some of challenges, threats and super-villains Kate has faced as Batwoman, her courage as an individual has never been in doubt. Still, it’s hard to imagine a braver moment than this one.
DADT may be gone, but we still have a long way to go. Members of the LGBTQIA+ are constantly discouraged from being open about their sexual identities. That is why we celebrate Pride Month. It’s about love, affirmation and acceptance. There is a community out there willing to embrace and celebrate you.
Kate Kane is a tough warrior, a compassionate friend, and an inspiring hero. She is someone who has suffered and fought so that today’s LGBTQIA+ soldiers can enjoy rights that she never had. More than anything, she is proud of who she is. So, this month, take a page from Batwoman. Hold your head high with pride.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and writes our monthly Batman column, “Gotham Gazette.” Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.