- Capt. Joan Darrah (USN-ret.) was the Navy’s first female intelligence officer.
- Lt. Col. William Winnewisser (USA-ret.) was a battalion commander, executive officer of the Army Operations Center at the Pentagon, and a White House social aide.
- Lt. Col. Hank Thomas (USMC-ret.) was an infantry and intelligence officer who served two tours of duty in Vietnam; he later served as assistant secretary for international affairs in the Reagan administration.
- Lt. Col. Steve Loomis, wounded in action in Vietnam, was awarded the Bronze Star with a “V” for valor.
- Capt. Joe Lopez, a West Point graduate, and Blackhawk pilot, earned an Air Medal in Iraq.
- Capt. Rebecca Kanis, a West Point graduate, was a company commander in Special Operations at the time she resigned her commission after nine years of service.
- Capt. Phil Adams, a Naval Academy graduate, spent eight years as a Marine infantry officer.
- Lt. Gina Foringer, during her four years of service, was a convoy commander in Somalia when she was wounded in action.
- SSgt. Eric Alva, who lost a leg in Iraq, served 13 years in the Marines before receiving a medical discharge.
Each of them has a stack of medals and commendations; each of them is gay or lesbian. And every one of them is immoral, according the General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military “says that we, by policy, would be condoning what I believe is immoral activity,” General Pace told the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune. When Pace’s comments went public, he was forced to issue a written statement, but never apologised for his opinion about gays: “In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct. I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views.”
That policy is “don’t ask, don’t tell,” established in 1993 during Bill Clinton’s first term as president, and later enhanced to include “don’t pursue, don’t harass.” It was a “compromise”. The military would accept gays, and not ask them their sexual preferences as long as they don’t speak out in favour of homosexuality, acknowledge their lives, or enter into any relationships with members of the same sex.
Harry Truman, by executive order, had dictated the end of segregation in the military. Clinton planned to do the same for those who are involved in same sex relationships. Opposing him were all of the military’s “big guns”, including General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. When Powell, a Black, was asked by gay-rights groups, and thousands of others, how he could support discrimination against gays while acknowledging that desegregation of the military allowed his own career to flourish, Powell merely said that the two were not the same. It was Powell, however, who crafted the revised policy.
Among the reasons the military claimed why gays couldn’t serve was because their presence would hurt troop morale and undermine combat effectiveness; gays could be security risks - they were likely to be blackmailed or compromised, said military commanders.
The Navy’s Crittenden Report in 1957 discounted that reasoning. During the early 1980s, the Department of Defense issued an official declaration opposing gays in the military; the 124-word inflammatory new policy was designed to justify reasons why gays must not be allowed to serve. However, an independent RAND Corp. report in July 1993 found no logic to exclude gays from service, and concluded that military readiness would not be affected by having gays in service.
Congressional support to eliminate the ban came from several prominent Democrats, and one highly-respected Republican - Senator Barry Goldwater (1909-1998). Goldwater, a pilot who retired as an Air Force major general, numerous times had spoken out against the emerging dominance of the Religious Right in Republican politics. Although there is no clear-cut evidence that President Bush is homophobic, there is significant evidence that the continuation of the ban against gays in the military has been strengthened by the resurgence of the influence of the religious right wing during the Bush-Cheney Administration.
Because the military is a hierarchy, with constant jockeying for duty stations and promotion, there is no question that the Chairman’s views about what he believes is the immorality of homosexual behaviour will influence every person in his command.
About 65,000 gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgenders now serve in the military, all of them officially hiding their non-military lives, according to the Urban Institute and Service members Legal Defense Network (SLDN). Almost 9,500 members of the military, including hundreds in critical combat specialties, including 50 Arabic language specialists, have been forced out of the military between 1993 and 2005, according to SLDN.
In 2003, on the 10th anniversary of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Brigadier General Keith Kerr (USA-ret.), RADM Alan Steinman (USCG-ret.), and Brigadier General. Virgil Richard (USA-ret.), in a signed op-ed column in the New York Times, all stated they were gay. In an op-ed column for the New York Times, General John M. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believed “if gay men and lesbians served openly … they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces.”
State and federal laws prohibit discrimination against a person’s sexual orientation; the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Agency, and National Security Agency all have openly gay agents. The armed forces, says General Wesley Clark, former NATO commander and Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, “are the last institution in America that discriminates against people; it should be the first that doesn’t”.
Assisting on this column were the American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) and Servicemens Legal Defense Network (SLDN).