By: Sally Miller
At last, seventeen years after President Bill Clinton was virtually forced to sign on to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, finally reason has prevailed, and this is no longer the policy of the American military. We are now joining the rest of the western world and accepting any of our citizens into the armed forces without regard to their sexual preferences. Much credit goes to the rational leadership of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs. It is true that some fringe types are raising ridiculous questions about members having to shower together, etc. It will take time before all details of this policy change are implemented, and some issues are not yet known. For example, will those forced out of the military be able to rejoin, and reclaim their standing and accrued benefits?
Columnist Maureen Dowd has written an essay exploring whether or not we as a nation are ready for a gay Commander-in Chief. My guess is that we are not but her exploration of the issue is worth noting. She was able to discover former President Jimmy Carter’s views about this perhaps fanciful possibility. His answer was that it will eventually happen, but probably not in the next few elections. Comic Bill Maher commented that “Can you imagine how much a gay president would have to overcome?” citing the fear and loathing President Obama’s election has unleashed in some quarters.. A gay president would have to nuke something too prove to some that he was macho enough for the job, said Maher. Barney Frank, the first out Congressperson, commented that it is not clear that a gay President could give his husband a celebratory kiss in public after winning election. Would his partner have to pay rent to live in the White House with him, he asks? Under the Defense of Marriage Act, there probably would be no secret service protection for such a couple. Frank said there probably has been a gay President, James Buchanan just before the Civil War. There are four gays in the House of Representatives today, all Democrats. Said Frank, no Republican could come out; they are accepted by their party only if they are not proud of who they are. Tammy Baldwin, a lesbian in Congress, has taken her girl friend to White House parties under three Presidents. She said she believes they changed some views. A pollster for the Human Rights Campaign thinks a lesbian would have a better shot at the Presidency than a gay man because of existing stereotypes of gay men.
The gay mayor of Portland, Oregon, Sam Adams commented that “we shouldn’t have to die in the closet.’ He can marry couples as a mayor but he cannot marry his partner under current federal policy.
We tend not to realize to what extent the gay exclusion from the military affected so many of us. George Clauncey, perhaps the leading historian of Gay Americas, points out that the military’s exclusion of gays starting 65 years ago became a model for state-level and private employment as well. While many gays did serve in the army during and after World War II despite the exclusion policy , that was the first policy to exclude people on account of sexual orientation. Several thousand were excluded at induction centers, and a greater number were discharged as undesirable. Such a discharge haunted them in private life thereafter because employers asked to see discharge papers. Moreover, such discharges made gays ineligible for the GI Bill’s benefits that everyone else enjoyed. President Eisenhower signed a measure excluding gays from employment in civilian agencies. In the McCarthy years, more suspected gays then suspected communists were excluded from offices. Many private employers adopted the same policies, as did individual states, as said. Many states also prohibited bars and restaurants from serving gays. CAN YOU IMAGINE??!
I learned lately that there has already been at least one gay Supreme Court Justice. One of FDR’s appointees, Frank Murphy, a former governor of the state of Michigan, was a gay man who never married, and lived with his partner for many years. His colleagues either did not realize the situation or got used to it.