Last edited: December 18, 2004

Will Rumsfeld Defend Gays in Military?

Detroit News, March 26, 2001
615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI, 48226
Fax: 313-222-6417

By Deb Price, The Detroit News

Donald Rumsfeld is the fourth defense secretary to find himself sharing a foxhole with the battle-scarred "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" gays-in-the-military policy. While he’s stuck with his troublesome mate, he’ll find himself under fire less often if he acts boldly and tries to fix some of its flaws.

Rumsfeld should immediately issue the 13-point Anti-Harassment Action Plan left over from the Clinton administration that orders the services to revise regulations and training to curb anti-gay abuse. And he should make clear he’ll hold accountable anyone who engages in or ignores anti-gay harassment. He would understand why these steps are essential after reading the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s seventh annual report on violations of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy. (See

"The question is whether Secretary Rumsfeld will pick up where (his immediate predecessor William) Cohen left off or will go back into hiding like Secretary (William) Perry did," said SLDN Executive Director C. Dixon Osburn.

"We did see some measurable improvement in the way that investigations (of presumed gay soldiers) were done this past year. That’s the sort of leadership that’s needed," he added in praising Cohen.

Under Cohen, a Republican tapped by Bill Clinton, the Pentagon finally acknowledged that anti-gay harassment hurts unit cohesion. Cohen also implemented guidelines in 1999 that helped curb witch hunts.

Those huge steps set Cohen apart from his predecessors — Perry, who largely ignored documented abuses of gay soldiers, and wimpy Les Aspin, Clinton’s first defense chief, who actively undermined the new president’s laudable goal of getting rid of the military’s gay ban.

Whether Rumsfeld will work to make gay soldiers lives safer is unclear. His boss has described himself as a "‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ man," but President George W. Bush has said nothing about how he’ll make sure the fundamentally unfair policy is implemented as fairly as possible. Bush’s position at least signals that we shouldn’t expect him to support reinstating an outright gay ban.

Unfortunately, little is known about Rumsfeld’s thoughts on "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," which permits gay soldiers to serve as long as they remain closeted and celibate.

When Rumsfeld was nominated, he told the press that Bush hadn’t mentioned the gay policy to him, adding: "Certainly, the priorities are in other areas for me."

Rumsfeld’s only other public comment on the policy came in 1993, when Aspin was undercutting Clinton. While not revealing his own position on lifting the ban, Rumsfeld urged the Clinton team to "lead through persuasion" and said the Pentagon’s top brass "will do precisely what they are told."

The long-simmering debate over gays in the military may heat back up before long: Within months, the Cox Commission will recommend changes in the military’s code of justice, which hasn’t been updated in 50 years. We can hope the esteemed panel will urge Congress and the Pentagon to drop the absurd five-year penalty for sodomy.

Meanwhile, SLDN’s latest report is "must" reading:

Progress: "Don’t ask" violations reported to SLDN decreased 18 percent from the previous year. "Don’t pursue" violations fell 13 percent. And "Don’t harass" violations dropped 10 percent.

Lesbian-baiting: Women continue to be accused of being gay at a disproportionately high rate. They were 24 percent of SLDN’s cases, but are only 14 percent of the active forces.

Crying foul: Servicemembers still report becoming the target of investigations after reporting being the victim of anti-gay slurs or violence.

Congress ultimately will repeal "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Until then, we must demand that the secretary of defense protect the safety and rights of all the gay Americans who serve our country.

  • Deb Price’s column is published on Monday. She be contacted at (202) 662-7370 or

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