Will Rumsfeld Defend Gays in Military?
March 26, 2001
615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI, 48226
By Deb Price, The Detroit News
Donald Rumsfeld is the fourth defense secretary to find himself sharing a
foxhole with the battle-scarred "Dont Ask, Dont Tell"
gays-in-the-military policy. While hes stuck with his troublesome mate, hell
find himself under fire less often if he acts boldly and tries to fix some of
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 hell
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 Networks seventh annual report on violations
of the "Dont Ask, Dont Tell" policy. (See sldn.org.)
"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
"We did see some measurable improvement in the way that investigations
(of presumed gay soldiers) were done this past year. Thats the sort of
leadership thats 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,
Clintons first defense chief, who actively undermined the new presidents
laudable goal of getting rid of the militarys gay ban.
Whether Rumsfeld will work to make gay soldiers lives safer is unclear. His
boss has described himself as a "Dont Ask, Dont Tell
man," but President George W. Bush has said nothing about how hell
make sure the fundamentally unfair policy is implemented as fairly as
possible. Bushs position at least signals that we shouldnt expect him to
support reinstating an outright gay ban.
Unfortunately, little is known about Rumsfelds thoughts on "Dont
Ask, Dont 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 hadnt mentioned
the gay policy to him, adding: "Certainly, the priorities are in other
areas for me."
Rumsfelds 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 Pentagons 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 militarys
code of justice, which hasnt 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, SLDNs latest report is "must" reading:
Progress: "Dont ask" violations reported to SLDN decreased 18
percent from the previous year. "Dont pursue" violations fell 13
percent. And "Dont 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 SLDNs 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 "Dont Ask, Dont 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 Prices column is published on Monday. She be contacted at (202)
662-7370 or email@example.com.
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