I’ve heard that former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn is on a list of potential Democratic Vice Presidential candidates. In fact, Barack took Sam along on a recent political sojourn to Indiana.
While the general public didn’t seem to notice, the gay/lesbian community took notice because Sam Nunn was the principle architect and driving force behind the effort to make “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” an official armed services policy. This discriminatory and hateful policy challenged the fitness of qualified gay men and lesbians to serve in the armed forces.
To put it in another way, imagine reaction if it was known that former Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott was being vetted as a VP. Even Republicans know that nominating a candidate with racist credentials would be a disaster for their ticket.
It’s hard to believe that Senator Nunn would ever be considered for the second highest elected position in America, especially since Barack supports the repeal of Nunn’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And, as you may know, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is under review due to a bill introduced by California Representative Ellen O. Tauscher (Alamo, CA). Said Rep. Tauscher, “ We have figured out how to deal with racial integration and gender discrimination. This is the last frontier.”
Since 1994, when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” took effect, more than 12,000 military personnel have been discharged under it’s provisions, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). During recent hearings, Elaine Donnelly, President of the Center for Military Readiness, which opposes repeal of the policy, said that a repeal “would impose new, unneeded burdens of sexual tension on men and women serving in high-pressure working conditions, far from home, that are unlike any occupation in the civilian world.”
The panel also heard from retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, who lost his right leg in Iraq. Sgt. Alva told his buddies that he was gay and it did not erode unit cohesion, an argument used by proponents of the policy. “…I realized I had fought for rights for others that I myself was not free to enjoy,” remarked Sgt. Alva.
To help provide background on this important issue, I decided to visit the archives of GLAAD/LA (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation/Los Angeles) Reports newsletter to retrieve a remarkable 1993 letter sent by The Campaign for Military Service, an organization formed by the gay and lesbian community to deal with Senator Nunn’s Senate Armed Services Committe, as it held hearings to formulate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
The following letter by Thomas Stoddard, Coordinator for Campaign for Military Service, was hand delivered to Senator Sam Nunn on May 14, 1993:
Dear Senator Nunn:
Before the Armed Services Committee, under your direction, began its hearings on the military’s policy toward lesbian and gay servicemembers, you promised a process that was “fair, thorough and objective.” After the commencement of the hearings, you repeatedly renewed your pledge of fairness. As recently as two days ago, a spokesman of yours asserted in The Washington Post, “The hearings have been fair, they’ve been thorough and they’ve been objective.”
The hearings themselves, however, especially as conducted this week, belie your pledge of fairness. You have directed proceedings that are inherently unbalanced — proceedings that promote your personal views on the issue to the denigration of other perspectives and opinions. (We note that The Atlanta Constitution, the most important newspaper in your state, rebuked you for the lack of balance in the hearings in an editorial this past Wednesday. The Constitution wrote: ‘Mr. Nunn had an opportunity to demonstrate that he could be an honest broker on a tough issue. Instead, he has allowed his own prejudices on the subject to overwhelm the hearings. So far, the Senator’s conduct has fallen far short of statesmanlike.” As the weeks have passed, your promise of impartiality has degenerated into a succession of bigoted personal testimonials and media stunts.
I write now to document the appalling imbalance in the process to date and to protest your conduct in connection with the hearings. Furthermore, on behalf of The Campaign for Military Service and its scores of constituent organizations, in Washington and across the country, I call upon you to bring the hearings in their present guise to an immediate end. Neither the Senate nor the nation will gain from any further prolongation of the present process.
The evidence of bias in the direction of the hearings is overwhelming. It includes the following:
1. Skewed selection and presentation of witnesses. You and your staff have consistently favored witnesses who are advocates of your position, or who, at a minimum, would not challenge that position. Meanwhile, you have rejected witnesses who hold contrary or competing opinions. Thus, you entertained testimony on Tuesday from General Norman Schwarzkopf, who opposes any change in current policy, but refused to permit testimony from Senator Barry Goldwater, who favors such a change. Senator Goldwater offered to testify and was in Washington on Tuesday. And as a former Colonel and pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II and a Major General in the Air Force Reserves, as well as a former chairman of the Armed Services Committee itself, he was at least as appropriate a witness as General Schwarzkopf.
Monday’s public hearing in Norfolk was especially unfair — indeed, inflammatory. You and the Committee received testimony from 15 servicemembers in fervent opposition to a change in policy. All had been called by you. None had any significant personal experience with gay servicemembers. Their presentations, taken together, amounted to nothing more than a collective expression of distaste for gay people, utterly uninformed by any knowledge or analysis. You permitted, on the other side, only two witnesses supporting a change in policy, both naval officers now facing discharges. And while they were testifying, you did virtually nothing to stop the persistent grumbling and hissing in the audience from hostile servicemembers.
Your selection of “expert” witnesses also shows the imbalance in the process. We submitted the names of nine witnesses for the sessions on the history and constitutionality of the current policy. You accepted from among that number only one person (Lawrence Korb). Among those rejected were the only two historians to have systematically and independently studied the current policy (Allan Berube and John D’Emilio); they were apparently rejected because they are both gay men and have stated their opposition to the policy. Also rejected were a number of constitutional scholars with considerable knowledge of the current case law on the ban. Instead of these genuine experts, you chose witnesses with little or no grounding in this issue who simply made use of the research and analysis of others.
2. Refusal to protect witnesses subject to retaliation. Under the current policy, even in its modified form, any lesbian or gay servicemember identified as such is subject to involuntary discharge. Despite this undisputed fact of life for gay servicemembers, and despite your assertion that you want the hearings to be “fair” and “objective,” you and your staff rejected our requests for protection for lesbian and gay servicemembers who wished to present their views to the committee, either publicly or privately. You declined to consider any form of assurance of no retaliatory discharges, and you declined, alternatively, to arrange for the anonymous rendering of testimony. Consequently, no lesbian or gay servicemember could feel safe in stepping forward.
This assertion is more than speculation. In advance of the hearings in Norfolk on Monday, we collected more than 100 letters from active-duty servicemembers who expressed a desire to speak to the Committee, but believed they could not to so without the Committee’s protection.
Different, but related fears impeded testimony from heterosexual servicemembers who support an end to the existing policy. Such servicemembers may, in the present climate, encounter suspicion, harassment and ridicule if their desire to testify is known. They may even become targets of investigation into their sexual orientation and conduct. Under these circumstances, the refusal to extend any protection whatever to servicemembers who support a change, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual, constitutes by itself a fundamental — extremely troubling — breach of your pledge of fairness.
3. Staging of stunts and spectacles for the media. Of all the unfair aspects of the Committee’s deliberations, your decision to lead reporters, photographers and television camera on a lurid inspection of naval shower stalls and bunk beds is the most prejudicial. That you chose to waste the Senate’s time and the taxpayer’s money on such an expedition is in itself outlandish, since virtually every member of the Committee has seen similar facilities many times in the past. That you invited the media in to see facilities with you is blatantly sensationalist. As a senior senator and an experienced committee chairman, you know the difference between serious fact-finding and a media show. In Norfolk you chose to put on a media show. This tour was in no sense evidence-gathering; it was agitprop.
Sensation-mongering has also accompanied your public hearings. Your office called news organizations several days before General Schwarzkopf’s testimony to entice them into covering that day’s hearings because “something explosive” was going to take place.
4. Lack of proper notice and withholding of information. Throughout the hearing process, you and your office have continually withheld information about the timing and location of the Committee’s proceedings, as well as the identity of witnesses, presumably to render your opponents as unprepared as possible. You announced last Monday’s events in Norfolk, for example, only on the preceding Wednesday, and even then did not divulge the list of witnesses. In several instances your office, astonishingly, disclosed the identity of witnesses 24 hours or less before they were to appear before the Committee.
All of these factors, when considered together, reveal a process so riddled with bias as to cast dishonor on the Committee and its proceedings. We deplore and condemn it. We also call upon you to cancel any plans for further hearings. Additional sessions, since they can only be expected to mimic the tone of those held so far, will add nothing to public debate or understanding.
Your personal preoccupation with this subject should not deflect the government from addressing other pressing issues — including, most obviously, the crisis in Bosnia and the military’s adjustment to the end of the Cold War. Endless hearings by the Armed Services Committee on the issue of lesbians and gay men in the military would constitute an unnecessary diversion from those other issues, while failing to educate or enlighten anyone on the question at hand.
by Carl Matthes
Carl Matthes is a native of Los Angeles and has lived in Eagle Rock for over 40 years. He is a former president and a current Board member of Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance. He is a former columnist and a current advisor to the Lesbian News, the oldest lesbian publication in America. He was editor of the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) newsletter and a former GLAAD National Board member. He has also been a Board member of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Other articles by Carl
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