Gay Ex-Officers Say 'Don't Ask'
New York Times
December 10, 2003
WASHINGTON D.C. Three retired military officers, two
generals and an admiral who have been among the most
senior uniformed officers to criticize the "don't
ask, don't tell" policy for homosexuals in the
military, disclosed on Tuesday that they are gay.
The three, Brig. Gen. Keith H. Kerr and Brig. Gen.
Virgil A. Richard, both of the Army, and Rear Adm. Alan
M. Steinman of the Coast Guard, said the policy had
been ineffective and undermined the military's core
values: truth, honor, dignity, respect and integrity.
They said they had been forced to lie to their friends,
family and colleagues to serve their country. In doing
so, they said, they had to evade and deceive others
about a natural part of their identity.
The officers said that they were the first generals
and admiral to come out publicly and that they hoped
that others would follow.
They are the highest-ranking military officers to acknowledge
that they are gay. Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer was discharged
from the Washington State National Guard in 1992 for
being a lesbian. She was later reinstated.
Ten years after the Clinton administration instituted
the policy of "don't ask, don't tell," it
remains contentious and has fallen far short of President
Bill Clinton's vow to allow gays to serve openly. The
officers hope to spur a dialogue, in Washington and
in the military, about changing the policy.
Nearly 10,000 service members have been discharged
for being gay under the policy, which was signed into
law by Mr. Clinton on Nov. 30, 1993, according to the
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights group
that monitors military justice. The group made the officers
available to The New York Times as part of a campaign
to mark the anniversary of the policy's official inception.
"Don't ask, don't tell" was a compromise
to permit gay men and lesbians to serve without fear
of harassment or expulsion as long as they kept their
sexual orientation to themselves. Defense Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld has said the Bush administration
will not revisit the policy.
Senior military leaders have argued that openly gay
service members would disrupt unit cohesion and morale.
"We remain committed to treating all service members
with dignity and respect, while fairly enforcing those
provisions of the law that mandate the separation of
those who choose to violate the policy," the Pentagon
said on Tuesday.
When the policy was created, military officials argued
that most Americans - and, thus, most soldiers - did
not approve of or tolerate homosexuality. And while
gay service members are believed to make up only a small
fraction of a military of more than one million men
and women, commanders have said they are concerned that
forcing heterosexual members to live, and fight, side
by side with gays will undermine the military's mission
to win the nation's wars.
"Because gays and lesbians are required to serve
in silence and in celibacy," Admiral Steinman said,
"the policy is almost impossible to follow. It
has been effectively a ban." The Coast Guard is
not under the authority of the Pentagon, but follows
the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
The officers were reluctant to discuss their personal
relationships, in part, they said, for fear of the consequences
to themselves and loved ones. "I was denied the
opportunity to share my life with a loved one, to have
a family, to do all the things that heterosexual Americans
take for granted," Admiral Steinman said. "That's
the sacrifice I made to serve my country."
He added, "I didn't even tell my family I was
gay until after I retired from the military."
General Richard, who retired from the Army in 1991
after 32 years of service, including assignments in
Vietnam and at the Pentagon, said, "No one knew
I was gay when I was in the military."
"I suppressed my desires, and didn't allow myself
to be who I am because there was too much at stake,"
Admiral Steinman, who was the surgeon general of the
Coast Guard before he retired in 1997, recalled that
earlier in his career, when he was a flight surgeon,
a young air crewman came to see him with a health problem.
"I had to stop him, when it became clear that
he was going to tell me he was gay," Admiral Steinman
said. "I would have been required to report him
to command for discharge."
General Kerr, who retired from the California State
Military Reserves in 1995 after 31 years in the Army
and the Reserves, primarily with intelligence groups,
said it had taken a long time for him to decide to come
out. "The culture of the military is that you go
along and conform," he said. "And you keep
your private life to yourself."
The officers said that the Defense Department and White
House had not adequately addressed the problem of harassment.
"It is important that they engage the harassment
issue," Admiral Steinman, who lives in Dupont,
Wash., said. "It needs to be tackled more forcefully.
And the president could set the tone."
General Kerr agreed. "The president seems reluctant
to emphasize the anti-harassment part of the 'don't
ask, don't tell' policy," he said in an interview
from his home in Santa Rosa, Calif. "He just doesn't
feel this is a serious issue."
General Richard said he thought the policy had damaged
military readiness and recruitment and retention of
soldiers. "There are gays and lesbians who want
to serve honorably and with integrity, but have been
forced to compromise," he said in an interview
from his home in Austin, Tex. "It is a matter of
honor and integrity."