If President Obama's nomination of former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense illustrates anything, it is that the LGBT community is not monolithic. At issue are comments made 14 years ago during the confirmation of James Hormel to be Ambassador to Luxembourg under President Bill Clinton. Hagel said: "[Ambassadors] are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay openly, aggressively gay."
Hagel apologized, calling his 1998 remarks "insensitive" and while Hormel questioned the timing as political expedience, he graciously accepted it as a "clear apology." Obama spoke about the issue on Sunday's "Meet the Press," as the LA Times reported:
"With respect to the particular comment that you quoted, he apologized for it," Obama said. "And I think it's a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people's attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country. And that's something that I'm very proud to have led.
"And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues," he added.
But new out Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is among those who want to ask Hagel questions during his confirmation hearing. "I do want to speak with him, particularly about his comments 14 years ago, to see if his apology is sincere and sufficient," Baldwin said on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports." "I want to hear how he's evolved on this issue in the last 14 years."
[T]he Hagel nomination also presents challenges for Americans who care about civil rights. When Hagel served in the United States Senate, as a Republican from Nebraska, he consistently voted against gay rights--his record earned him a zero-per-cent rating (three times) from the Human Rights Campaign, the leading gay-rights lobby. Among other things, Hagel voted against extending basic employment nondiscrimination protections and the federal hate-crimes law to cover gay Americans. ....
Without a doubt, one of the most challenging and contentious defense-policy issues during the past twenty years has been whether gay and lesbian Americans should be allowed to serve in the military. Obama provided crucial leadership in ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and opened up the military ranks to gays in 2011. So it is naturally surprising to many gay-rights advocates that he would pick as his new Secretary of Defense someone who was opposed to open service when he was in the Senate. More recently, though, as part of his apology to Hormel, Hagel said that he is now "fully supportive of 'open service' and committed to L.G.B.T. military families."...
Notably, aside from his slightly contrived Hormel apology, issued after he was already publicly being considered for the job of Defense Secretary, there is no evidence so far of Hegel's support for gay rights.
When first hearing rumors of Hagel's nomination, HRC said the choice was "unacceptable" based on his past ratings and remarks. However, when Hagel apologized, HRC proudly welcomed him as a new ally.
"Senator Hagel is an exceptionally qualified nominee for Secretary of Defense and we believe, if confirmed, he will be an effective leader for the Pentagon. Significant challenges remain for LGBT service members and their families, however, and it's long overdue that our Secretary address those challenges.
Our message to the next Secretary of Defense would be the same, no matter who was nominated and confirmed. A commitment to support LGBT service members and their families must be a commitment to action. It's past time to extend all benefits available to married same-sex military couples and families while the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is still on the books. It's past time to put in place military equal opportunity and nondiscrimination protections so that all qualified Americans who wish to serve this nation in uniform may do so without fear of harassment or discrimination. We look forward in the weeks ahead to discussing these and other issues important to LGBT service members and their families with Senator Hagel and his designees, and to working with him should he be confirmed to create equitable conditions for all those who serve our nation so bravely in uniform."
The bickering has focused on whether Hagel should be "forgiven" because of his politically conveniently timed apology or not (an apology which was not actually delivered directly to the man who was the focus of the attack).
Lost, and almost totally unaddressed is what are the policy implications of Sen. Hagel's alleged evolution on LGBT issues?
Reports to the contrary, LGBT equality is not yet a done deal in the military. There is still the matter of partner benefits. There still remain a handful of regulations that could be revised independent of the Defense of Marriage act that could bring some equity of compensation and benefits to gay and lesbian servicemembers. The second column in the table below are all benefits that may be endowed to gay and lesbian servicemembers but remain denied due only to Department of Defense foot-dragging.
Included in the discretionary benefits currently denied are spousal identication cards, cited in the Pentagon's own Working Group study as not requiring DOMA repeal to deliver. Moving on this might have avoided the recent and ugly Fort Bragg incident of spousal discrimination. This case placed a sharp focus that leadership can provide guidance, or they can remain apathetic and silent, as Fort Bragg's leadership has chosen to be in the face of arbitrary discrimination against some military families. The Department of Defense's sloth in revising relevant regulations will enable situations like this to continue into the foreseeable future.
Consider the case of cancer-stricken Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire National Guard. Governor-Elect Maggie Hassan announced Morgan will lead the pledge of Allegiance at her Inaugural Ceremony. It's a great honor, but with only months to live, Morgan would like nothing more than to know her wife and daughter's future are secured by her Veteran's Benefits, as any parent or spouse would wish.
Would Hagel support any measure to deliver equity to families like Morgan's? No one knows.
No one seems inclined to ask if Hagel would consider the status quo acceptable, or if partner benefits are among the issues he'd like to see addressed over his potential tenure? Will the military voluntarily revise the necessary rules and regulations, and would Def. Sec. Hagel support or oppose that? That is really a much more relevant question than whether he really feels bad about being mean to Ambassador nominee James Hormel 15 years ago.
Garden State Equality's top leaders, Chair and CEO Steven Goldstein and incoming Chair and CEO Troy Stevenson, took the LGBT challenge one step further - calling on Hagel to publicly declare his support for extending the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell to transgender service members:.
"We love our president and so many of us at Garden State Equality worked hard for his reelection. But his nomination of Chuck Hagel is extraordinarily insensitive. It's hard to believe there's not another person on earth who doesn't have Hagel's credentials but who isn't as offensive. The nomination is puzzling at best and stunning at worst. Frankly we hope Republicans and fair-minded Democrats hold firm in keeping Hagel's feet to the fire. The overwhelming burden of proof is on Hagel, not on the U.S. Senate, to convince the nation he is a changed leader. He can start by announcing his support for open service for transgender people in the military, whom the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell did not cover."
Garden State Equality Chair and CEO-elect Troy Stevenson: "The instincts of everyone who believes in equality should be to oppose this nomination. Chuck Hagel's record on LGBT issues in the U.S. Senate was abhorrent, and his characterization of Ambassador Jim Hormel as being 'aggressively gay' was as homophobic as it was bizarre. That does not suggest the kind of fair-minded temperament we need at the Department of Defense. Chuck Hagel has to explain in detailed terms how he will make good on his past, including by telling the nation in great detail how he will implement open military service, and whether he believes in extending the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell to our transgender soldiers. Nothing short of that will do."
Senator Hagel has been a strong supporter of the President's approach to national security, and as Secretary of Defense, he will support and execute the President's vision for our military. That includes continuing the President's historic support for gay and lesbian service members, and overseeing the continued implementation of the full repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The President is fully committed to ensuring that all of our service members and military families are treated equally. He is confident that, as Secretary of Defense, Senator Hagel will ensure that all who serve the country we love are treated equally -- no matter who they love.
Recently, some in the LGBT community have expressed concerns about Senator Hagel's past comments. In response, Senator Hagel issued a statement in which he apologized for comments that he made in the 1990s, and affirmed both his commitment to LGBT civil rights as well as his support for open service and the families of gay and lesbian service members.
One of the great successes of the LGBT civil rights movement is that it provides the space and opportunity for people to change their hearts and minds, to right past wrongs, and, over time, to evolve. The President believes Senator Hagel's statement of apology, and his commitment to ensuring that all service members and their families are treated equally. The President would not have chosen him unless he had every confidence that, working together, they will continue to ensure that our military and DoD civilian workforce are as welcoming, inclusive, and respectful as possible.
So - what to believe? Is Hagel so antigay that his very nomination is an affront to the LGBT community? Or will Hagel adhere to President Obama's policies - including the end of DOMA - and expand LGBT equality in the military?
One thing is for sure: it's too late to turn back LGBT rights now.
Additionally, LGBT professionals such as Huebner (a first-rate lawyer I met when he co-founded GLAAD/LA) are today's "best and brightest" who take initiative - Huebner restructured the consulate "to bring our programs, staffing, resources, and methods into alignment with current, rather than legacy, circumstances and priorities." The administration cannot afford to ignore or throw away such creativity. It's also a matter of justice - as the Defense Department just acknowledged, settling a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of former servicemembers who challenged their separation pay after being honorably discharged for "homosexuality."
Indeed, if confirmed, Hagel could turn the moment to his advantage - creating the modern day equivalent of the historic breakthrough that occurred when Communist-hating President Richard Nixon went to China and started to "normalize" relations with that country's dictator Chairman Mao. The former GOP senator with a three-time zero rating from HRC could start by acknowledging some of the points Wooledge made regarding domestic partners; he could argue that he is unifying and clarifying administration policy with the State Department. On his blog, Huebner posted the speech given by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Nov. 28, 2012 at the 20th anniversary of the Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies. Hagel might read this speech and see similarities worth emulating.
Now, it wasn't really that long ago since this organization was created, but in many ways it was a completely different world. As we heard, in 1992 you could be fired for being gay. Just think about all of the exceptional public servants, the brilliant strategists, the linguists, the experts fired for no reason other than their sexual orientation.
Think of what our country lost because we were unable to take advantage of their hard work, expertise, and experience. And the policy forced people to make terrible choices, to hide who they were from friends and colleagues, to lie or mislead, to give up their dreams of serving their country altogether.
That began to change, in part because of the brave employees here at State, who decided that it was time for the bigotry, the ignorance, the lying, and discrimination to end. The LGBT community deserves the same chance as anyone else to serve. And indeed, as we all know, many had for many years, just without acknowledgment of who they were. So enough was enough, and that's how GLIFAA was formed. And thank goodness it was.
We've come a long way since then, and we have seen milestones along that journey over the last 20 years. I remember that I think on my husband's first day in office back in '93, he announced that gays and lesbians working in the Federal Government would receive equal treatment under the Civil Service Reform Act. Two years later, Secretary Warren Christopher made clear those rules would be enforced within the halls of the State Department when he issued a statement that explicitly prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Now over the past four years, we've built on those and other steps to really acknowledge and welcome LGBT people into the State Department family and other agencies. We've extended benefits to same-sex domestic partners of State and USAID employees, Foreign Service officers, personal service contractors, third country nationals at missions overseas.
We've institutionalized these changes by creating a classification for same-sex domestic partners in the Foreign Affairs manual. We've also made it clear in our Equal Opportunity Employment statement that the Department doesn't discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression. We've helped to make it easier for transgender Americans to change the gender listed on their passports, because our mission is not only to protect the rights and dignity of our colleagues, but also of the American people we serve. And we've taken this message all over the world, including the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where we worked to pass the first ever UN resolution affirming the human rights of LGBT people."
Clinton goes on to say that "creating an LGBT-welcoming workplace is not just the right thing to do, it's also the smart thing to do."
The independent Hagel could go even further in this Nixon-goes-to-China comparison. During his announcement of Hagel's nomination, President Obama said:
Chuck Hagel's leadership of our military would be historic. He'd be the first person of enlisted rank to serve as Secretary of Defense, one of the few secretaries who have been wounded in war, and the first Vietnam veteran to lead the department. As I saw during our visits together to Afghanistan and Iraq, in Chuck Hagel our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength. They see one of their own.
LGBT people need to see one of their own, too, standing next to Sec. of Defense Hagel as a qualified, trusted, independent senior advisor - more than what the then-glass closeted Pete Williams was to Sec. of Defense Dick Cheney. As Sec. Clinton said: "Think of what our country lost because we were unable to take advantage of their hard work, expertise, and experience." If Hagel is truly independently minded, he would see LGBT people in the military in the same way and decide that the security of the country should come before outdated discriminatory attitudes.