By Mark Segal
There have never been higher hopes for our community as a president took the
oath of office as in January. We were promised an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t
Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act. And as a Senate candidate, he
supported gay marriage; as a presidential candidate, he was opposed, but
spoke out against antigay-marriage legislation in Pennsylvania and
Proposition 8 in California, also stating that he supported federal civil
unions that would give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual
While the administration states it still supports those issues and is
working on a strategy to achieve at least some of them in Obama’s first
term, something happened last week that was unsettling.
National Guard First Lt. Dan Choi, an infantry patrol leader who has seen
combat and speaks Arabic, along with a group of 38 West Point graduates,
came out in March with the offer to serve as a sort of support group for
other LGBT cadets, and more importantly offered to serve as a liaison with
the Army administration as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed.
Choi appeared on “The Rachel Maddow Show” and publicly came out in violation
of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and returned to the show last week.
This came to the attention of the White House press correspondents and the
following exchange took place between reporters and White House press
secretary Robert Gibbs.
GIBBS: The president, as you know, supports changing that because he
strongly believes that it does not serve our national interest. He agrees
with former members of the Joint Chiefs in that determination. Unlike
photos, the durable solution to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is through the
legislative process, and the president is working with Congress and members
of the Joint Chiefs to ensure that that happens.
REPORTER: But couldn’t he in the meantime put a moratorium on these
discharges until that can be accomplished?
GIBBS: The president has determined that’s not the way to seek any sort of
lasting or durable solution to the public-policy problem that we have.
REPORTER: How would you respond to the criticism that dismissing qualifying
linguists endangers the troops?
GIBBS: I would respond by saying the president has long believed the policy
doesn’t serve our national interests.
To put this into perspective, you have to notice two other items the
administration turned around on: continuing the military tribunals in
Guantanamo, which he said he would end during the campaign; and he would not
release the infamous Abu Ghraib torture pictures.
So where’s the common link? The military. In that regard, even before taking
office Obama and his staff were well aware of how entrenched our military
system was and how difficult it would be to win their trust. Their homework
was “The Clinton Curse.” One of President Bill Clinton’s first efforts was
to resolve the gays in the military issue. This led to the creation of
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a political disaster. Like then, the military
doesn’t trust the new president.
Should this be a surprise? No. During the campaign, Obama said in the
Gay History Project exclusive interview last September that he would work
to change the military ban by working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We
further asked him if he’d do it by executive order or a signing statement.
Again he stood his position. The president wants to change the ban by
legislation in harmony with the Joint Chiefs. But there is opportunity in
what happened this week and keeping with his campaign promise.
The president could create a presidential commission to look into “Don’t
Ask, Don’t Tell.” That commission would have members of Congress and the
military — on both sides of the issue — as well as members of the military
who have been personally affected by the policy. Choi would be a prime
While it doesn’t help those who are being dismissed currently, it does
accomplish the president’s promise to work jointly with the military and
Congress to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It moves the issue forward and
produces the dialogue this president appreciates.
Mark Segal is PGN publisher and the former President of the National Gay Newspaper Guild. He can be reached at email@example.com.