Retired military brass come out for gay soldiers
December 11 2003 12:00 AM ET
Two brigadier generals and a rear admiral--all retired--disclosed that they are gay and denounced the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy in interviews with The New York Times. In a story published by the newspaper Wednesday, Army Brig. Gens. Keith Kerr and Virgil Richard and Coast Guard Rear Adm. Alan Steinman said the policy effectively excludes gay men and lesbians from military service and forced them to deceive friends and family. The men were the highest-ranking military officials to disclose their sexual orientation, the Times said. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights group that monitors military justice, made the officers available to the newspaper as part of the group's plans to mark a decade since the policy was put in place by President Clinton on November 30, 1993. "Because gays and lesbians are required to serve in silence and in celibacy, the policy is almost impossible to follow," Steinman told the Times. "It has been effectively a ban." He said he did not tell his family he is gay until after he retired in 1997. Richard, who retired in 1991, said no one knew he is gay during his 32 years of military service. "I suppressed my desires and didn't allow myself to be who I am because there was too much at stake," Richard said in his interview with the newspaper.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said nearly 10,000 men and women have been discharged from the military for being gay under "don't ask, don't tell." The Bush administration and the Pentagon have said there are no plans to abandon the policy.
During the interview, the three former leaders said the antigay policy undermines 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. They were the first generals and admiral to come out publicly, they said, and they hoped that others would follow. The officers hope to spur a
dialogue, in Washington and in the military, about changing the policy.
"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, according to The Times.