Panetta's Early Appearance
The September 1967 debut of The Los Angeles Advocate (12 pages, 25 cents a copy) featured an upbeat tone, groundbreaking news of a federal court obscenity ruling on nude male images, and a cameo appearance by Leon Panetta, President Barack Obama’s recent defense secretary nomination and current director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who congratulated CIA employees on Monday for their role in the successful mission leading to the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Panetta, a 29-year-old fresh face on Capitol Hill in 1967 who would go on to become President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff — and who could succeed Secretary Robert M. Gates at the Defense Department before “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal is formally certified — met briefly that year with 11 California activists from the Third National Planning Conference of Homophile Organizations.
Wearing buttons reading “Equality for Homosexuals,” the delegates had stopped by the office of California senator and Republican minority whip Thomas H. Kuchel, who was speaking on the senate floor at the time of their visit.
“[B]ut the group was received by a surprised assistant, Leon E. Panetta,” the un-bylined report continued.
However “surprised” he may have been, Panetta didn’t slam the door on the contingent in an era when homosexuality was considered pathology and the U.S. Civil Service Commission barred gays and lesbians from federal employment. “[He] showed interest in the homosexual movement and said that Senator Kuchel would read and digest any publications sent to him,” the article read.
Following two years of service in the Army as a decorated intelligence officer, Panetta was hired as a legislative assistant for the Republican senator from California. But he became a Democrat in 1971, according to an interview available here via UC-Berkeley’s Institute of International Studies.
The planning conference delegates also addressed the issue of gays in the military with Panetta, decades before “don’t ask, don’t tell” entered the American lexicon.
“On the issue of the armed forces, Panetta said that the Department of Defense would want evidence that homosexuals could be integrated into a military unit without downgrading its effectiveness,” according to the article (the Los Angeles Advocate eventually shortened its title to The Advocate in 1970).