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).
One study, completed a decade prior to the activists’ 1967 Capitol Hill
visit, would have helped provide such evidence — if only it had been
released. In 1957 the Secretary of the Navy appointed a panel to
investigate the service branch’s “homosexual exclusion policy.”
subsequent report, known as the Crittenden Report, found no evidence
that gay service members posed a greater security risk than
heterosexuals. But the report was not released until the 1970s under
court order: The Navy had refused to release the study given its
The delegates responded to Panetta that “many
homosexuals, including several in the group talking to him, have served
honorably and effectively during a time of war.”
meeting with then-legislative assistant Panetta, the 1967 delegate
group visited the office of another California representative, one whose
secretary, according to an eyewitness, was “overwhelmed by the
masculinity” of those in attendance.
More than four decades
later, many gay service member advocates have praised Panetta’s
nomination, though they have urged the Pentagon to certify repeal under
the tenure of Secretary Gates, who will leave office on June 30 pending
Senate confirmation of Panetta. “[Panetta] will bring a strong national
defense background to the Pentagon, seasoned leadership, and a
demonstrated commitment to equality dating back to his time in
Congress,” Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director
Aubrey Sarvis said in a Wednesday statement.
On Monday, Panetta
congratulated CIA employees for their “outstanding expertise, amazing
creativity and excellent tradecraft" in eight months of intelligence
work that led to the assault of a large compound in Abottabad, Pakistan,
where bin Laden had been tracked down.
"We have struck a heavy
blow against the enemy,” Panetta said. “The only leader they have ever
known, whose hateful vision gave rise to their atrocities, is no more.
The supposedly uncatchable one has been caught and killed."
note: The Advocate wishes to thank Bob Witeck of Witeck-Combs
Communications for bringing this early mention of Panetta in The Los
Angeles Advocate to our attention.