A Look Back: Bill Clinton Defends Original “Don’t Ask”

As we edge closer to Tuesday’s implementation of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal, Queerty is taking a look back at the some of the stories that have brought us to this point.


Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell remains a stain on America’s liberal democracy.

The discriminatory policy, however, was never meant to be used for nefarious purposes, says Bill Clinton. The former president delved into the pressing matter while campaigning for his wife, saying: “[Gay soldiers] would be free to live their lives; as long as they didn’t go marching in gay rights parades or go to gay bars in uniform… In uniform… and talk about it on duty, they would be all right.” It wasn’t until after Secretary of State Colin Powell left office that anti-gay forces began using the policy to repress homo soldiers.

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  • emb

    why oh why oh why, billyboy, are you going out on this limb? It was an indefensible compromise at the time that directly contradicted a direct campaign promise to the LGBT voters. While, yes, better than the status quo, it’s hardly spinnable as a Generally Good Thing. Straight soldiers are not held to a standard that prohibits them from discussing, displaying, and otherwise parading their pussy-related interests, so we have a separate-but-unequal policy, the only “upside” of which is it freely permits gays and lesbians to be shot at just as much as heteros. The obvious solution is simply to ensure that the code of military conduct is equally enforced against sexual aggression or harassment of any kind.

    Sorry, bill. This doesn’t help anyone.

  • Paul Raposo

    Preseident BJ says:

    “[Gay soldiers] would be free to live their lives;”

    Then has the audacity to temper that ridiculous assertion, with the firther ridiculousness of defending the act of keeping soldiers closeted by saying:

    “…as long as they didn’t go marching in gay rights parades or go to gay bars in uniform–In uniform–and talk about it on duty, they would be all right.”

    Does this man–this draft dodger–have any decency what so ever?

  • forbesfart

    iworked on Clinton campaign for 18 months in 91-92. Ihave notsupported Clintonsincehisfailed policyagainst GLBT,then let us notforget about DOMA, friends like the Clintons(HRC) who needs enemies.

  • Gianpiero

    I fear that this is a precursor of the kind of hairsplitting on the issue that we might see Hillary do…

  • hells kitchen guy

    What he should have said is that it was proposed too early in his admnistration, Sam Nunn stabbed him in the back, and he was forced to retreat. Sometimes, I wonder about him.

  • emb

    Gianpiero, you’ve hit it on the head: This IS what we can expect from Clinton II–this kind of obfuscating, word-twisting, and (as HC has demonstrated) demonizing and underhandedness. We’ve had 8 years of backstabbing intrigue in our politics; maybe it’s time to try something different.

  • fabianlander

    Bill Clinton.a brave statesman,his word is not only a support for his wife,but also a support for Gay soldiers,for human will got more information about the discussion around the topic on

  • gay as life

    “and [not] talk about it on duty, they would be all right.”

    And that, right there, is the problem – you idiot! Do straight soldiers not talk about girlfriends/sex/dating/wives/kids on duty? Damn. I can’t believe I used to respect this man.

  • Michael Bedwell

    My, my, my. How much time some are wasting rehashing the mistakes of the past. Technologically they’re iPod Queens; politically they’re still playing 8-track tapes. Let’s be consistent and tear down all those memorials to Harvey Milk. After all, he, like She Devil Hillary Clinton, was a Barry Goldwater supporter.

    DADTDP is particularly important to me as one of my best friends was the late Leonard Matlovich, whose suit against the Air Force in 1975 was the first to make antigay military policies a national issue, though he is perhaps better known so many years later for his epitaph: “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

    Most experts on the current policy are affiliated with the overall marvelous group that was formed exclusively to overturn it and assist those who were victimized by it in the interim, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. In a 1998 [?] report, then SLDN co-executive directors Michelle Beneke and Dixon Osburn wrote, emphasis mine:

    “The promises to stop asking, pursuits and harassment in 1993 were clear. General Colin Powell stated in 1993: ‘We will not witch hunt. We will not chase. We will not seek to learn orientation’. Senator Sam Nunn, former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, ‘I do not believe we should have sex squads prying into the private lives of our service members’. President Clinton pledged that the policy would provide for ‘a decent regard for the legitimate privacy and associational rights of all service members’. Then Senator, now Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, expressed a similar understanding of the policy when he asked then DoD General Counsel Jamie Gorelick whether the ‘small amount of privacy under the current policy was intended to prevent the military from prying into people’s private lives’. Gorelick answered with a resounding ‘yes’.

    The reason underlying continued violations of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue’ is a lack of commitment from top military and civilian authorities. Military leaders have not communicated to the field the policy’s limits to gay investigations or ITS INTENT TO END PRYING INTO SERVICE MEMBERS’ PRIVATE LIVES. The lack of commitment is reflected by: (1) The absence of clear and thorough guidance or training on investigative limits; (2) heavy-handed and increasingly intrusive investigative tactics against suspected gays, including coercion and fishing expeditions; (3) no recourse or redress for service members asked, pursued or harassed; and (4) a lack of accountability for those who violate current policy. The result is a climate in many commands where ‘anything goes’ in the pursuit of suspected gay personnel.”

    While there is reason to condemn the Clinton Administration for failure to correct this [and, strangest of all, he blows kisses to Colon [sic] Powell who, along with Nunn, led the opposition to Clinton’s original plan to integrate out gays by Executive Order], the belief that Clinton could have won a showdown with Congress over creating the policy is nonsense. Similarly, the belief that DADTDP was, in itself, worse than preceding antigay military policies is willful ignorance.

    According to the expert on their history, the late Allen Berube, between the beginning of WWII and the late 80s, some 100,000 gays and lesbians had been discharged—long before any of us had even heard of Bill Clinton. Neither do the highest NUMBER of discharges in any given year under DADTDP match the highest numbers in some years under earlier policies. PERCENTAGES in some years might be higher but such math is affected by a smaller overall military force.

    Nevertheless, the larger point remains that ANY form of limitation on the admission and retention of out gays in the military will be abused for the same reasons they were a decade ago as reported by SLDN: institutional homophobia. And like statistics on gay bashing in the civilian community, expression of it can ebb and flow whenever the amount of public discussion of gay equality does, except, just as discharges themselves go down, when the military is strapped for bodies as they are now with Iraq.

    But the ULTIMATE point is that rather than rehashing history, let alone rewriting it, we are all better served by paying attention to the fact that ALL Democratic candidates for President support DADTDP complete repeal and no viable Republican candidate does. Let us move on.

  • emb

    Thoughtful words, Michael, but the point is exactly that we SHOULD look at history, because that gives us the best indication of the future proclivities of the various actors. When, as you correctly point out, all Dems support the repeal of DADT, we need to look at the past performance of the candidates to make any distinction at all.

    And the fact that in the 90s DADT was better than nothing is not really comforting beyond being marginally better than the status quo ante in some ways, and marginally worse in others (by strictly institutionalizing and formalizing a prohibition against homosexual soldiers from talking about and doing stuff straight soldiers are permitted — even encouraged– to talk about and do. It may have been the best that Bill could hope to accomplish, politically, but that doesn’t make it anything to crow about. It’s now recognized as a disaster, a dishonor, and a failure. Pretending it’s anything else is the kind of revisionism that bill, and now hillary, is becoming quite good at doing.

  • Paul Raposo

    “ALL Democratic candidates for President support DADTDP complete repeal and no viable Republican candidate does.”

    Right. And let us not forget that the wife of the president who handed DADTDP to US servicemen has defended her husband’s decision to legalize the military’s closet:

    “Once again Hillary refuses to admit an obvious mistake. During the Democratic presidential debate on Sunday, she said her husband’s ‘Don’t Ask’ policy was not a mistake and then she tried to rewrite history by spinning ‘Don’t Ask’ as a ‘first step’ toward gays and lesbians openly serving in the military. Just like with the war on Iraq, Hillary still doesn’t get it.”

    So let’s all remove our support from the wife of the man who leveled the punitive DADTDP upon gay military personnel and instead, vote for another candidate.

    Nice to see you back, Frances.

  • ProfessorVP

    To mistake the Clintons for progressives is like mistaking the planet Jupiter for a split pea. Essentially, the Clintons can’t win- as demonstrated by the comments on this board- because their triangulating ways are now well recognized by progressive voters. On the other hand, conservatives never really bought their centrist crap, and regard them- all evidence to the contrary- as liberals. With distain from both sides, who’s left to support them?

  • Mark Walsh

    As abhorant as the the current tag team Clinton charge is, it may work. I don’t give the American public a whole lot of credit for discerning even who they are really voting for. It was really pretty idiotic for Hillary to meet the charge that Bill was playing too heavily into her campaign by saying that it was no diifferent than Michele Obama supporting her husband–Hillarita is playing the femanism ticket so heavily as to decieve the voters with the card.
    The fact is that we may get two Presidents for the price of one. About DADT the issue is about the claim that “it was not intended”: Bill went to school, indeed lawschool and he knows that laws are ment to be interpreted as narrowly or as broadly as they are written to be interpreted. Those bills aren’t just slopped together; this bill particularly says no more than to perpetuate the closet and you’ll be ok-it literally says nothing. Bill is being dishonest about his intent with DADT -he’s not that dumb. So maybe instead of one regular Reaganite president, we’ll take our chance with two well honed psychopaths .

  • Bill Perdue

    “Michael Bedwells” heartfelt apologia for DADT and the Clintons is like Leland Francis’, who actually claimed that DADT and DOMA were FAVORS the Clintons and the Democrats did for us. Leland adored the Clintons and would have defended them if they’d been caught pissing on the Declaration of Independence. Leland had to stop posting because of terminal embarrassment.

    Both Michael and Leland are dead wrong on this question. Here’s the real history.

    The authors of DADT were Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Sam Nunn of Georgia, unreconstructed Dixiecrats. Bill had made one of those famous Clinton promises, you know, the kind worth their weight in gold. He promised to end military discrimination but he upset the bigots and had to run as far and as fast as he could to escape being thought of as a ‘queer lover’. (Keep in mind he had to drag Monica along because she had a vice like grip on him – running couldn’t have been easy.) Clinton and Nunn, totally caved in to the coalition of cult leaders, bigoted military brass and Congressional Democrat and Republican bigots.

    They enacted what is clearly and plainly a bigoted act. That’s why we oppose it, Michael, because it’s a bigoted law crafted by bigots and enacted by a huge bipartisan bigoted majority. GLBT soldiers have been killed and beaten because of the permissive bigotry of this law. The wretched post mortem excuse that the Democrats didn’t expect the military brass to be bigots is hopelessly unbelievable. DADT was a stab in the back from the same party that gave us NAFTA, deregulation, opposition to socialized medicine, union busting, and immigrant bashing. And let’s not forget DOMA, another deep back wound.

    The claim that all the Democratic candidates for President are for repealing DADT doesn’t mean squat. Their party has been in power since 2006 and everything they’ve done about GLBT rights has been a betrayal. They joined with Republicans to gang rape ENDA, refused to repeal DOMA because they’re pigheadedly opposed to samesex marriage and conveniently let the Mathew Sheppard Hate Crimes Bill die so it wouldn’t be an issue in 2008. Nobody even bothers to ask them to repeal DOMA because we know that their tired Dixiecrat answern will be – “It’s a matter of State Rights. “ The last Dixiecrat who said that was George Wallace.

    You say lets move on and I agree – let’s move AWAY from the parties of war, union busting and bigotry – the Democrats and Republicans are our proven enemies. We don’t need a President who supports the war, busts unions and snuggles up with bigots.

    The way to move on is to move AWAY them and create our own fighting movement. UnitedENDA, the US Labor Party and the efforts of the AFL-CIO affiliated Coalition of Black Trade Unionists to promote independent black political actions are all steps in that direction. But sadly, they are not likely to break the stranglehold of the right wing Democrats and Republicans in 2008. That will begin in earnest when the Democrats start a new wave of betrayals after the elections. Then the splintering and fracturing of American political life will accelerate and we can politically move on, and over, the owners of the Democratic Party. It’ll be fun.

  • dfrw

    I never forgave Clinton for DADT and DOMA. I’ll vote for Clinton only if she’s on the national ticket.

  • Steve

    The main problem was that the “Dont Ask” part of that law was never enforced.

    Clinton could have published an order saying, any officer who convenes a court-martial for the purpose of prosecuting anyone who is accused of being gay, shall be prosecuted for violating the “Dont Ask” provision of DADT.

    He didn’t publish that order.

  • milhouse

    If one will bother to study the past instead of making kneejerk reactions, one will learn that everything is not quite so black and white, good and evil. At the time, an overwhelming backlash against Clinton’s original proposal to do away with the gay ban was unleashed which made it impossible to proceed. DADT, as onerous and horrible as it was, was a small measure of progress. Why? Because it acknowledged for the first time the idea that there could exist gay people in the military as long as they did not advertise the fact. The flawed policy, however, was horribly abused which conversely contributed to its own downfall. As for DOMA, at the time the Republicans and some Dems. were very close to passing a federal marriage amendment. This was during the last cycle of anti-gay hysteria that Washington was swept up in. It was thought, and rightly so, that DOMA was preferable to a constitutional amendment, as it could more easily be undone.

  • Mike in Asheville

    @Bill Perdue:

    Bill, you are in error about the actual legislation. Indeed Sam Nunn, who was extremely bitter that Clinton had the balls to take on G.H.W. Bush while he sat out the election waiting to run for an open seat, strong-armed his Dixiecrat bigotry to be “strong” over Clinton, and Clinton pussed out, it is also very telling that the bill was actually written and chief-sponsored by Ron Dellums, D-CA (Berkeley/Oakland), the then chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Had Clinton shown leadership, he would have ended the practice by executive order and threatened to veto any contrary legislation. He had sufficient support in the House to prevent an override and a strong-voiced supporter, on this issue, in Republican Senator Barry Goldwater.

    When Clinton apologists traveled the country explaining the DADT bill, my boyfriend, now husband, stood during Richard Socarides key-note speech at the SF HRC annual fundraising gala and shouted “SHAME: DO THE RIGHT THING!” from the front row of prime tables. Alas my Mikey was “hushed” instead of cheered by most of the other attendees (well, except me). I make this point not out of pride rather a telling of opinion within the community at the time. We quit HRC after that.

  • Mr. Enemabag Jones

    @Mike in Asheville:

    Actually, Bill’s comment was posted 3 1/2 years ago 8^)

    I don’t think he posts comments here anymore.

    Talk about a blast from the past.

  • ewe

    Bill Clinton, our first black president, was and is fucking awful. He has been globetrotting around the world claiming he is combatting AIDS in Africa for quite some time now. Don’t count on any help unfortunate enough to be in his path.

  • milhouse

    And one more thing, Hillary is not Bill. The idea that they are interchangeable is ridiculous and reeks of sexism.

  • ewe

    Bill Clinton is responsible for enslaving every student in debt for seeking higher education while his generation simply walked away from theirs untouched and unaffected. He is a monster and was interested in helping the poor as much as Reagan. Today is September 19, 2011. Does anyone know whether or not the Bummer has evolved yet?

  • ewe

    @milhouse: I agree. That is the same as saying Obama is black because his wife is.

  • JAW

    WOW… Bitching about something that happened 18 years ago… how many of you were born or still in diapers??

    Bill was the first President that acknowledged that we were real people. The gay Plague (AIDS) was just 12 tears old and still VERY fresh in the bigots mind… We were hated. There was no way that repeal would have happened at all.

    I do not know any Gays that were 100% satisfied about this. I think most understood it was (or should have been) a Good stepping stone. DADT did not turn out as planned. Now it is gone…another leap for GL rights.

    Once Bill was out of office an WH took over… gay rights went to the bottom of the list. Obama has brought them close to the front again… We need to support him, or end up with Perry or another crazy person undoing all that has been done

  • CJ

    According to Wikipedia:


    1994 = 617 military discharges because of DADT
    1995 = 772 discharges
    1996 = 870 discharges
    1997 = 1,008 discharges
    1998 = 1,163 discharges
    1999 = 1,046 discharges
    2000 = 1,241 discharges

    So, in his last year as president, Clinton’s military was discharging an average of 23.8 military personnel PER WEEK.

    With 1 exception, the number discharged increased each year under Clinton’s watch.

    Only in 2001, (Bush’s first) year, did we exceed Clinton’s year 2000 peak number (1,273 vs. 1,241).

    Since 2003, the number of those discharged has decreased to roughly the 600 – 700 range per year.

    President Clinton – You can’t change or reframe history.

  • ewe

    @JAW: wow, you are so in the dark. I acknowledge you are a gay man. Now open your mouth. i want to take a dump. Same thing. And Fuck you for giving Bill Clinton a pass for discriminating against gay people you insecure shithead. Your giant leap for mankind you speak of took an entire generation asshole. Clinton and Obama are not doing enough for gay rights. The day they say being gay is a non issue is the day they will begin. We need to confront all bigots Demoncants and Rupuglykunts alike..

  • ewe

    @CJ: BRAVO!!!!!!!!!!! APPLAUSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Wanda Sue


    This is an old quote from Clinton. He’s since disowned DADT.

    Also, Clinton never promised to end anti-gay discrimination in the military. After his election he met with a long time gay friend who persuaded him to end discrimination. Clinton, to his credit, tried to be brave and bold but it blew up in his face and the issue hijacked his first year in office.

    This abomination was meant as a compromise but was used as a tool for a witch hunt.

    Unfortunately, Clinton saw the way the wind was blowing and then jumped on the anti-gay bandwagon when it benefited his reelection chances. One of Clinton’s worst traits is his ability to sell out his supporters when it benefits him. He did so with en masse with gays and union members and personally with colleagues and friends.

  • CJ

    It was pretty much a given that Bill Clinton followed the polls when it came to his actions as president. Hillary was the same. Actually, it’s pretty much a political trait.

    In 2008 nearly ALL Democratic presidential candidates supported “traditional marriage” and were only supportive of civil unions, etc. When they can all say “full equality” we’ll know that it’s now politically safe for them to do so. Few politicians stand up for anything when it risks their re-election.

    Now that Bill is no longer president, he can support just about anything he wants and their isn’t any political risk. If he sees the writing on the wall, he knows that LGBT rights are coming. The only reason he and so many other politicians are becoming LGBT friendly is because it’s more politically popular and safe for them. 30, 40, 50 years ago both democrats and republicans thought that all gays were mentally ill or should just stay hidden. To say the least.

    Times are changing and full LGBT rights are around the corner.

  • JAW


    u are a sad person… I did not give him a pass… I am not sure how old u are, or where you lived 18 years ago… but for gay people, 18 years ago WAS the middle ages, the Dark ages were before stonewall in 1969… It was not until 1975 that being Gay was a Mental Illness (were u born?)

    We all want full equality… even when laws are passed it will take a couple more generation to become fully accepting. or at least 90% accepting. HELL… There are members of the G&L community that do not accept others in the community, let alone the T members.

    Yelling and screaming and being rude to members of the community does little to forward the movement.

  • ewe

    @JAW: And your attempt at dismissiveness is pathetic. I happened to be in San Francisco for many years during the time you are speaking of. It was not the middle ages honey. It was death and it was the 80s and 90s. The reason i confronted you which you happen to be interpreting as rude is the fact you went on your bandwagon of denial pumping up that fucking asshole Bill Clinton who shit on us. Is your mouth open yet?

  • ewe

    @JAW: Btw “yelling and screaming and being rude” was the beginning of ActUp for example and many movements. So as far as your rant about it doing little goes, you are full of shit on that one too.

  • JAW

    @ewe: I guess since you lived in SF you Thought that is what the rest of The USA waslike… IT WAS NOT

    Most of the USA was, and still is, much more conservative then SF. If you use your thought process on what you see/do in SF, it is time that you take off your rose color glasses and ear buds. The USA has changed in the last 18 years. Time that you acknowledge that. It was hard enough getting rid of DADT 18 years later, There is no way that anything would have passed Congress 18 long years ago. Hell the conservatives tried to get rid of DADT 18 years ago… when they could not get rid of it, they fucked it up.

    as for act-up… they did a great job of getting Prez Reagan to talk about, and work to end AIDS… Oh wait… did Reagan ever talk about AIDS?? Great Job act-up!

  • Mav

    “…as long as they didn’t go marching in gay rights parades or go to gay bars in uniform–In uniform–and talk about it on duty, they would be all right.”

    ^ So they’re free to be gay, as long as they don’t ACT gay or take any obvious political interest in homosexual inequality, right?


  • jason

    I was digusted when Bill Clinton bowed to the right wingers in Congress and signed DADT. It was the act of a coward.

  • ewe

    @JAW: Fool. 18 years ago DADT was implemented by the Democrats. Stop trying to rewrite history by thinking any gay person here has to fucking qualify to your standards. And fuck your bullshit about needing Reagan to to get anything done. AIDS is still here and that evil shit is long dead. DADT is repealed and Clinton is still here. Your president on a pedestal routine means little. Stop trying to make it seem like there is some great difference between the DemonKunts and RepuglyCons. You are just a tired vicious old queen and you met your match. Now go the fuck away and feel sorry for me. You are a cocksucker of the worst kind.

  • ewe

    @JAW: You are correct about SF not being like the rest of the USA. I was shocked, FUCKING SHOCKED, that countless people did not know one fucking person who died of AIDS. So spare everyone your biased lectures on politics. While people were dying Clinton was catering to the right wing who wanted to quarantine us. DADT was the result.

  • ewe

    @JAW: and before SF i was sacheting my twink ass on the Morton St. Piers in NY. I guess NY is also not the USA according to your logic.

  • JAW

    @ewe: WOW… u are really in need of help… anger management class might be a good start… Perhaps check yourself into a Long Term Hospital see if they can help you.

    Or better yet, since you seem to hate the USA… take your sorry ass to some country that would welcome you… but I doubt that you would find one… so I guess long term care is the best option out there for you

  • ewe

    @JAW: You just don’t like it when you encounter people who can stand up to you. You don’t deserve respect bitch because you don’t give it and your lame response is to accuse people of being sad and angry. As if there isn’t reason for that. You sound like a stupid bible banging republican with your dribble about hating the USA. Where in your ugly little head did you ever get that idea? Your Love it or leave it mentality only reminds me of someone in the Appalacians hunting down their dinner. I don’t need long term care. I have been astute enough to take care of myself for years. You are as hateful as Jessie Helms used to be before he did everyone a favor and dropped dead. Take your bullshit into your confessional with your “problem.” You sound like a self hating queen licking a pair of perceived heterosexual balls to feel accepted by them. Fly away.

  • ewe

    @JAW: and not everyone is as old as you think just because you can’t grasp that some people never had a closet to come out of. Fool. You got nothing to offer me.

  • Jaroslaw

    Well, I was alive when DADT was signed and perhaps Bill Clinton could have gone the route of an executive order to enforce the “Don’t Ask” part of DADT, but I remember correctly, DADT was a compromise. The Rethuglicans wanted to purge all Gays from the military and enshrine one man/one woman marriage into the Constitution. It seemed really possible they would accomplish this. DADT like a reasonable way to diffuse some vitriol.

    And as important as Gay rights are, do you think this is the ONLY thing a President has on his plate?

  • JAW


    well said…

Comments are closed.