A new batch of White House documents from the Clinton presidency have just been released, and they confirm what was long suspected: the discussions that ultimately resulted in the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy were rife with homophobia.
As his first act in the White House, Clinton promised to lift the military’s ban on gay service personnel. Instead, he ran into a military buzzsaw. In a meeting held in the White House just five days after Clinton moved in, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led then by Gen. Colin Powell, rejected Clinton’s decision out of hand.
“Homo[sexuality] is a problem for us,” Powell said, according to the notes taken at the meeting. He also recited all the same bogus fears that led to DADT, including the old predator canard; the notes say Powell was “concerned about forced association and immaturity of 18-year-old.”
The most offensive remarks came from Marine Commandant Carl Mundy, who 16 years later was still urging the president (now Obama) not to repeal DADT. According to the notes, Mundy said that the statement “I’m gay” was the “same as I’m KKK, Nazi, rapist.” Coming out “fractures teamwork” and tells the world “I commit [an] act Amer[ica] doesn’t accept.”
Mundy wasn’t moved by the experience of other nations either. “It doesn’t matter what the Dutch have done,” he said. “We’re the best.”
Clinton was prone to stereotypes as well. “People I would like to keep [in the military] wouldn’t show up at a Queer Nation parade,” the president said, referring to the activist group.
The person who comes across best in the meeting is then-Vice President Al Gore. Gore challenges Powell directly when Powell insists that race is just one of several “benign characteristics” while “sex[uality] is different.” (Powell did come around, supporting the repeal of DADT in 2010 and the legalization of marriage equality in 2012.)
Gore objected. “Assuming you have a soldier born w/ [a] predisp[osition] + patriotic…if that person sep[arates] due to status then that person in a way is discriminated against in a way similar to black[s.]”
After the meeting, Gore also told Clinton, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and the other White House attendees that Mundy was “borderline” in his remarks, taking particularly offense at the Nazi comparison. No one else was as pointed in their criticism–at least not in the notes.
Just one more reminder of how the first decade of the century might have been different if Gore had become President.