|by Hastings Wyman|
|Military Harassment Guidelines Still Pending
Last year, a high-level military commission, with big brass from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, submitted a 13-point program to then-Secretary William Cohen to end harassment of gay men and lesbians in the armed services. The first two points requested the secretary of defense to issue specific guidelines on harassment. A draft of the guidelines has been sitting on the secretary's desk since October.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), an advocacy group for gay military personnel, had hoped that Cohen, who was appointed by President Clinton, would sign off on the guidelines before he left office, but he left the politically thorny issue for his successor, President Bush's Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
While SLDN continues to meet with Pentagon officials on the policy, most of the key sub-cabinet posts are vacant. "We're dealing with empty seats," says Jeff Cleghorn, a lawyer with SLDN, until the new administration fills the slots. The scuttlebutt now is that Rumsfeld will not issue what is called a "Directive and Instruction" on anti-gay harassment until most of his team is onboard.
In the interim, SLDN has been urging Rumsfeld to make a public statement that his department will not tolerate anti-gay harassment in the military services. So far, no statement. The reason? Pentagon fears of negative media stories if the issue gets on the front burner again.
Although it is too soon to say what action the Bush administration's Pentagon managers will take on this issue, SLDN continues to get respect from the brass. "When we call, they take our calls," says Cleghorn. Moreover, when the gay group recently issued a report detailing the serious problems some gay servicemembers continue to experiencefrom beatings to being turned in by military shrinksa Pentagon spokesman, Admiral Craig Quigley, issued a statement that Rumsfeld was committed to issuing the anti-harassment guidelines.
Is Expulsion of Gays in the Military Rising?
Since October, the Pentagon has had the statistics on the number of military personnel kicked out under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy during the last fiscal year, but officials still haven't released them. The Pentagon may have delayed release of the numbers because officials are worried about how to spin the latest statistics, which show that number of Army personnel expelled for being gay or lesbian "increased dramatically," says a key source. There's no word on expulsion trends in the other service branches. Look for the numbersand the explanationsany day now.
Christian Conservative Gets Key Post
Kay Coles James has been named Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in the Bush Administration. Gays and lesbians should be concerned about her resume,
which is filled with high-level positions in religious-right organizations. She was dean of the Robertsonas in televangelist PatSchool of Government at Regent University, a senior vice president of the Family Research Council, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and served on the board of Focus on the Family. In addition, she was secretary of Health and Human Resources in the administration of former Virginia Governor George Allen (R). She also served in sub-cabinet posts in the Reagan and first Bush administrations. Conservative groups lobbied Bush to appoint James Secretary of Health and Human Services, which went instead to the more moderate Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.
James' history of affiliations with Christian conservative and other right-wing groups is troubling to Washington's gay government-watchers. While she has no explicitly anti-gay paper trail, the old "guilt by association" theory may apply here. Moreover, if she does harbor anti-gay views, her new job could offer a worrisome opportunity for mischief. That's because the OPM is in charge of enforcing administration personnel policies, such as protecting gay employees from discrimination. OPM also handles security clearance issues, which are important to gay government workers.
While all federal employees will be affected by James' appointment, those in the OPM are especially concerned. "We have a lot of openly gay employees," says Meyer Persow, president of OPM's chapter of GLOBE, the organization for gay federal workers. "We just want to make sure that the progress we've made over the last eight years is not rolled back." Persow continued, "We are alarmed, but optimistic," noting that James agreed to meet with GLOBE members. This may be a sign that Jameslike Attorney General John Ashcroft, who met with Log Cabin Republicanswants to be seen as compassionate as well as conservative and that she won't pursue anti-gay polices.
Before James assumes the OPM job, the Senate must approve her appointment. The Senate Government Affairs Committee, chaired by Tennessee Republican Fred Thompson, will consider the nomination. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) is the ranking Democrat on the committee. At this point, there appears to be little likelihood that James will have trouble being onfirmed. So far, no "smoking gun" has surfaced from her admittedly conservative background. Indeed, as an African-American, James may have shied away from the discriminatory views of her compatriots in the socially conservative circles in which she ran. Here's hoping.
Long Aisle to the Altar
Thirty-four states have passed laws restricting marriage to same-sex couples and barring recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states, an unnecessary declaration, since none of the 50 states allow such unions. The latest state to consider outlawing same-sex marriage is Vermont, where the state's House of Representatives recently passed such a ban in an 84-55 vote, mostly a result of voter backlash against the state's court-required civil unions law. The bill is expected to lose in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats less sympathetic to the measure. (Of interest, nine of the 16 states that have not passed bans on same-sex marriage are in the northeast corner of the country.)
Ironically, despite considerable anti-gay marriage viewsand anti-gay sentiment, periodexpressed in the debate, Vermont's citizens are not of one mind on the issue. Last fall, when Research 2000 asked a sample of the state's voters whether they favored amending the state constitution to limit marriage to man-woman couples, the response was 51 percent in favor to 42 percent against.
The poll also asked, "Sometime in the future, would you approve of allowing same-sex couples to marry?" The response was 51 percent no, while 40 percent said yes. Not surprisingly, women were less hostile to the idea44 percent yes, 45 percent nothan men, who opposed same-sex marriage by 57 percent to 36 percent.
The most hopeful sign was the age breakdown. In the 18- to 29-year-old bracket, respondents favored eventual same-sex marriage by 48 percent to 45 percent. It was those in the 60-plus-old fuddy-duddy bracket (yours truly is in this category) who were most against the ideaby 55 percent to 38 percent. Other polls on a range of gay issues invariably reflect this age disparity, indicating time is on our side.
Not all the action is on the no-marriage-for-gays side. Bills which would allow two men or two women to marry are pending in Hawaii and Rhode Island, though the legislature in neither state is likely to pass such a controversial measurethis year.
Hastings Wyman publishes Southern Political Report, a nonpartisan biweekly political newsletter. He may be reached in care of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth or at HWymanSPR@aol.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 11, No. 3, Apr. 6, 2001.