A leading opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is continuing her effort to prevent gays from serving openly in the U.S. military and is calling for extended discussion before the military’s gay ban is lifted.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, on Thursday called for more congressional hearings on allowing gays to serve openly in the military and time to question Pentagon officials before repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” takes effect.
“Our position is Congress should tell the Pentagon, ‘Not so fast!’” she said. “They need to ask questions, they need to have hearings. We need to keep in mind what is the most important thing. … Certainly, the military is too important to be used for social engineering, political payoffs. Diversity is important, yes, but not as a primary goal.”
Donnelly urged for greater deliberation before enacting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal during a panel titled “How Political Correctness Is Harming America’s Military” at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference in D.C.
In 20o8, Donnelly gained notoriety as an opponent of gays in the military when she testified during a House hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” After her testimony, when she decried the possible spread of “HIV positivity” in the military and the “forced intimacy” of straight troops serving with gays, Donnelly was widely criticized and lampooned by the media.
During her CPAC panel appearance, Donnelly denounced the law allowing for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that President Obama signed in December, which she said was “rushed through recklessly” in the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress.
“It’s supposed to be a non-discrimination policy,” she said. “But instead of calling it ‘Not “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”‘ … let’s give it a name. We call it the ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Law for the Military’ – ’LGBT Law’ for short. We have to start thinking about it in terms of what it would do.”
The repeal provides for an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” only after the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify the U.S. military is ready for repeal. But Donnelly said this language was a “meaningless” provision in the law.
“There’s going to be a lot of problems,” she said. ”The Congress has yet to have hearings on the House side on this, so our position is this: don’t you think we should ask some questions first?”
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said the debate over ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has gone on for 17 years and noted House and Senate committees had several hearings in the last Congress.
“No more discussion is needed on this issue,” Sainz said. “And I think Republicans and Democrats, not just Democrats, but Republicans and Democrats, concluded that that was the case when they voted to go ahead and pass this legislation last year. At some point, you just have to call the question, and that’s exactly what happened.”
During the panel, Donnelly said she and other opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal assembled a 25-page list of questions that “not should be asked, but must be asked” to evaluate the mesaure passed last year.
Among the questions, Donnelly said, is which of the findings in the 1993 law are not valid — how will the armed forces “train people to be less senstive to sexual privacy and modesty.”
Donnelly also raised concerns about “zero tolerance” for service members who object to serving alongside openly gay people.
“What about when you have a problem and say, “This needs to changed,’” Donnelly said. ”And someone says, ‘What’s the matter with you? Is there something wrong with your attitude? Are you prejudiced? We’ll get you more training — more LGBT training.’”
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said what Donnelly referred to as “zero tolerance” is actually unprofessional behavior in the U.S. military.
“You see a lot, in my experience, from people who oppose this policy change and others, the desire to express their beliefs in an inappropriate and unprofessional manner, and then they get upset when they’re not permitted to engage in that type of behavior,” Nicholson said.
Donnelly also said the controversies found in teaching about same-sex couples in civilian schools would mean the military would likewise have similar problems and would need to implement a “school of choice” system.
“We know how controversial it is to have LGBT training in civilian schools,” Donnelly said. “Just imagine what that’s going to be in the Department of Defense schools where there really is no choice. Will we not need ‘school of choice’ in the Department of Defense? Yes, we will.”
Nicholson said Donnelly’s assertion is a example of someone “talking about the military who has never spent one single day in uniform.”
“There aren’t multiple ideologically based training schools for anything in the military, whether that be for occupations or the leadership academies and things like that,” he said.
Also, Donnelly said military chaplains would have to “endorse homosexuality” if they had to be ministers for openly gay people in the military.
“It was said during hearings in the Senate, ‘Well, we’re going to lose a lot of chaplains,’ so one of the questions is ‘How many chaplains are we going to lose?’” she said.
Sainz identified Donnelly’s assertion about chaplains as among “the half-truths or complete falsehoods” that she’s been repeating in her opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“No one’s being asked to endorse homosexuality,” Sainz said. “It’s kind of a bizarro statement. They are not being asked to put their religious beliefs aside.”
In addition to denouncing the repeal law, Donnelly also took issue with the Pentagon’s report on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Taking a line from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), an opponent of repeal in the Senate, Donnelly said the survey that went out to service members as part of the report didn’t ask the right question.
“The survey that was done, the RAND Corp. had a lot to do with it, and a company called Westat or something,” Donnelly said. ”They had all these questions and they never once asked the question: ’Do you favor retention or repeal of the law?’”
One of the questions on the survey asks service members if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed and they are working with someone who says he or she is gay, how would it affect their unit’s ability to work together to get the job done. About 70 percent of responders said it would have a positive, mixed or no effect.
Nicholson said Donnelly didn’t like the questions that were part of the survey because they didn’t result in responses that would have worked in her favor.
“I think she’s just upset that the purpose was not to conduct a referendum on military policy among members of the force because she thinks she would have won that referendum,” he said.
Joining Donnelly during the panel discussion was Ilario Pantano, a Marine sniper who served in the Iraq war, who used his discussion time to argue that the United States is a Christian nation and that China is building up its defenses “because they fear Jesus Christ.”
Pantano also said he concurred with Donnelly’s sentiments and noted that former Rep. Patrick Murphy, who championed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the U.S. House, received what he said was $90,000 from the liberal MoveOn.org and $40,000 from the Human Rights Campaign in the 2010 election.
“If people talk ultimately about issues of fairness, why are they needing to spend tens of millions of dollars to lobby the Democratic Party if it’s truly about efficacy and the good of the people who’ve been in the armed forces,” Pantano said.
In response, Sainz said HRC’s contributions to Murphy’s campaign are “hardly remarkable” because the Pennsylvania lawmaker was a friend and deserved re-election. Sainz added right-wing groups are donating money to anti-gay lawmakers who oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
Sainz also said Pantano was being “wildly inaccurate” on the money he says HRC spent on the Murphy campaign. According to the Federal Election Commission website, HRC contributed slightly more than $9,000 to Murphy’s campaign in the 2010 election.
Donnelly also attempted to raise fears about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal law by saying it could open the door to allow openly transgender people in the military. Currently, transgender people aren’t allowed to serve in the armed forces because of regulations.
“Right now, they’re saying no transgenders,” Donnelly said. “They’ve thrown the ‘T’s’ under the bus. But the president has celebrated ‘LGBT Equality Month’ twice in the month of June. So why not? Why not? What is the rationale for excluding them?”
Mara Keisling, executive director for the National Transgender Center for Equality, said Donnelly was raising the issue of transgender people in the U.S. military to draw attention to ”her last shrill efforts to try to stop “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal,” but added she’s right that trans people shouldn’t be excluded.
“There is no more reason to exclude trans people from service than there is to exclude women, or anybody, African Americans or gay people,” Keisling said. “It’s just all based on old stereotypes that people like Elaine Donnelly use to advance their own causes.”
Keisling noted that the national study on trans people made public last week found that 20 percent of them were veterans, which she said was double the national average.