Gay Pundits & Groups at Odds Over Hagel’s Defense Secretary Nomination
On Monday President Barack Obama nominated Republican Chuck Hagel to serve as Secretary of Defense a controversial move that has caused concern from some of his fellow Republicans in Congress as well as some Democrats.
LGBT groups have been scrutinizing Hagel’s record and his past comments as well.
As the Associated Press reported, the Human Rights Campaign took issue with his anti-gay comments he made in 1998 and with his voting record.
"The next secretary of defense must be supportive of open service as well as equal benefits for lesbian and gay military families and Sen. Hagel must address these issues immediately," HRC’s president Chad Griffin said. "Whomever is selected to be the next secretary of defense needs to understand there are clear expectations for progress at the (Defense Department) and that the president’s views on key issues must be reflected by the secretary."
Soon after that release, Hagel apologized for the remarks he made in nearly 15 years ago against the nomination of James C. Hormel, an openly gay Democratic donor, for an ambassadorship, AP pointed out in another story. During the Hormel hearings, the then-Nebraska senator said called Hormel "openly, aggressively gay," and that he believed "it is an inhibiting factor to be gay" for a U.S. ambassador.
"I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights," Hagel said recently. "I am fully supportive of ’open service’ and committed to LGBT military families."
His apology apparently wasn’t good enough for the Log Cabin Republicans, the leading group for LGBT GOPers. They slammed Hagel by taking out scathing full-age ad in the New York Times. Some have questioned not only LCR’s motives but also where the group would have gotten the funding for such an expensive ad.
Observers have noted that LCR has not shied away from supporting many candidates whose stances on various gay issues were, by any measure, hostile. The ad called Hagel, "Wrong on gay rights, wrong on Iran, wrong on Israel." It went on to ask readers to "Help us create a stronger and more inclusive Republican Party."
LCR then published another full-page ad in the Washington Post in which the group outlined Hagel’s voting record on gay rights. The ad’s tag line read "Chuck Hagel’s Apology: Too Little, Too Late."
In a recent blog in the New Yorker, Richard Socarides, a Clinton aide who worked on the Hagel nomination, expressed a belief that Hagel may have evolved on gay issues. Still, Socarides wrote, "should-and, presumably, will-be pressed to do substantially more than give his assurance that he will carry out the President’s policies on gay rights."
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow is another noted out-gay Democrat who is taking issue with Hagel. On her show, she slammed him on his views. The conservative magazine National Review, among others, gleefully picked up on Maddow’s scathing critique.
What the Community has to Say
There’s at least one major Obama supporter who is not mincing words about Hagel. Barney Frank, until recently an out-gay congressman, last week called out Hagel. "He voted consistently against fairness for LGBT people and there does not seem to be any evidence prior to his effort to become Secretary of Defense of any apology or retraction of his attack on James Hormel," Frank wrote in a release.
"To those of us who admire and respect Mr. Hormel, Sen. Hagel’s description of him as aggressive can only mean that the Senator strongly objected to Hormel’s reasoned, civil advocacy for LGBT people," he went on "I cannot think of any other minority group in the U.S. today where such a negative statement and action made in 1998 would not be an obstacle to a major Presidential appointment."
One leftwing gay group was scathing in its critique of the president’s choice to head Defense.
"With our country facing so many important battles ahead on such crucial issues as immigration reform, climate justice, and gun control, it’s baffling why President Obama would spend political capital on a nominee who so clearly is at odds with his Administration’s values," Heather Cronk, managing director for GetEQUAL said in a statment. "While Hagel’s remarks 15 years ago about Jim Hormel pulled back the window on how he felt then about gay Americans, his voting record seems more in line with those remarks than with the Obama Administration. The majority of his votes in the areas of civil rights, economic justice, and environmental conservation -- the areas articulated as priorities for President Obama’s second term -- rank him in the bottom rung of all members of Congress."
OutServe-SLDN, the major group representing out-gay military personnel, has demanded that the military extend benefits to those married to same-sex spouses. Hagel now specifically says that he endorses the end of "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell."
The position of Defense Secretary has become particularly important to the LGBT community in the wake of DADT repeal. Several issues remain unresolved, such as pension benefits, spouses being able to join on-base groups, how far chaplains can go in expressing personal opinions about gay issues, and incidences of continuing harassment.
"Our message to the next Secretary of Defense would be the same, no matter who was nominated and confirmed," SLDN-OutServe said in a statement. "A commitment to support LGBT service members and their families must be a commitment to action. It’s past time to extend all benefits available to married same-sex military couples and families while the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is still on the books."
White House Defends as LCR Continues Attacks
The White House acknowledged the LGBT community’s concern in a statement that defended the decision toto nominate Hagel. The White House re-affirmed Hagel’s apology for his anti-gay comments and maintained that he vows to support "LGBT civil rights as well as his support for open service and the families of gay and lesbian service members."
"One of the great successes of the LGBT civil rights movement is that it provides the space and opportunity for people to change their hearts and minds, to right past wrongs, and, over time, to evolve," the statement reads. "The President believes Senator Hagel’s statement of apology, and his commitment to ensuring that all service members and their families are treated equally. The President would not have chosen him unless he had every confidence that, working together, they will continue to ensure that our military and DoD civilian workforce are as welcoming, inclusive, and respectful as possible."
In an appearance on MSNBC, LCR’s interim head Gregory Angelo called Hagel’s apology "weak. If he was truly genuinely sorry about this, he could have called James Hormel directly instead of releasing his apology via media sources." Angelo said.
Rightwingers Criticize Hagel’s ’Homophobia’
Politics, they say, makes strange bedfellows, however, and some of the most striddent anti-gay websites are not suddenly fulminating about Hagel’s perceived homophobia.
Breitbart published an item entitled "Chuck Hagel’s Anti-Gay Stance Deserves Scrutiny." After an explanation that homosexuality in the Old Testament is a pretty minor infraction, "a religious sin that is not a moral infraction since no one is being lied to" (who knew?), Rabbi Shmuley Boteach goes on to write that Hagel’s "opposition to gays is motivated not by religious convictions but just good old-fashioned homophobia."
If Hagel had taken anti-gay positions, his apparent reversal has not endeared him to ultra right-wingers like Bryan Fischer, the head of the American Family Association. "I Flatly oppose Hagel nomination because he used to support natural marriage but now supports radical homosexual agenda," Fischer wrote.
A New York Times op-ed piece that called him a war hero ticked off the Right. News Busters, a right-wing media monitoring site, critized the Times. The newspaper "went so far as downplay anti-Jewish and anti-gay comments Hagel made during the Clinton administration about an ambassadorial candidate to Luxembourg, James Hormel."