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Hagel apologizes for 1998 anti-gay remarks

Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel apologized on Friday for an anti-gay comment made in 1998 (public domain photo by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones)

Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel apologized for an anti-gay slur in 1998 (public domain photo by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones)

The former U.S. senator whom President Obama is reportedly considering for defense secretary on Friday apologized for using anti-gay remarks 14 years ago to describe a gay nominee for U.S. ambassador.

In a statement, received by the Washington Post and other media outlets, Chuck Hagel responded to comments that he reportedly made in 1998 about then-nominee for U.S. ambassador Jim Hormel, now a San Francisco-based philanthropist, in addition to expressing a newfound commitment to LGBT rights.

“My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive,” Hagel was quoted as saying Friday. “They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”

The comments about Hormel, published in 1998 by the Omaha World-Herald, came to light in recent days amid questions about whether Hagel would support LGBT service members as defense secretary. At the time, Hagel reportedly denigrated Hormel for being “openly aggressively gay.”

“Ambassadorial posts are sensitive,” Hagel was quoted as saying at the time. ”They are representing America. They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”

Representing the conservative state of Nebraska as U.S. senator from 1997 to 2009, Hagel was known for his opposition to LGBT rights, from 2001 to 2006, Hagel consistently scored a “0″ on the Human Rights Campaign’s scorecards between 2001 and 2006.

In 1999, he voiced opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, telling the New York Times, ”The U.S. armed forces aren’t some social experiment.” Hagel voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006.

Hagel’s record in the Senate was troublesome to LGBT rights supporters, who are pushing the Pentagon to grant additional partner benefits to gay service members — such as joint duty assignments, issuance of military IDs, use of the commissary and family housing — through administrative changes as well as the implementation of open service by transgender people.

According to the Washington Post, LGBT advocates held phone calls in recent days with senior White House aides — including senior adviser to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett — over concerns about the Hagel nomination. The aides reportedly told the activists that any defense secretary nominee would “live up to the principles” on LGBT rights already established by Obama.

During a news conference on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to concerns over the potential Hagel nomination by emphasizing the former senator’s service to the country.

“I have no announcements to make about personnel matters,” Carney said. “I can simply say that Sen. Hagel has been a remarkable servant to this country, a recipient of two Purple Hearts. He fought for this country and has served this country admirably in a number of capacities. Beyond that, I think I’ll let the president make any announcements about personnel when the time is right.”

LGBT advocates responded by saying they appreciate Hagel’s statement on Friday and look forward to working with him on lingering LGBT issues for the U.S. armed forces.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Hagel’s statement demonstrates an evolution on the part of the former senator — and the country as a whole.

“Senator Hagel’s apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues,” Griffin said. “Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we’re proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.”

On the future for LGBT military issues, Griffin added, “The next Defense Secretary should get off to a fast start and ensure LGBT military families have access to every possible benefit under the law. Every day these families continue to face unfair treatment and the Secretary can take meaningful action to remedy this discrimination.”

Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, expressed similar satisfaction with Hagel’s words on Friday.

“We are pleased that Senator Hagel recognized the importance of retracting his previous statement about Ambassador Hormel and affirming his commitment to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal and LGBT military families,” Robinson said. “We look forward to learning more about his commitment to full LGBT military equality as this confirmation process unfolds.”

21
Dec
2012

Hormel questions sincerity of Hagel apology for 1998 anti-gay remarks

James Hormel — the nation’s first openly gay ambassador — questioned the sincerity of an apology that former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) issued on Friday over anti-gay remarks he made in 1998. Hormel pledged to oppose Hagel’s confirmation as defense secretary unless he affirms before the Senate that he will support equal rights for LGBT military families.

Speaking with the Washington Blade from his San Francisco office, Hormel criticized the apology that Hagel issued for calling Hormel “openly aggressively gay” — because it was sent only to media outlets.

“If there is an apology out there in the universe, it hasn’t reached my office,” Hormel added. “So, until that time comes, I’m just doing my work here. When I see an apology, then I’ll consider it.”

Hormel, who since serving in his post in Luxembourg has become a philanthropist and major political donor, further criticized the statement because it was delivered 14 years after the remarks were made and comes at a time when the former senator is seeking high office. President Obama is reportedly considering him for the role of defense secretary, but hasn’t yet made any announcement.

“Fourteen years gives one plenty of time to reconsider and make whatever amends one might wish to make, and there were none made until yesterday,” Hormel said. “Given that he is under consideration for a presidential appointment, one can only wonder [about] the sincerity of the apology — but I haven’t seen the apology, so I can’t even comment on it. I’ve read about it, but I haven’t seen it.”

The apology from Hagel was published in several mainstream media outlets on Friday after questions were raised about Hagel’s commitment to LGBT rights given his anti-gay voting record as a U.S. senator from Nebraska.

“My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive,” Hagel was quoted as saying Friday. “They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”

Despite the statement, Hormel said he would oppose the confirmation of Hagel as defense secretary if he doesn’t assert during the confirmation hearings that he supports open service for gay and lesbian service members and pledge to support LGBT military families.

“I think that if he doesn’t answer that question in hearings, then I would oppose his nomination,” Hormel said. “If through the course of hearings, he didn’t make it absolutely clear that No. 1, he supported the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ completely and No. 2, that he stands behind the families of LGBT service members to ensure their full rights as citizens, I would oppose his nomination.”

Hormel’s call for answers from Hagel come at a time when LGBT rights supporters are pushing the Pentagon to grant additional partner benefits to gay service members — such as joint duty assignments, issuance of military IDs, use of the commissary and family housing — through an administrative change in addition to the implementation of open service by transgender people.

Even though Hagel’s anti-gay remarks were published 14 years ago, Hormel recalled them with distinct clarity, saying he “was deeply disappointed and offended by it because I had just met the senator.”

Prior to their publication, Hormel said he spoke with Hagel in the senator’s office in a meeting arranged by then-Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska. Hagel had previously voted to report out Hormel’s nomination to the floor as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. At the time, Hormel said he heard no qualms from Hagel about confirming an openly gay U.S. ambassador.

“He was aware several of his colleagues had put holds on the nomination and indicated that he would do what he could to do to see whether he would have them removed, or in some other way, bring the nomination to the Senate floor for a vote,” Hormel said, “Now, four weeks later, the day before the Fourth of July, this article appeared. So, it was deeply disappointing for me at the time, and I did not understand where in the world it had come from. It certainly did not reflect on the conversation that we had had in his office.”

The Senate didn’t confirm Hormel and then-President Clinton assigned him the post through a recess appointment.

“There were people both in and outside of the Senate who were determined to see that I did not get a vote because they knew as well as I did that I would win the vote,” Hormel said. “And they didn’t want to see that happen.”

After Hagel issued the apology, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement of appreciation. HRC President Chad Griffin said, “Sen. Hagel’s apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues. Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we’re proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.”

Asked whether he thinks that statement was wise for HRC to issue, Hormel said, “I haven’t read the HRC comment. I haven’t even gotten through the New York Times article yet, so I can’t really comment on what HRC has put out.”

After the Blade read the statement to him, Hormel still had no comment, saying HRC makes the decisions that the organization thinks are best for its mission.

“I need to see the full commentary before I say anything about it,” Hormel said. “I think that HRC’s mission is to see that LGBT citizens are treated as citizens like everybody else, and if they see the statement they put as a means toward that end, then they’re doing what they’re doing.”

Despite questioning Hagel’s sincerity, Hormel wouldn’t completely discount his apology, saying it represents a “watershed situation” in terms of the commitment public officials must have to LGBT equality if they are to win higher office.

“I think that this is kind of watershed situation because I don’t recall ever before that a nominee for a position like secretary of defense has issued any kind of apology, especially to a group of people who are still second-class citizens in the eyes of government,” Hormel said. “So, I do think there’s some significance to it; I’m sorry that it’s coming at a time which gives rise to questions about how insincere it is.”

21
Dec
2012