Utahns react to Pentagon findings on gay ban
Some Utahns welcomed the release Tuesday of the Pentagon's report on "don't ask, don't tell," seen as a critical tool in efforts to repeal the Clinton-era ban on openly gay military members. But at least two members of Utah's congressional delegation don't support overturning the policy.
Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, said the "political pingpong" on the question of repealing "don't ask, don't tell" has been especially difficult for those who are on active duty or have recently been discharged for being gay.
"I, like many, look forward to the day when our country does the right thing and allows LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people to serve proudly and openly in the U.S. military," said Larabee, a former Air Force officer who received an honorable discharge in 1996. "I would still be serving if I could have served openly."
Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Jason Chaffetz questioned dropping the law in a time of war, even if the majority of service members surveyed didn't think it would affect their ability to perform their missions.
"Changing military policy that could potentially jeopardize our soldiers fighting for our nation is something I cannot support," said Hatch, who promised to review the report thoroughly.
Chaffetz, who hasn't yet read the report, said he is "still opposed to such a dramatic alteration in the midst of active war." He noted that while 30 percent of service people believe allowing gay members to serve openly would be a problem, the percentage grew to between 40 percent and 60 percent in Marine units.
Jeff Key, an Iraq War veteran who was discharged from the Marines under "don't ask, don't tell," said he never heard fellow Marines make negative comments about gays. Those who knew Key was gay were not troubled by it, he said. He supports the policy's repeal.
But Troy Williams, a gay activist who opposes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the "discriminatory" policy saves lives, so he doesn't support overturning it.
"There are worse things than discrimination losing a limb, being hit by a mortar shell, coming home with severe post-traumatic stress," says Williams, co-producer of KRCL's RadioActive. "The military, in my opinion, is a system of oppression and American imperialism. I want queers to challenge institutions of oppression, not become part of them."
Earlier this year, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, voted to repeal the 1992 law contingent on the release of the report. On Tuesday, he said he's prepared to do so again, particularly because military leaders such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates support allowing gay members of the military to serve openly.
"I believe it is appropriate to overturn this flawed policy," Matheson said. "We should respect everyone who chooses to put his or her life on the line to fight for our freedoms."
Rep. Rob Bishop and Sen. Bob Bennett said they want more time to review the Pentagon analysis before determining whether or not to support a repeal. Bennett wanted to hear from military leaders when they appear before a Senate panel later this week.