Views & Voices

Hagel could have ended the military’s transgender exclusion

Chuck Hagel [jpatterson]

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s resignation under pressure is a setback to the effort to end the military exclusion of transgender service personnel. His past two predecessors, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, set the right path for gay and lesbian service members and Hagel had the courage to continue their leadership.

Preparing the Defense Department and the military branches for repeal of the shamefully odious 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT policy that allowed lesbian and gay service members military careers as long as they kept their sexuality, dignity, and integrity in military closets was one of former GOP Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ finest achievements.

Gates served as Secretary of Defense from 2006, with President George W. Bush, to 2011 with President Barack Obama.

In his memoir, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” Gates, who describes himself as a “rock-ribbed” Kansas Republican, wrote he had reached the personal decision by 2010 that “repealing DADT was the right thing to do” for the defense department.

As director of the CIA under George H.W. Bush, Gates ended all restrictions that barred gays from intelligence work, provided they were open about their sexuality and free from blackmail attempts.

Gates performed a great service to the gay community by providing the necessary leadership at the Pentagon to help the military branches and commanders accept the inevitable repeal of DADT, which came in December 2010.

In his book, Gates wrote “every argument made about what men and women in uniform felt or thought about DADT, pro or con, was either based on assumption or was entirely anecdotal.” The secretary held firm with his troops and his military brass that they had to prepare for DADT’s repeal by Congress. When it was finally abolished Gates wrote, “We had turned a page in history, and there was barely a ripple.” It was a smooth transition.

The repeal brought relief to current and future gay and lesbian service members, but provided no opportunity for transgender service members to proudly wear their country’s uniform or serve to honor their families. The issue of transgender military service does not appear in the Gates book or in former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s memoir “Worthy Fights.”

Panetta, a former Democratic congressman from California, followed Gates at the Pentagon.

The Defense Department, under the brief leadership of another rock-ribbed Republican, former Nebraska Senator and Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel, continued to exclude transgender service personnel.

Hagel’s nomination for secretary of defense was foolishly opposed by the national LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans. Yet he had the courage to summon the same kind of leadership Gates summoned while at the Pentagon. Hagel was working to prepare troops and Armed Forces commanders for a future military force inclusive of transgender service personnel.

With Hagel now gone, Congress must also realize the eventuality of a trans inclusive military and take prompt legislative steps to end discrimination against transgender troops. It is the just thing to do.

Abolishing the transgender exclusion is complicated by the actions of transgender Pfc. Chelsea Manning, currently serving a 35-year military sentence for crimes under the Espionage Age for releasing hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks.

LGBT groups across the country do not help in the effort to end the trans exclusion by ridiculously declaring Manning a heroine for exposing “war crimes” and worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Likewise, the controversial Manning should not be used as an example, a tragic example, by politicians who would point to her as proof other transgender service personnel would also be traitorous, untrustworthy, and unstable in stressful military situations.

Hagel should be commended by the LGBT community for his courageous position on reviewing the trans exclusion, especially given a conservative Republican Congress hostile to most Obama initiatives for the LGBT community. Hagel had the commitment and leadership to maintain that the transgender exclusion not be seen as a permanent policy but a policy under continuous, serious review for reversal.

If anyone could have had influence with the Congressional Republicans on the issue, it was Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran and hero. He might have been able to do for the transgender community what President Obama lacked the ability to do and end the military exclusion of transgender troops.

Now President Obama has nominated Ashton Carter, who served as Deputy Secretary of Defense between 2011 and 2013 under both Hagel and Panetta.

Given congressional outrage over Obama’s immigration reform executive order, quick Senate approval is unlikely. That will only postpone a review of the policy barring transgender military service even longer.

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