VOICES AND ECHOES
JANUARY 28, 2000 • HOUSTON VOICE
Gaydarflap zeroes in on 'Don't Ash, Don't TelV
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Take a few moments for this Campaign
2000 pop quiz:
Which of the following would be the most
reliable (not to be confused with predictable)
tool to make sense of the U.S. policy on gays
in the military?
fa) the gaydar of a 60-something candidate
for the GOP presidential nomination;
(b) the PC-dar of the nation's largest gay
(c) the brownnose-dar of gay Republicans;
(d) none of the above.
If you guessed (d), then you were more
than likely bemused, and a little annoyed, by
the mini-drama involving GOP presidential
candidate John McCain that unfolded last
week in New Hampshire, which holds its
ftrst-in-the-nation primaries on Tuesday.
It all started when McCain's campaign
bus—ironically named the 'Straight Talk
Express'—made a routine stop at Calef's
Country Store in Barrington, N.H.
While McCain, a Vietnam ROW. and genuine war hero, purchased a block of extra-
sharp cheddar, he made some especially
cheesy remarks about the gays he's convinced
served alongside him in the Navy.
His point was that these honorable gay
sailors never felt itjiecessary to reveal their
sexual orientation, and so would have thrived
under today's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
Asked how he knew they were gay, if they
didn't "tell," McCain promptly stepped in it.
"Well, i think we know by behavior and by
attitudes," he said. "I think that it's clear to
some of us when some people have that
lifestyle. But I didn't pursue it, and I wouldn't
pursue it, and I wouldn't pursue it today."
Asked again if he can really tell when someone is gay, McCain grabbed his latrine shovel
and started digging.
"I said I had suspicions, and I think that—I
was told that they were," he said. "But, look:
That, to me, was something—and still is
something—that is private. It's very different
from a manifestation of that behavior in the
line of duty."
Smelling the foul odor of a campaign gaffe
story, an intrepid reporter from the
Washington Post called the Human Rights
Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights
lobby, and asked for a reaction to McCain's
claim to aim.
"He has one up on me, because I can't tell
just by behavior and attitudes," said David
Smith, HRC's communications director.
"He is clearly stereotyping based on mannerisms. This is a form of prejudice and illustrates the struggle that gay people face,"
Smith added gravely, though he stopped
short of blaming McCain's rhetoric for the
murder of Matthew Shepard.
To balance the story, the Post reached Kevin
Ivers, the sound-bite ready public affairs
director for the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay
"If there's a gay person anywhere who says
they can't walk into a room and tell who some
of the gay people are, they're lying," Ivers told
"[At least McCain] has been thinking about
his entire life and when gay people may have
played a role in it. He has reached across and
said he wants to understand gay people, even
though he doesn't always agree with them,"
noted Ivers, reaching for the large box of Log
Cabin easy-wipe hankies, always at the ready.
Since then, McCain has vowed he'll say
nothing more than the words "Don't .Ask,
Don't Tell" when asked for his views on military service by gays. .And Post columnist
Geneva Overholser, siding with McCain and
Ivers, cited the brouhaha as an example of this
country's inability to deal honestly with the
issue of homosexuality.
As is often the case when knee-jerks at I IRC
and Log Cabin lock legs, the messy truth got
pummelled somewhere in the mushy in-
Smith, from HRC, is fooling no one when
he claims no ability to at least sometimes tell
who is gay and who is not. Like Ivers, from
LRC, rightly points out, every self-respecting
homosexual has a functioning gaydar, even if
it occasionally misfires.
But John McCain is not a homosexual, and to
imply as Ivers did that sailor John relied on
extended eye contact and subtle verbal and visual cues—the prime evidence ol gay-operated
gaydar—is as laughable as Smith's overreach.
It js far safer to assume, as Smith did, that
like most straight men in the Navy some 30
years ago, McCain guessed which of his comrades-in-arms were "that way" by their limp-
That's a stereotype that is sometimes right,
sometimes wrong, but almost always used to
degrade and deride, especially in the testosterone-charged ranks of the military.
In that sense, it's no different than guessing
that the money-gnjbbing, big-nosed sailors in his
unit were Jewish. Quite possibly true, and quite
possibly not; but quite definitely prejudicial.
For that reason alone, Ivers ought to be
ashamed of himself for lauding McCain for
engaging in an honest inquiry into the complex issue of gays in the military.
Which brings us back to McCain himself,
who was arguing in favor of the military's
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy by claiming
that he already knows which of the men (and
women?) who served alongside him, risking
their lives and limbs, were homosexual.
True to form in today's controversy-happy
press coverage, no reporter or pundit has
broached the merits of that line of argument,
which was alter all the serious policy issue
If McCain believes most gay service members couldn't hide their sexual orientation if
they wanted to, then why for First
Amendment's sake can't they be open about it
and why would we kick them out for blowing
The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has always
been a bastardized compromise in search of a
rationale, and McCain's unexamined notions
are typical of those used to justify it.
Even more popular is the privacy argument: Straight Army privates don't want gays
peeking at their privates.
That one makes even less sense, because
under DADT, closeted soldiers and sailors (at
least those stealth enough to slip underneath
straight-operated gaydar) may peek at will.
It's the openly gay service members who
no doubt wear blinders in the barracks and
the showers, for fear they'll be accused of leering. And the more gays who self-identify, the
easier it would be for shy heterosexuals to
shield themselves accordingly.
These counter-intuitive justifications really
add up to one conclusion: We can't serve
openly because anti-gay bias would undermine "unit cohesion," the other buzzword in
the surface-missile debate.
Catering to prejudice is no more acceptable
a justification for discrimination against gays
in the military today than it was to segregate
blacks into separate units'a half-century ago
That's the kind of plain talk we shouldn't
expect to hear from the Straight lalk 1
or the sycophants .it Log Cabin who've contributed $40,000 to a campaign opposed to
every base gay rights position.
But it is the type of honesty that (X erholser
was correct in pointing out is glaring in its
absence without leave.