I first met Brigadier General Keith Kerr when, in 2003, I helped to coordinate his ‘coming out’ – along with another General and an Admiral – in the New York Times. General Kerr’s honesty made history, making him one of the highest ranking military leaders to ever publicly acknowledge that he is gay. It was a moment of immense pride for me, and I still consider the story one of the highlights of my time with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
That pride was matched last night as I watched General Kerr address the Republican presidential candidates and call them out on their support for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The General’s question was eloquent, pointed and necessary. Here, at last, was a decorated veteran, with 43 years of service under his belt, calling on our political leaders to do the right thing and lift the ban. I was at home, beaming with pride as I watched General Kerr challenge the candidates on their support for a prejudicial and unnecessary law. By 10:55pm, I was sure the good General had launched an effective and important debate in our country about open service in the military.
By 11pm, however, I was on the phone with reporters who had been tipped off, apparently, by Bill Bennett (he of oh so many morals) that General Kerr was a supporter of Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Mr. Bennett’s not-so-subtle insinuation was that General Kerr had been a Clinton ‘plant’ at the debate and that his motivation was to somehow initiate his own ‘shock and awe’ at the debate over the issue of gays in the military. Nothing, in fact, could have been further from the truth.
Anyone who knows General Kerr will tell you: He doesn’t need any help to get his point across. He is a passionate, dedicated proponent of lifting the military’s ban and granting LGBT service members the same dignity and respect that all of our troops deserve. Since he first came out in 2003, General Kerr has pounded the pavement, advocating for repeal and building a movement in the veterans’ community to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Few people tell the General what to do . . . because the General can speak quite well for himself, thank you very much.
But the media last night went into full conservative spin, falsely reporting that General Kerr is an “advisor” to Senator Clinton’s campaign, and attempting to discredit him in the press. The truth, however, as General Kerr pointed out this morning on CNN, is that the Clinton campaign played no role in his question . . . did not know he had submitted . . . and was not tipped off that it would appear during the debate.
The person who ‘planted’ General Kerr’s question was – here’s the shocker! – General Kerr himself.
Rather than focus on the seriousness of General Kerr’s question, however, some in the conservative movement have decided to shoot the messenger because they did not like the message. Because they understand that even a majority of Republicans now supporting repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – and because they know the days of this unconscionable law are numbered – they have manufactured a controversy to distract from the real issue at the heart of the General’s question. Along the way, they have also blown the facts completely out of proportion.
Yes, General Kerr agreed to have his name listed among LGBT supporters of Senator Clinton’s campaign. He did so out of appreciation for her strong, consistent stand in favor of repealing the military’s ban. But he did not, contrary to some reports, serve as an “advisor” to the campaign. He has also not donated to the campaign, and has not been on the stump for Senator Clinton. He is, in fact, a registered Independent who has voted for both Democrats and Republicans.
And, above all, he’s an immensely good man who wants to do something good for our men and women in uniform.
It is unfortunate and disappointing that General Kerr’s important question has been over-shadowed by a fabricated controversy designed to distract our attention. Candidates should be talking about the two service members who are fired every day under this law. They should be talking about the enormous price tag our nation pays - $363.8 million since 1994 – to implement the ban. And they should be concerned, as General Kerr pointed out last night, that qualified LGBT Americans, who serve as doctors, linguists, pilots and intelligence officers, are being drummed out of the service because of sheer homophobia.
This is a time for heroes in our country, and General Kerr is near the top of my list. It is disgraceful and unacceptable that a few have tried to tarnish his good name, and stellar record, in the name of partisan political gains. We should salute everyone who works for repeal of this law – from General Kerr to Senator Clinton and everyone in between – and not allow ourselves, or our community, to fall prey to false accusations from the opponents of liberty.
This is a time for heroes, and I’m proud that General Keith Kerr is fighting this battle alongside me.