Eric Marcus

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Forget

Filed By Eric Marcus | February 27, 2008 2:15 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Hillary Rodham Clinton

Back in the early 1990’s, the thought of a Clinton in the White House gave me the warm fuzzies. Bill Clinton was the first candidate for president to so openly embrace gay people and invite us to be a part of the process. I took him at his word. So after he was elected I bought a ticket to the Triangle Ball—the first-ever gay inaugural ball—and headed down to Washington to join the celebration.

I remember standing on the National Mall, listening to President Clinton’s inaugural speech and thinking we’d really turned a corner. But then I began to feel achy. This was long before I had chronic back trouble, so I just chalked it up to standing in the damp and the cold for several hours.

That night, as I was swept across the ballroom floor by a handsome champion swing dancer, I began to feel faint and feverish. It wasn’t love. It was the flu. I dragged myself back to NYC with a 103-degree fever and spent the next week in bed. I should have taken this as an omen of bad things to come.

I like to think that I never look at anything from a purely gay perspective, but Bill Clinton gave us Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. And in this regard at least, Clinton was clearly not good for the gays (to echo a phrase my grandfather used when weighing which candidates or policies were “good for the Jews”).

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has never affected me personally, but I’ve talked to gay people whose lives have been devastated by their expulsion from the military. And, when it comes to the Defense of Marriage Act, I take it very personally. Each time I fill out an immigration form and get to the line about how many family members I’m traveling with I’m reminded that Bill Clinton signed anti-gay legislation in the middle of the night that codifies discrimination against a relationship I hold dear. When I travel out of the country I’m almost always in the company of my partner, but because the federal government does not recognize our fourteen-year marriage, the only correct and legal answer on the immigration form is zero.

Maybe that’s why I’m not sorry to see the Hillary Clinton campaign in trouble. Sure I would have voted for Hillary if she got the nomination (and will, if she’s able to turn things around). But I don’t have any confidence that a Hillary Clinton administration would undo the damage done by the last Clinton in the White House. In fact, given how closely associated these two hot-button issues are with Bill Clinton’s administration, it’s hard to imagine that a Hillary Clinton administration would want to revisit either battle if she were elected president.

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The Transgender American Veterans Association is in the middle of conducting a survey of transgender veterans and the issue they faced, or still facing, in the military. Here are a few of the questions asked that relate to this post. So far, 682 people have taken the survey.

- Are you still serving in the military? - 31
- Discahrged under DADT - 7
- Did anyone ever suspect you were gay or asked if you were gay? - 254
- Have you ever been questioned by your commanding officer or any other officer because someone said they thought you were gay? - 92

Our survey shows that transgender people have also been affected by DADT. This is why TAVA has supported lifting the ban since Day One.

Michael Bedwell | February 27, 2008 5:44 PM

You seem to be the one forgetting, Mr. Marcus. Not because I think Sen. Clinton would make a better President but because among the books I had previously been proud to own written by you is one by which you posit yourself as a historian— I am going to be more blunt than I might otherwise be.

Shame on you! If “Making Gay History,” that marvelous collection of oral histories by myriad players, famous and little known, in our history, were as factually misleading as your pontification above I would have exhausted it as toilet paper long ago.

“Bill Clinton gave us Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act”?????????? What fucking premeditated crap! One trusts your editors don’t let you get away with such irresponsible word choice. I’d expect—and have had that expectation repeatedly vindicated—such nonsense from gays formally connected with the Obama Borg. But how do YOU justify such a misrepresentation of the evolution of those bills; of presenting shit as Shinola?

While you attempt to play your readers here as stupid by reducing those complicated events to an image of Bill Clinton walking in one day and pulling out of his pocket two fait accompli pieces of legislation, even YOUR OWN book mentioned above disputes your dishonest reduction to absurdity. I know some actors never watch their own films—but do you not read your own books?

While it’s true that her bitterness towards him has escalated to emotionally unbalanced levels since [even as she supports Sen. Clinton for President], in “Making Gay History,” you quoted former HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch as saying that though she was angry with President Clinton—after his announcement that he wanted to issue an Executive Order opening the military to out gays caused homophobic Congressmen of both parties to shove back with DADTDP—for not trying to issue the order anyway for purely symbolic reasons—SHE KNEW THAT CONGRESS WOULD OVERRIDE HIM. Why have you chosen to forget your own interview?

Second, what kind of historian are you to write as if discrimination against and discharges of gays BEGAN with DADTDP? Why would Clinton’s planned Executive Order been needed if there weren't antigay policies before? Why did my late friend Leonard Matlovich sue the US Air Force after being discharged simply for being gay? By what process were, according to REAL historian Allen Berube, author of “Coming Out Under Fire,” the study of the history of the American military’s evolving policies against gays, write that between the beginning of WWII and the late 1980s [more than a decade before any of us had even heard of Bill Clinton] some 100,000 gays and lesbians were known to have been discharged?

As for federal DOMA, Republican Congressman Bob Barr wrote and introduced it NOT Pres. Clinton. Despite claims to the contrary, no one can PROVE that President Clinton’s signing it did not prevent an attempt to accomplish some of the same things by amending the US Constitution—an ultimate weapon the Right Wing was already in the habit of attempting from banning abortion to protecting “school prayer.” It is a FACT that noting its existence was a way that the Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution was defeated in 2004 and 2006.

Further, you are willfully ignorant of or consciously wish to distract from the fact that SEN. CLINTON HAS CALLED BOTH FOR THE REPEAL OF DADT AND FOR FEDERAL BENEFITS FOR GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES. You certainly have a right to choose to believe that Obama will, more likely than she, work for the same, as he’s promised himself. Just as I have a right to believe that based on HIS THROWING US UNDER THE HOMOHATING BUS DRIVEN BY DONNIE MCCLURKIN, based on his misrepresenting his SUPPORT FOR a state’s right to ban same gender relationships, based on HIS MISREPRESENTATION of the legal irrelevance of DOMA Section 2 which the elimination of according to his Constitutional law professor would not help gays at the state level, based on his apparently being TOO BUSY running for US Senate to join as a sponsor of and fight for the LGBT rights bill in Illinois, and based on his LYING REPEATEDLY [LOGO forum; “Meet the Press”; “The Advocate”] and saying he had cosponsored it AND “passed” it when HE WASN’T EVEN STILL IN THE ILLINOIS SENATE when it was voted on—for those reasons and others I choose to believe that you are as wrong about what he is actually committed to doing for our community, what he is likely to attempt, as you are in your word choice rewriting history. For those reasons and others I choose to support Sen. Clinton.

While you demonstrate an appalling sexism, not to mention lack of common sense, in crucifying Sen. Clinton for actions or non-actions of her husband some 15 years ago while Obama’s sins are still bubbling on the stove, here are some other important things from then:
[thanks to gay legal scholar Arthur S. Leonard for listing some of these]:
- Pres. Clinton issued the first Executive Order protecting executive branch employees from sexual orientation discrimination.
- there was “a total revamping of the security clearance process that ended the ‘special procedures’ under which gay people were frequently delayed or denied on security clearances, a real problem for people in technology occupations working for government contractors.”
- the first out gay federal judge
- the first out gay US Ambassador, James Hormel
- first out gay US Consul General, Bob Farmer, a legendary fundraiser who left the Obama campaign after McClurkingate.
- the first out gay people occupying positions requiring Senate confirmation, e.g., Roberta Achtenburg, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—“that damned lesbian” whose confirmation Jesse Helms infamously refused to vote for
- the first out gay people in senior White House staff positions
- “a major advance on asylum policy when Janet Reno adopted as official precedent a decision that gays are a ‘distinct social group’ for purposes of analyzing eligibility for political asylum in the US for people from oppressive countries”
- our first major Supreme Court victory, ‘Romer v. Evans’, which was at least party attributable to Clinton’s two Supreme Court appointments, Breyer and Ginsburg, who both voted to overturn sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas and they both dissented in the Boy Scouts decision that ruled against gays

There are plenty of reasons to support Obama [while not enough for me] without resulting to sexist and cynical distortions of fact. Why don’t you try some of those?

Just for the record, I'm an Edwards supporter. I'm a journalist, not an historian, although I'm quite familiar with the history of both Don't Ask, Don't Tell and DOMA. And I'm fully aware that Bill Clinton did not originate Don't Ask, Don't Tell or DOMA. But it was his choice to ultimately support those measures. And I'm aware, as well, of all the good things Bill Clinton did to move forward our agenda.

Regarding Mrs. Clinton's responsibility for her husband's political record, you have a point (although I think people have been too quick to throw around accusations of sexism during this campaign). Still, Mrs. Clinton speaks often of her time in the White House as something of a joint venture and I don't see how it's possible to look at what she might do going forward without considering what came before during the first Clinton administration.

Finally, about Senator Obama, I'll write about his record at a later date.

Michael Bedwell | February 27, 2008 10:12 PM

I'm glad to learn that your first choice was Edwards. I contributed to his campaign before he dropped out and have repeatedly written here and elsewhere about the unfairness and irrationality of his positions generally and support for LGBT equality specifically being ignored once the race turned into "American Idol." I kinda hope he might be asked to be Obama's running mate if he doesn't ask Sen. Clinton. The latter, particularly, is highly unlikely now I fear.

I have also written of a major difference between Edwards and Obama relative to this discussion. While, last time I looked, Sen. Clinton had chosen for whatever reason not to aggregate her various policy positions and proposals into a single, downloadable document, both John Edwards and Obama did.

John Edwards "paper" devoted an entire page to his aggressive support for various LGBT issues. However, nowhere among the 64 pages of "Blueprint for Change-Barack Obama's Plan for America" can you find one sentence, one word, one syllable about LGBT-specific issues. While his positions on such issues do exist in unique "gay only" documents, I don't think it unfair to find his dedication to those issues wanting when it is the larger LGBT-less manifesto that is distributed at his campaign rallies. Nor is it enough to say, “he talks about us wherever he goes” because, in fact, he does not, and when he does it is never—except when directly asked—about advancing gay rights legislation, nor overturning existing antigay legislation.

As journalists allegedly value originality, aren’t even you tired of the illogical simplicity of “if she wants to share credit for some of the good things she has to share all the blame for the bad things”? An administration is like a literary analogy and I’m sure you would protest your being blamed for the poorer contributions of it even as you and others were praised. Nor is there any more rationality to your “I don't see how it's possible to look at what she might do going forward without considering what came before during the first Clinton administration” just because you repeat it. Particularly when it is contrary her statements of what she disagrees with and would like to do in the future.

However much you disbelieve her based on her husband’s actions, in order to be consistent you must also contrast Obama’s past with what he promises for the future as I noted several issue above. Whatever shared responsibility Sen. Clinton might have for things in the past, Obama is solely responsible for his own actions and inactions, his own truth and his own lies.

You’re free to make a leap of faith in him while saying that you can’t do the same for her. But your attempt to justify it empirically fail.

Thank you Mr Marcus for your insights on the likely shortcomings of a third term for the Clintons. I have long admired your work and would never consider using any of your books as toilet paper. I regret that you are subjected to the usual bile and vitriol directed at anyone here and on other sites as well who criticizes the Clintons or expresses any appreciation for Senator Barak Obama. I can not help but wonder what at least one incessant comment poster here will do when very shortly Mrs Clinton's hopes for securing the Democratic nomination are definitively finished. There will truly be no purpose then to his incessant, petty , and mean spirited attacks on Senator Obama other than to bolster the Republican nominee.

I'm fully aware that Bill Clinton did not originate Don't Ask, Don't Tell or DOMA. But it was his choice to ultimately support those measures. And I'm aware, as well, of all the good things Bill Clinton did to move forward our agenda.

...Mrs. Clinton speaks often of her time in the White House as something of a joint venture and I don't see how it's possible to look at what she might do going forward without considering what came before during the first Clinton administration.

A very nice summation, I think. I agree.

I hate to admit it, but I have to agree with the Michael on this one. As far as DADT. Only.

Before DADT there were gay "witchhunts". Interrogations. DADT was actually a measure towards accepting diversity. Idealogically it is a flawed policy - make no mistake. But as one who lived through those times, it was a measure that was intended to prevent the systematic oppression of gay men and women serving in the military. And at the time, it was most probably the best that could be done.

We all agree that the time has come for DADT to be put aside.

Michael Bedwell | February 28, 2008 10:34 AM

BelovedObama....once again shooting the messenger because he can not dispute the facts and logical challenges in the message.

I can not help but wonder how, upon meeting your maker, you will explain having forgotten this commandment:

"Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

There's that other one about "bearing false witness" but we'll give you a probationary pass on that one as your worship of a certain false prophet leads you to word choices that push the envelope to the edge but not necessarily over it into outright lying—your golden idol's speciality.

Michael, your fundamentalist slip is showing.

Thank you for your concern Michael. As with your earlier posting of the link to the ObamaMessiah site, your slurs (through suggestions of idolatry) against people of faith who support Senator Obama ultimately say far more about you than about those you defame.

Thank you for your concern Michael. As with your earlier posting of the link to the ObamaMessiah site, your slurs (through suggestions of idolatry) against people of faith who support Senator Obama ultimately say far more about you than about those you defame.

Just to back up a moment regarding the use of Making Gay History as toilet paper. I'm sorry to report that HarperCollins used a very poor grade of acid-based paper on which to print the book. Anyone who chooses to use the pages of Making Gay History as a toileting aid will be sorely disappointed. Or just sore.

Regarding the original intent of DADT, everyone knew that it was deeply flawed, including the president. Perhaps I was naive in thinking that the newly inaugurated president would choose to lose that battle on principle and let the Republicans be the ones to carry the torch for mindless and self-destructive discrimination. Instead, President Clinton became a partner, however unwilling, in that effort. That is part of his legacy whether he likes it (or Hillary Clinton supporters like it) or not.

And as far as Barack Obama goes when it comes to moving our agenda forward, at least he doesn't have to overcome the negative aspects of the Clinton legacy. In any event, I strongly believe that the major work to move our agenda forward will originate in homes, towns, cities, and states across the country. The federal government will be the last to fall in line and will only do so once it's clear that a substantial majority of Americans support our right to full and equal treatment under the law. Coming out of the closet, when possible, has been and remains our greatest weapon in the fight against ignorance and for equality. We're fooling ourselves if we think any president is going to save us from the hard work ahead.

Eric, I agree with a lot of what you just said. Demanding equal rights for the men and women putting their lives on the line serving our country isn't a bad start either.

Michael Bedwell | February 28, 2008 5:12 PM

"your slurs (through suggestions of idolatry) against people of faith" Oh, Dearly Beloved, don't YOU start applying for martyrdom, too! Let's put it this way, however crudely: I say "farts"—you say "perfume"—it still smells either way.

You do raise a couple of interesting points, Mr. Marcus, though your take on them is, at least in part, different than my own.

First, is my hope that history won't repeat itself. Which history? That belief that any President can radically reverse decades of homophobia with the stroke of a pen, without a massive grassroots effort demanding it. Michaelangelo Signorile has written of how much naivete about that existed in 1993, and how questions such as "how exactly is he going to be able to do that?" were answered by HRC "leaders" as, "Don't worry. It'll happen." Of course, it did not. And every President, and the same will be true of Obama, has to pick their battles, most importantly those they're willing "for principle" to jeopardize success in other battles.

MS further wrote how a big part of the problem was that, while they should have been attempting to fight the organized, well-funded opposition of the Right which was flooding Congress members with calls and letters about Clinton's planned Executive Order to open the military to out gays, HRC and Now Chief Clinton Hater David Mixner were too busy fighting for turf over the issue. What Obama administration job do we think Eric Stern, Stamp Corbin, and Tobias Wolfe have their eyes on?

Second, re "to overcome the negative aspects of the Clinton legacy." That illustrates a fact that few are honest enough to mention when talking about what a failure Sen. Clinton's campaign has been. She certainly made many unrelated mistakes but her biggest obstacle was that from Day 1 she, unlike Obama, was running not just against Edwards and Biden and Dodd and Richardson and Kucinich and Gravel and Chris Crocker but against her husband—in terms of those who still irrationally hate him.

Contrast that to the fact that Obama aknowledged in his book "Audacity of Hope":

“I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.”

Amen, Brother!

Out of all the things I've written, I've never said he was dumb—a smile fucking, arrogant, pathologically ambitious liar with just a soupcon of homophobia—but far from dumb. Even the ads in gay papers in Texas and Ohio that are causing the Obama Gay Girls to experience multiple orgasms is a classic example of his famous [to those who've looked behind the curtain] "exquisite vagueness."

Next to his picture in profile...looking heavenward...his hands, at first, appearing to be “in prayer, he mentions nothing that could be thrown against him by the Repugs—not civil unions, not DADT, not adoption, not ENDA, not hate crimes...just touchy-feely platitudes around “Stonewall Riots” in BIG letters and "LGBT Rights" in the smallest font size—whatever those are, and "dignity and respect" also in BIG letters, though not as big as STONEWALL RIOTS! Ooooooh, I too am feeling suddenly warm...down there.

Reminds me of my District Superintendent’s story when I was a [pay attention, Dearly Beloved] lay minister in the United Methodist Church:

Exiting a completed Sunday service, Mrs. Oldmoney exclaims, “Oh, Reverend! I just loved your sermon today!” Reverend: “Thank you, Mrs. Oldmoney. Tell me, please, what part affected you most?” Mrs. Oldmoney: “Oh, Reverend, the part where you said ‘Mesopotamia’!”

In what must be considered bittersweet irony, the front cover of the latest edition of the Columbus, Ohio, gay “Outlook Weekly” that has Obama’s ad on the back cover, is a large photo of gay black civil rights icon Bayard Rustin, in connection with a local showing two days after the primary of the documentary “Brother Outsider.”

In addition to being a proven black American hero, in some ways the father of the civil rights movement from 1955 on, he once wrote, “We should never elevate charisma to greatness.” Ah, Bayard, where are you when we need you again?

To view the ad, go to and click in the bottom right hand corner of the paper image or download the PDF.