President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense is former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel. Some LGBT leaders have opposed Hagel since way back in 1998, when President Bill Clinton nominated gay-rights activist James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg, and Hagel called Hormel “openly, aggressively gay.” The idea of his comment was clear: that we Americans should not be represented by a gay person abroad. His voting record on LGBT-rights legislation was no better.
Let’s examine those first two paragraphs together now and think how your parents first reacted when you came out, then how they are reacting towards you now. The chances are with them getting to see how LGBT people actually are, they have changed their views quite dramatically.
While I don’t know Hagel or his personal views, I know he has apologized for that 1998 remark. For me that is not enough, and I’ll explain from experience what would be.
If we as a community refused to work with people who only shared our views of equality in the past, then we’d never pass any legislation. The point is to win over allies. So what someone said in the past is the past — but only if they have progressed in some capacity on the issue.
Philadelphia’s domestic-partners bill became law after we won over a councilman who publicly called LGBT people queers and fairies. He became the swing vote. His comments were worse than Hagel’s, and we won him over to full equality. If we would have counted him out, we’d not have passed domestic-partner legislation. At one point, the number-one homophobe in this city was a man who became mayor. John Street, after intense conversations, soon learned about and came to appreciate the LGBT community. Before his term was out, he presided at the wedding of one of his staffers and his partner in City Hall. Street’s gradual acceptance opened the floodgates for funding for gay organizations and for support for LGBT legislation. It’s in our best interest to work to make people change, rather than automatically counting them out.
So, I’m not ready to count Hagel as an enemy, but I’m open to him proving to our community that he’s our friend and will fight for our inclusion and equality. That will come during the Senate confirmation hearings. When asked his views, we’ll discover if he’s still stuck in 1998 or if, like many, including some of your parents, he’s advanced.
If you’re basing your opposition on his statements from 1998, give us, your parents and our president a break and assess his ability based on his current positions. None of which any of you know as of yet, unless you have ESP.
Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.