Former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, facing a possible nomination to become Secretary of Defense, today retracted anti-gay comments he made in 1998. Hagel, during the nomination hearing of James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg, called him “openly aggressively gay,” as has come under fire from LGBT organizations.
“My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive,” Hagel said today via a statement. “They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”
Hagel was a conservative Republican Senator from Nebraska whose views moderated toward the end of his senate career. Hormel went on to become America’s first out ambassador via a recess appointment by President Clinton.
“Senator Hagel’s apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues,” Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin said via a statement. “Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we’re proud that Senator Hagel is one of them.
“The next Defense Secretary should get off to a fast start and ensure LGBT military families have access to every possible benefit under the law. Every day these families continue to face unfair treatment and the Secretary can take meaningful action to remedy this discrimination.”
OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson expressed reserved optimism:
“We are pleased that Senator Hagel recognized the importance of retracting his previous statement about Ambassador Hormel and affirming his commitment to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and LGBT military families. We look forward to learning more about his commitment to full LGBT military equality as this confirmation process unfolds.”
The New York Times explains the concerns further:
Mr. Hagel, a Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was approached by his fellow Nebraskan in the Senate, Bob Kerrey, on behalf of Mr. Hormel, whose nomination was being held up by conservative Republicans.
Mr. Hagel did not oppose the nomination when Mr. Hormel came before the panel. But he later spoke out against it, saying that an “openly, aggressively gay” man should not represent the United States.
“They are representing America,” Mr. Hagel said in an interview with The Omaha World-Herald. “They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly, aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.”
Gay rights groups said Mr. Hagel’s comments raised questions about his ability to implement the repeal of the law prohibiting openly gay people from serving the military. In 1999, he said he opposed repealing the law, telling The New York Times that “the U.S. armed forces aren’t some social experiment.”
“For him to be an appropriate candidate for any administration post, he must repudiate his comments about Ambassador Hormel,” said Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national group that promotes gay rights.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
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