The Oregonian came out this morning for a repeal of "don’t ask don’t tell," calling for the full and open ability for gays and lesbians to serve in the military. Noting that acceptance of gays in the military is now at 75%, they are asking what is taking so long. I have only one question for the Oregonian: what took you so long?
In 1995, I was elected to the Portland School Board. Two months later, the Board passed my proposal to ban military recruiters from PPS schools because of "don’t ask, don’t tell." The action had nothing to do with personal sentiments about war or the military – it would not have been my place to tell students what politics to adopt. It was, strictly speaking, a matter of barring an employer that discriminated from using our District to further its discriminatory hiring practices. Our Board believed that if you want to hire any of our students, you have to be willing to hire every one of our students who meet the job’s qualifications.
The outcry was immediate – from the Oregonian. Over the next several years, they editorialized no fewer than four times against the ban. They argued that this was federal policy we had no right to resist, even though it clearly was the District’s legal right to bar recruiters (no law suit was ever filed), and I seriously doubt there would have been an outcry had a private sector company that openly discriminated been barred. What the Oregonian never mentioned was that the editorial page editor’s brother was the chief of the Oregon National Guard in those years – a personal if not technical conflict that should have been disclosed. (PPS repealed the ban as to the Guard in 1999 after being presented with evidence that they were openly allowing gays to serve despite don’t ask don’t tell)
The PPS ban lasted eight years. Ultimately, a reactionary "family values" congressman from Louisiana, David Vitter (yes, that David Vitter, now a Senator and apparent user of call girls) attached an amendment to No Child Left Behind that stripped any school district of all its federal funds if they did not let in recruiters. Faced with almost seventy million per year of blackmail, PPS had little choice but to repeal the ban.
I never fooled myself that there was much chance the ban was going to change military policy, but I did feel it was our important statement to our gay students that we supported them. Now the Oregonian, belatedly agrees. Why? For no more compelling reason than that the polls now favor gays in the military. Sorry, but when discrimination is wrong, you don’t wait for the polls. Apparently, the Big O is willing to call for policy changes, but not to support those who want to do anything about immoral policies. And even when they do support change, it isn’t until three out of four people already agree with them. In that, they are like Gilbert & Sullivan’s Duke of Plaza-Toro:
"In enterprise of martial kind, When there was any fighting, He led his regiment from behind (He found it less exciting). But when away his regiment ran, His place was at the fore, O- That celebrated, Cultivated, Underrated Nobleman, The Duke of Plaza-Toro!"
I appreciate that the Oregonian has finally gotten to a position supported by Portlanders a decade and a half ago, but it’s a bit little and it’s a lot late. Thanks for the "leadership," Big O!