GOP YouTube Debate: Retired General Kerr on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Q My name is Keith Kerr, from Santa Rosa, California. I’m retired brigadier general with 43 years of service, and I’m a graduate of the Special Forces Officer Course, the Command and General Staff Course, and the Army War College. And I’m an openly gay man.

I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians.

Duncan Hunter’s response:

MR. COOPER: I want to point out that Brigadier General Keith Kerr is here with us tonight. Glad you’re here. (Applause.)

I’ll give the question to Congressman Hunter.

REP. HUNTER: Yeah. General, General, thanks for your service, but I believe in what Colin Powell said when he said that having openly homosexual people serving in the ranks would be bad for unit cohesion. And the reason for that — even though people point to the Israelis and point to the Brits and point to other people as having homosexuals serve, is that most Americans, most kids who leave that — that breakfast table and go and serve in the military and make that corporate decision with their family — most of them are conservatives. And they have conservative values, and they have Judeo-Christian values. And to force those people to work in a small, tight unit with somebody who is homoment (sic) — openly homosexual goes against what they believe to be their principles — and it is their principles — is, I think, a disservice to them. And I — I agree with Colin Powell that it would be bad for unit cohesion. (Applause.)

MR. COOPER: I want to direct that to Governor Huckabee. Thirty seconds.

MR. HUCKABEE: The Uniform Code of Military Justice is probably the best rule, and it has to do with conduct. People have a right to have whatever feelings, whatever attitudes they wish.

But when their conduct could put at risk the morale or put at risk even the cohesion that Duncan Hunter spoke of, I think that’s what is at issue, and that’s why our policy is what it is.

MR. COOPER: Governor Romney, you said in 1994 that you looked forward to the day when gays and lesbians could serve, and I quote, “openly and honestly” in our nation’s military. Do you stand by that?

MR. ROMNEY: This isn’t that time. This is not that time. We’re in a middle of a war. The people who have watched —

MR. COOPER: Do you look forward to that time, though, one day?

MR. ROMNEY: I’m going to listen to the people who run the military to see what the circumstances are like. And my view is that at this stage this is not the time for us to make that kind of a change.

MR. COOPER: Is there a change in your position from 1994?

MR. ROMNEY: Yeah, I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t think “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would work. That was my — I didn’t think that would work. I thought that was a policy — when I heard about it, I laughed. I said that doesn’t make any sense to me. And you know what? It’s been there now for what, 15 years? Seems to have worked.

MR. COOPER: So just on clear — at this point, do you still look forward to a day when gays can serve openly in the military, or no longer?

MR. ROMNEY: I look forward to hearing from the military exactly what they believe is the right way to have the right kind of cohesion and support in our — in our troops, and I’ll listen to what they have to say. (Boos.)

MR. COOPER: All right.

General Kerr is, as I said, is here. Please stand up, General. Thank you very much for being with us. Do you feel you got an answer to your question?

GEN. KERR: With all due respect, I did not get an answer from the candidates. (Applause.)

MR. COOPER: What do you — what do you feel you got?

GEN. KERR: American — American men and women in the military are professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians. For 42 years, I wore the Army uniform on active duty, in the Reserve, and also for the state of California. I revealed I was a gay man after I retired. Today, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is destructive to our military policy. Every — every day, the Department of Defense discharges two people not for misconduct, not for the unit cohesion — (mike cuts off).

MR. COOPER: The mike is — you’ve lost the — is the microphone not working? All right. Please, just finish your — finish your — what is your —

GEN. KERR: Not for the unit cohesion that Congressman Hunter is talking about, but simply because they happen to be gay.

MR. COOPER: Okay. Senator McCain —

GEN. KERR: And we’re talking about doctors, nurses, pilots, and the surgeon who sews — (boos) — sews somebody up when they’re taken from the battlefield.

MR. COOPER: I appreciate your comment.

Senator McCain, I want to give you 30 seconds. You served in the military. (Applause.)

SEN. MCCAIN: General, I thank you for your service to our nation. I respect it.

All the time I talk to our military leaders, beginning with our Joint Chiefs of Staff and leaders in the field such as General Petraeus and General Odierno and others who are designated leaders with the responsibility of the safety of the men and women under their command and their security and protect them as best they can. Almost unanimously, they tell me that this present policy is working, that we have the best military in history, we have the bravest, most professional —

SEN. MCCAIN: — best-prepared, and that this policy ought to be continued because it’s working.


  1. Brian says

    Amazing. That debate last night was debilitatingly painful. Xenophobia, homophobia, anykindofphobia… it was a festival of clenched sphincters and desperate flag-waving. Frankly, I feel a little sorry for the moderate Republicans out there. It was that bad. They’re going to Bible-beat themselves until the party’s nominees and leadership are utterly irrelevant.

  2. tommy says

    So what IF he was from the Clinton campaign. It is still a valid question. I was not aware that all questions were to be from Republicans only. I watched some of last night. They eat their own!

  3. Scott says

    Valid question?

    You realize he’s supporting the wife of the guy who’s policy he opposes, right?

    So shouldn’t she be the better target of that question?

    As for “from republicans only”, we were told after the Dem’s last debate in Vegas that “undecided” meant “which canidate” not “which party”, and thus all the obvious democrats asking questions was excused.

    I think we can all admit that regardless of who it ends up being, few of those who actively support a dem would ever vote republican.

  4. Michael Bedwell says

    In addition to being someone who has helped with anti-DADT fundraisers as well as giving money myself, I care passionately about this issue more personally because Leonard Matlovich, the first gay man to publicly challenge the Pentagon’s antigay policies in a test case he initiated in 1975 was my roommate and one of my best friends.

    He served three tours in Vietnam, won a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, and was the first out gay person to appear on the cover of a major mainstream magazine—“Time” the same year. Though he was the movement’s first nationally known contemporary activist, having passed in 1988 many younger are unfamiliar with his name. More are aware of his now famous tombstone in DC’s Congressional Cemetery with the inscription, “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

    Originally conceived as a simple monument to all LGBT vets, he got the idea from the shared tombstone of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas that we saw on a trip to Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris a couple of years before he learned he had AIDS. Later he would lead an effort, unfortunately never consummated due to his passing and others’, to erect a monument to Harvey Milk near his. Having been with him when he died, I was honored to participate in a memorial service at his gravesite this past Veteran’s Day, and moved to note through various inscriptions that other gays have since chosen to be buried there.

    So I hope everyone will understand my anger that the central issue, and some of the historical facts, are being sidetracked or distorted by those who care more about bashing Sen. Clinton or the Democrats generally or defending Republicans or some naive, plastic concept of objectivity than they do advancing our equality generally and the fair and equal treatment of tens of thousands of gay men and lesbians in the military specifically.

    I have not yet decided whom I’ll vote for in my state’s primary, but I know I will make my ultimate decision not on what they have done/allegedly done/not done in the past but on what they are doing/not doing now and, if you will, the sum of their parts. Again, because of my personal, intimate knowledge of the history of the gays in the military issue extending back several years before DADT, I know that the policy was not the creation, per se, of President Clinton. Even if it were, he’s not running.

    However, Sen. Clinton, like ALL of the Democratic candidates for President, has endorsed the complete repeal of DADT. As seen before and above, NONE of the Republican candidates do. They can stand in public, on television, before a man like Gen. Kerr and shamelessly tell him that he doesn’t deserve first class citizenship. Remembering Leonard’s capacity for outrage in the face of bigotry of any kind, they and CNN were lucky it wasn’t he asking the question. I did not know that Gen. Kerr had endorsed Sen. Clinton but it would seem that rational people would take the perspective of a 43-year veteran in account before mouthing off.

    And the broader issue is not the possibility of voters who traditionally vote Democratic being suddenly seduced by any Republican, but how much all of these picayune and petulant vivisections of Democratic candidates might encourage their not voting at all. Greater still is how it unnecessarily helps give those gays who voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 (at least 20% of those self-identifying) an excuse to vote again for those who vilify them and us.

    We must not contribute to that. While no candidate is perfect (and never will be), we have an opportunity to break the religious right’s hold on our county that we must not squander nor stomp to death through self-aggrandizing self-righteousness.

    I know that Leonard and all of those who came after him and all those who came before him, who served and suffered and died in desperate silence (none of whom, big surprise, Ken Burns could find time to mention in the 15 hours of his recent “The War” documentary), deserve no less.

    Thanks for listening.

  5. says

    As a Brit (and a pacifist), I have no part in this debate, but I do want to salute Brigadier General Keith Kerr. I shouted at the screen as the weasels trotted out their hate-filled vote-baiting bile, but that man is a hero.

  6. queendru says

    Michael, “I did not know that Gen. Kerr had endorsed Sen. Clinton but it would seem that rational people would take the perspective of a 43-year veteran in account before mouthing off.”

    I have a problem with CNN not knowing Kerr was involved with Hillary. He’s been on their air a few times this year already and was specifically invited to the event. It would only take seconds to Google his name. Did they check his military credentials or take his word? This is CNN not your high school paper.

    I don’t believe it was a plant rather it was another case of an activist working his way into debates and “undecided” focus groups. I also heard one of the “undecideds” already supported John Edwards on her online profile. It’s this deception and meddling that makes regular people cynical about the genuineness of the whole process.

    While it may be Kerr’s opinion that DODT should be eliminated (I agree) he served willfully in contradiction to policy, including many years with his deceased partner. He lacks personal integrity. With all that deception it’s no surprise he didn’t make sure CNN knew of his connection to the Clinton campaign or point it out in his youtube clip or in person. This guys seems to have a problem with “full disclosure” which is shameful and dishonors his rank and service.

    The question wasn’t put to the two leading candidates which is a joke.

  7. Bryan says

    Gen. Kerr showed courage at the debate, and I’d imagine it took a lot of courage to come out after being in the military and the closet for so long. How exactly did he dishonor his rank and service?

  8. says

    It is sad to see a retired General attempt to transfer his status as a 43 year veteran to the gay and Lesbian stage and use this status to validate his immoral behavior. The way the question was asked “when will our armed services be professional enough to serve with Gays”? This statement in itself proposes that gays are inherently more professional than straight GIs. So a gay general is more professional than a straight general? This was a sad attempt at soliciting support and validating abnormal behavior. Sorry General or better yet Mr. Kerr

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