Haggling over Chuck Hagel

For our LGBT community to move forward on equality, we need to be more open to apologies and less concerned with re-fighting the 1990s

Everything old is new again. What goes around, comes around. Pissing in the wind brings ill returns. There are simply so, so many clichés to reach for when it comes to the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, as defense secretary and the reopening of wounds from the late-1990s battles over gay marriage and openly gay ambassadors.

It’s been a minor spectacle, with the concern trolling of Log Cabin Republicans over Hagel’s past anti-gay comments, the sorts of comments that LCR has spent years honing their skills apologizing for when made by currently serving elected Republicans or, perhaps more relevantly, Republicans not being nominated for something by a Democratic president. That, plus the crocodile tears neoconservatives and gerontological Senate warmongers now shed over Hagel’s somewhat bigoted past, probably means we’ve made some sort of progress, even if it’s off-putting.

On the other side, we have those who want a better apology from Hagel for calling former Ambassador James Hormel ”aggressively gay.” Perhaps Hagel should follow the Ken Mehlman path and start things off by writing a few checks. If we can forgive Mehlman, a primary architect of the state constitutional amendments that enshrine anti-gay discrimination in more than half the nation (and, in fairness, now works to dismantle them), then we should probably be able to forgive Hagel for calling James Hormel names more than a decade ago.

I’m not belittling the concerns about whether Hagel would fully support the new, DADT-free military — although it’s hard to imagine that in his pre-nomination discussions with the White House the issue didn’t come up — but asking for concrete answers on a policy question is not the same thing as demanding an apology and then demanding a better apology.

People actually do change. If they happen to change for political rather than personal reasons, so be it. The point is to reach the change. Back in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s, I was told all kinds of things by straight family members and friends.

”Well, I love the sinner, but hate the sin.”

”You just can’t do things that unnatural and not expect something like AIDS.”

”I love you, but you can’t tell me that two men getting married is right.”

Those things, and many others, hurt me deeply. Over time, many of the people who’ve said these sorts of things — words that to them, at that time, seemed like common sense but are now seen as the bigotry that they represented — have come to tell me the exact opposite. And I accept that and leave those past hurts behind.

We’re at a point in our history as gay, lesbian and bisexual people where much of the work that remains for equality lies not in direct political action but in directly changing people’s minds through them seeing us and knowing us and understanding that we are a part of their families, schools, churches, social networks and so on. When Michelangelo Signorile can still get called a faggot on the streets of Manhattan after kissing his boyfriend, you can imagine the work that still needs to be done in Skokie, Ill.

That work won’t be helped by re-fighting battles long past. That work won’t be helped if we demand apologies we don’t accept. Ask questions, examine answers and — to dig out another cliché — trust, but verify.

Sean Bugg is the co-publisher of Metro Weekly. He can be reached at sbugg@MetroWeekly.com. Follow him on Twitter, @seanbugg.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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