After a U.S. Senate panel voted to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on Thursday—siding with nearly four-fifths of Americans who think gays should be able to serve openly in the military—the House had a brief-but-fiery debate on an amendment calling for the same. The amendment passed Thursday night. It now is part of the military appropriations bill—and will likely become law.
As usual, when it comes to anything gay-related, nobody lost control quite like Louis Gohmert, the queer-bashing Republican representative from Tyler. “We’re saying, ‘We’re shoving this down your throat,’ ” Gohmert exclaimed as part of a fist-waving, hollering rant on the House floor.
“The military is not a social experiment,” he fumed. “We are sending them out there with a mission to protect this country.” He went on: “If someone has to be overt about their sexuality, whether it’s in a bunker whether confined under fire, then it’s a problem,” the grammatically challenged congressman bellowed. “That’s what repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell does. It says, ‘I have to be overt. I don’t care; I want this to be a social experiment.’
What’s all that talk about being “overt” have to do with anything? It’s the equivalent of that age-old expression of bigotry disguised as tolerance: “I don’t care what you do, just don’t throw it in my face.” Which is tantamount to saying: keep it hidden, out of sight, out of mind, because it’s too vile for normal people to be exposed to.
There’s nothing surprising about Gohmert’s latest flash of homophobic panic. He seems intent on making a name for himself as the congressman who most irrationally fears The Gay. Of course, he has plenty of company. Other Texas members, including Republican Michael McCaul of Katy and Pete Olson, Republican of Sugar Land, have argued against the repeal in similar—though politer—terms. “The United States military is not the entity that should be used for social experimentation,” Olson told the Houston Chronicle. “We’ve got men and women over there fighting, in harm’s way. We don’t need to introduce anything new right now.”
But nobody tops Gohmert. Last September, in a YouTube-ready rant on the House floor against the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, Gohmert outdid himself, equating homosexuality with bestiality, necrophilia and pedophilia: “If you’re oriented toward animals, bestiality, then, you know, that’s not something that can be used, held against you or any bias be held against you for that. Which means you’d have to strike any laws against bestiality, if you’re oriented toward corpses, toward children, you know, there are all kinds of perversions, […] pedophiles or necrophiliacs or what most would say is perverse sexual orientations …”
Ah, sweet reason! Gohmert went on, on that memorable occasion, to suggest that giving such “perverse” people special privileges is taking America right down the slippery slope toward Nazism.
At least now, with the likely repeal of the ban on military service, Gohmert is spitting his venom into a fierce wind. Public opinion has been thoroughly transformed on this issue since Bill Clinton struck his Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell compromise in 1993. Meanwhile, more than 14,000 gay service men and women have been stopped from voluntarily serving the country because of the policy.
That injustice is about to end. And homophobes like Gohmert will have to find new ways to embarrass themselves. I feel confident that he will manage. There are always prejudices to stoke and people to pick on for political gain. And there will always be members of Congress who are no-count and sorry enough—or just plain hateful enough—that they can’t resist the temptation.