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AMERICAN MORNING

Gays in the Military

Aired December 11, 2003 - 07:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: It's been 10 years since don't ask, don't tell became law for gays in the military, a controversial policy that has a number of critics. And among them, three high ranking officers now retired and now revealing that they are gay.
Why, then, did these military men come out now?

Retired Brigadier General Keith Kerr is live in San Francisco. Retired Rear Admiral Alan Steinman is in Dupont, Washington. Retired Brigadier General Virgil Richard is with us today from Austin, Texas.

And gentlemen, good morning to you.

We want to start with General Kerr in San Francisco.

Why now?

BRIG. GEN. KEITH KERR (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Good morning.

It's the 10th anniversary of don't ask, don't tell and the three of us think that don't ask, don't tell is not working. It prohibits and discourages loyal Americans who want to serve their country from doing so, because they have to lie and conceal their personal life. And Americans who are interested in serving their country should be given the opportunity to do so.

HEMMER: Let me ask Admiral Steinman then...

KERR: In addition...

HEMMER: ... what do you want changed then?

REAR ADM. ALAN STEINMAN (RET.) U.S. COAST GUARD: Well, we'd like the law to be repealed by Congress. I mean we think the don't ask, don't tell law -- and it is a law, not just a military policy -- to be repealed. Furthermore, we would like the current policy on anti- harassment against gays and lesbians to immediately be enforced. That can be done without changing the law and we feel that harassment continues in the military now, even though gays and lesbians are permitted by the law to serve honorably. Oftentimes, the workplace is hostile and sometimes violent, and we think that needs to be addressed, and that could be done even without repealing the law.

HEMMER: The military sent us a statement. I'll read it and put it on the screen for our viewers and then we'll get a response from you gentlemen. "The DOD homosexual conduct policy is based in law" -- the Department of Defense -- "Congress has stated that homosexual conduct poses risks to unit cohesion and readiness. The Department continues to work tirelessly to administer that law in a manner that is both fair and consistent."

To General Richard, then, how is the military less of a fighting force with this policy?

BRIG. GEN. VIRGIL RICHARD (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, I think the real issue is how soldiers do their jobs, not their sexuality. The policy is not working and it's not working because, as an example, in the "Washington Post" last week, the GAO found that the Army and the services are short many linguists and we kicked out 37 over the last couple of years that could have helped our Army. And it's just a waste of resources of what we're doing with gay soldiers. They don't enlist, they don't reenlist and we're just wasting the taxpayers' money.

HEMMER: All three of you gentlemen have told me it's not working, the policy needs to be dropped and the fact of the matter is you believe that right now the military is not well served by this. It appears to me from a distance all three of you men have had very successful military careers. You're now retired. It seems, General Kerr, that it's worked well for the three of you.

Am I wrong?

KERR: It worked very well for me. The Army made me a much better person. It gave me education, training, contact and the ability to serve with wonderfully talented officers and learn from them. So I'm so proud of my Army service and what the Army has done for me. And that opportunity ought to be available to all Americans.

My personal belief is that one can no more choose their sexual orientation than they can choose the color of their eyes, their hair or their full genetic makeup.

HEMMER: We want to thank all three of you this morning for being with us today.

General Kerr in San Francisco, Admiral Steinman there in Dupont, Washington and General Richard in Austin, Texas.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today, all three with a significant story this past week.

Thank you, gentlemen.

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