Gay leaders opposed to Hagel unless he demonstrates profound departure from past views

Garden State Equality leaders say Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel has a lot of work to do to convince the lesbian, gay and transgender community that he will be able to fairly and effectively lead the nation’s military.

In 1998, Hagel expressed opposition to James Hormel, U.S. Ambassador to Luxemberg nominee, on the grounds that Hormel was “openly aggressively gay.”

Outgoing Garden State Equality Chairman and CEO Steven Goldstein said Hagel now must prove that he has changed.

“We love our president and we’re proud to support him but what an extraordinarily insensitive nomination,” Goldstein told PolitickerNJ.com. “It’s hard to believe there is not another person on earth who doesn’t have Chuck Hagel’s credentials who is not as offensive. The nomination is puzzling at best and stunning at worst. Frankly we hope Republicans and fair-minded Democrats hold firm in keeping Hagel’s feet to the fire.”

Troy Stevenson, chairman and CEO-elect of Garden State Equality, worked for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and said it would be difficult to find a stronger ally of the president’s than himself.

But he said the Hagel nomination is “extremely concerning.”

“We need to know if his apology was sincere,” he said of Hagel’s retraction of his initial criticism of Hormel.

“We need to know if he is going to properly repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ in a fair and equal way to all members of the gay and transgender community,” Stevenson added. “This is one of the most important issues for Garden State Equality. We oppose the nomination without clarification of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell on the transgender community.”

Goldstein stopped just short of opposing Hagel, but emphasized that the nominee must convince through his testimony that he is a “vastly changed person.”

“He’s going to have to describe his change of mind and we’ll be looking for the specifics,” Goldstein said. “Right now we are approaching this nomination with the utmost skepticism.”

Hormel was the keynote speaker at a 2007 Garden State Equality session and Goldstein said he recalled him as a thoughtful and modulated thinker, a public servant and hardly a “fire-breathing radical.”

Goldstein said he is troubled that Hagel, as far as he knows, never picked up the phone to apologize to Hormel.

“He also waited 15 years to retract his statement,” said a wary Garden State Equality leader. “We’re looking for a renunciation of his previously stated views. We want to know what he will do to prove he is a leader of different thinking.”

In addition, like Stevenson, he said, “I would like to see Chuck Hagel say he supports the applicability of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to members of the transgender community. If he does that, I would be profoundly moved.”

"This meeting is entirely off the record. Until somebody leaks it."
—Michael Kempner, addressing a roomful of Democratic powerbrokers organizng for Hillary Clinton