Conservatives have long claimed that they oppose discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation — though they never support policies to protect people from such discrimination. This past week, President Obama nominated Eric Fanning for the position of Army secretary, and several conservatives were quick to claim that he was undeserving of the position solely on the basis that he is gay.
According to Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, “It’s clear President Obama is more interested in appeasing America’s homosexuals than honoring America’s heroes. Veterans suicide is out-of-control and military readiness is dangerously low, yet Obama is so obsessed with pandering to liberal interest groups he’s nominated an openly gay civilian to run the Army. Homosexuality is not a job qualification. The U.S. military is designed to keep Americans safe and complete combat missions, not conduct social experiments.”
It’s true that, if confirmed by the Senate, Fanning would become the first Senate-confirmed LGBT civilian to oversee a branch of the military. But Fanning’s credentials are not in question. He has previously served as acting Air Force secretary, deputy under secretary of the Navy, under secretary of the Air Force, and Pentagon chief of staff, and his current position is acting under secretary of the Army, the number-two position under the one he’s been nominated for.
When challenged by Fox News on Monday about his claims, Huckabee doubled down, arguing that the White House was “making such a big deal and talking about” Fanning’s sexual orientation. “If he thinks Eric Fanning is the best for the job, nominate him, but leave his sexual orientation out of it.” Over at The New Civil Rights Movement, they tried to find any reference the White House had made to Fanning’s sexuality. The closest they came was a Facebook post to a New York Times article about the nomination, which unsurprisingly highlighted its newsy historic nature.
Huckabee was not alone in decrying the nomination. On Wednesday, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) expressed his concern that Fanning’s leadership would somehow communicate to Muslims that the United States approves of the child abuse that has been taking place in Afghanistan’s military forces. “What do you think they will think,” he asked, “when they hear that not only did we tolerate what was being done to their boys by people under our authority but we turn around and approve a Secretary of the Army that they as moderate Muslims believe is just an atrocious thing? They’re going to think that that is quite consistent with us approving of what was going on between the older men in authority and these boys.” In other words, for Gohmert, homosexuality and child abuse are somehow synonymous.
Gohmert was speaking to Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins on his Washington Watch radio show. FRC, which is hosting several Republican presidential candidates at its Values Voter Summit Friday, similarly attacked the Obama administration over Fanning’s appointment this week. “Fanning’s confirmation would almost certainly take the military to a moral point of no return,” the organization wrote, noting his support for LGBT inclusion in the military. “With the power to set policy, Fanning, who has already pushed the social envelope, would have the potential to do even more harm to military readiness and recruitment.” FRC also claimed that Fanning’s leadership would harm the religious freedom of service members — those who would discriminate against and condemn their LGBT colleagues.
Conservatives have surprisingly not reacted to another prominent LGBT advance in the military this week. Last week, the Pentagon swore in Amanda Simpson as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy. Simpson was previously the first openly trans woman to be appointed by any President, serving as the Executive Director of the U.S. Army office of Energy Initiatives. With her promotion, she continues to be the highest and most prominent transgender appointee within the Obama administration.
Sue Fulton, president of the LGBT military organization SPART*A, told ThinkProgress that any doubt about an LGBT candidate’s qualifications is indicative of bigotry. “It shouldn’t require comment when the President selects the best-qualified candidates for positions in DOD or any other agency,” she said. “Eric Fanning and Amanda Simpson have proven over and over that they have the knowledge, experience, and leadership for the positions they’ve earned over the years.” Simpson was sworn in last week as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy, making her the highest and most prominent transgender appointee within the Obama administration.
The overall reaction to these appointments, Fulton says, indicates how far LGBT equality has advanced. “Once we would have pointed out that they got these jobs despite being gay, or transgender — just as bigots would argue that they got these jobs BECAUSE they were LGBT. I believe that we’ve moved past that, and we can congratulate two remarkable individuals on their accomplishments — and thank them for their ongoing selfless service.”
It remains to be seen when and if the Senate will actually hold a confirmation hearing for Fanning.