The Queer Issue
Let me tell you about Bill Clinton and 1994.
That was the first full year we could be angry with the "don't ask/don't tell" compromise he had been forced to sign the previous September. During the 1992 campaign, Clinton had promised to issue an executive order lifting the ban on gays in the military, much as Truman had integrated the army, and instead we got this.
It is a policy that all 18 of our 2004 and 2008 Democratic presidential primary candidates—and both Presidents Clinton and Carter—have by now decried. But at the time, after months of bleeding political capital, it seemed to be the best compromise we could get. (A Trumanesque executive order, it was feared, would move Congress to write the ban into federal law, entrenching it even further.)
"I had no idea they hated you so much," the president told gay friends, as he tried to rally support for lifting the ban.
But as badly as it worked out, it exposed the country (and the world), night after night, to heroes like Grethe Cammermeyer and Joe Steffan and Tracy Thorne, who were far more impressive and appealing than their right-wing antagonists. Night after night, month after month, people here and abroad were reminded that the president of the United States was on our side. And soon—encouraged by his leadership—so were hundreds of governors and mayors and business executives and university presidents.
And it was all part of a process that, once started, could not be stopped. People felt safer coming out of the closet, and as they did, more people came to know them, losing their fear and opening their minds. And now, in 2007, far fewer of them hate us, and national legislation bringing us closer to equality on this and other key issues may well be just one president away.