U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway’s prediction that the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy will result in segregated barracks and bathrooms for gay and straight troops not only dismayed, but surprised Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper, an Iraq war veteran who personally escorted Conaway on multiple trips to Iraq.
“Some of the politicians that oppose DADT have never really interacted with the military or have never visited,” Cooper said. “But Conaway knows better and that’s why I am truly disappointed.”
Midland Republican Conaway voted against repealing DADT — the 17-year-old policy that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military — saying recently that building separate facilities would result in an unnecessary increase in federal government spending, at a time when budgets need to be cut.
“You’re going to accommodate folks’ preferences as to whether or not they want to be in the same sleeping arrangements or bathroom facilities, all those kinds of things,” he told Scripps reporter Trish Choate, according to the Wichita Falls Times Record News. “Apparently their housing arrangements are not set up in that direction. And if you have to segment them further from what they are just between men and women, then you’re going to have to provide additional facilities that weren’t provided before.”
According to his congressional biography, Conaway served in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood and now sits on the House Agriculture, Intelligence, Armed Services and Ethics committee.
Cooper — an Iraq war combat veteran later appointed by then-Pres. George W. Bush as a legislative affairs adviser at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad — guided lawmakers, including Conaway, around the war-torn country on numerous occasions. Today, Cooper heads the national gay and lesbian GOP grassroots organization Log Cabin Republicans and its nonprofit affiliate Liberty Education Forum. Because Conaway has seen the living conditions of service personnel first-hand, Cooper did not expect to hear what he described as “nonsensical” comments about effects of the measure’s repeal.
Calling Conaway’s claims “narrow and fallacious,” Cooper said the West Texas representative’s comments were unfounded and a far cry from the rigid realities of military life.
“He is under the assumption that they will accommodate people’s preferences — No, it’s the military. There are no preferences so to speak,” said Cooper. “You are going to get assigned your lodging based on unit structure not based on personal preferences.”
A report released by the Pentagon in November outlined issues associated with DADT’s repeal. One of the largest surveys ever conducted by the U.S military, the study polled more than 115,000 respondents. The report described creating separate bathrooms and shower facilities for gay men and lesbians as a “logistical nightmare,” and argued against the idea. Even if it could be achieved and administered, read the report, the separate facilities would stigmatize homosexual service members, paralleling “separate but equal” racial segregation for African Americans prior to the 1960s. Most concerns were based on stereotypes, it found. Commanders should retain the ability to accommodate privacy concerns on a case-by-case basis, the report states.
Additionally, when asked about how having a servicemember in their immediate unit who said he/she is gay would affect the unit’s ability to “work together to get the job done,” 70 percent of servicemembers predicted it would have a positive, mixed or no effect, according to the report.
“Personally, the soldiers I served with in Iraq would go back into combat with me any day. They didn’t care about my orientation then and they don’t care now,” Cooper said.
The study also concluded assertions that military members voicing fear over open homosexuality leading to harassment, invasions of privacy and a threat to unit cohesion as exaggerated and not consistent with their reports. Cooper echoed the finding, noting that the very idea is a troubling signal indicating the military is incapable of maintaining its own professionalism.
The diplomat and war veteran chalks up much of the opposition to a distinct generational divide. While primarily young legislative staff seemed in tune with the priorities of Log Cabin issues during meetings, they expressed difficulty in relating those ideas to their bosses, sometimes more than twice their senior. The same divide exists within the military hierarchy, Cooper said. While baby-boomer age senior personnel showed resistance to DADT’s repeal, younger soldiers seemed apathetic. (Conaway is 62.)
“It’s good that it is going into the dust bin of history, but unfortunate for those who supported the ban,” Cooper said. “They will be on the wrong side of history.”
In the end, raising issues about facilities and sleeping quarters are not germane, considering the severity of war zone conditions, Cooper said.
“When you are in combat and being shot at there are no distinctions,” he said. “Everything becomes crystal clear. You are not worried about orientation or gender, you are worried about staying alive and getting the mission done.”
If members of Congress are really committed to strengthening readiness and effectiveness, they should invest in equipping and training troops, Cooper said. They should ensure there is the proper amount of body armor to mitigate death or injury and make sure troops have enough ammunition, rather than worrying about lodging and showers, which are often seen as more of a luxury and not always accessible to those in combat.
[Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:45 p.m. Eastern time to include Cooper's first initial and correct the title he held as a Bush appointee in Iraq.]
(Image by: Matt Mahurin)Tags: clarke cooper, DADT, Iraq War, Log Cabin Republicans, Mike Conaway