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Disaster or Delight: Gay Ban Battle Brings Strong Feelings

January 30, 1993

Undated (AP) _ For the gay airman in California who’d been facing discharge, it smelled like victory. For the Marine corporal in North Carolina who doesn’t approve of homosexuality, it spelled disaster.

Either way, President Clinton’s decision Friday to begin lifting the ban on gays in the military prompted candid talk about homosexuality, prejudice and daily life in the military.

″I’m ecstatic,″ said Petty Officer Michael Vallejo in San Francisco, where gay-rights activists gathered at the city’s War Memorial to celebrate Clinton’s announcement.

Just two weeks ago, Vallejo assumed he’d scuttled his Navy career by telling colleagues at the Alameda Naval Air Station that he is gay.

But while some celebrated, others predicted trouble.

″There will be a lot of violence,″ warned Lance Cpl. William Culver at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, offering that homosexuality ″is about the only thing I’m prejudiced against.″

Pfc. Kevin Enlow, 22, also at Camp Lejeune, says heterosexuals and homosexuals shouldn’t have to live together.

″If Mr. Clinton wants a disaster on his hands, he’s going to have one,″ he said. ″It’s not the same as segregating against blacks or Hispanics or females.″

Keith Meinhold, the Navy petty officer whose case led a federal judge on Thursday to strike down the Pentagon’s ban on gays, predicted there would be no turning back.

″We’re not debating whether the policy is going to change. What we have to do is make it best for everybody,″ Meinhold said during an appearance on the ″Donahue″ show. ″We need to go out and start telling people the truth.″

Clinton gave Defense Secretary Les Aspin until July 15 to draft an executive order ending the ban. Until then, recruiters will refrain from asking enlistees about their sexual orientation, and discharge proceedings against gays already in the service will be put on hold.

Gay rights advocates saw lifting the ban as a major step in their movement to gain equal status in society.

″Every social change goes through the same revolution, like civil rights for blacks and women’s right to vote,″ said one gay sailor in Honolulu, who declined to identify himself. ″There’s a lot of homophobic people in the Navy and all branches of the service, but people in the long run are going to accept it.″

U.S. Reps. Barney Frank and Gerry Studds, both Democrats from Massachusetts and both gay, expressed disappointment that the new commander-in-chief didn’t immediately end the Pentagon’s ban.

Others were grateful for the delay.

″I’m glad they’re waiting,″ said Spec. Corey Heath, a tank mechanic at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga. ″I think everybody is going to talk him out of it. I hope they will because I certainly don’t agree with it. If we have gays, I wouldn’t want to be in the shower room and have someone look at me.″

Army veteran Chris Bowman, one of several gay activists at San Francisco’s War Memorial Plaza, called it a deft political move.

″If he had signed an executive order today, it would’ve lasted about six hours,″ Bowman said.

For others, lifting the ban amounted to a simple recognition of reality.

″There are so many gays in the military right now and it’s working,″ said Kerry Fina, a former airman at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota who was discharged in 1991 after telling his superiors he was gay.

″I was known to be homosexual back then and it didn’t create any stir,″ said Bob Basker, a 74-year-old World War II veteran who lives in the San Francisco area. ″It’s like: are you Catholic or Jewish? It’s just something you happen to be.″

Although some military personnel and veterans predicted violence and mass retirements if gays are granted equal status, others agreed that the military will obey its commander in chief.

Lt. Col. Robert Riley, commander of the Army’s Chicago recruiting battalion, said he reminded all his recruiters of the oath they took when they joined the service.

″The bottom line is, I don’t care what their opinion is,″ he said. ″They swore an oath to obey the president and, by golly, they will.″

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