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Sorry We Asked, Sorry You Told

Elaine Donnelly, a crusader against gays in the military, torpedoes her own ship.
Elaine Donnelly, a crusader against gays in the military, torpedoes her own ship. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Dana Milbank
Thursday, July 24, 2008

Don't ask, don't tell. And, whatever you do, don't ask Elaine Donnelly to tell you what she thinks about gays in the military.

The House Armed Services personnel subcommittee made just such a miscalculation yesterday. Holding the first hearing in 15 years on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, lawmakers invited a quartet of veterans to testify on the subject and also extended an invitation to Donnelly, who has been working for years to protect our fighting forces from the malign influence of women.

Donnelly treated the panel to an extraordinary exhibition of rage. She warned of "transgenders in the military." She warned that lesbians would take pictures of people in the shower. She spoke ominously of gays spreading "HIV positivity" through the ranks.

"We're talking about real consequences for real people," Donnelly proclaimed. Her written statement added warnings about "inappropriate passive/aggressive actions common in the homosexual community," the prospects of "forcible sodomy" and "exotic forms of sexual expression," and the case of "a group of black lesbians who decided to gang-assault" a fellow soldier.

At the witness table with Donnelly, retired Navy Capt. Joan Darrah, a lesbian, rolled her eyes in disbelief. Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a gay man who was wounded in Iraq, looked as if he would explode.

Inadvertently, Donnelly achieved the opposite of her intended effect. Though there's no expectation that Congress will repeal "don't ask, don't tell" and allow gays to serve openly in the military, the display had the effect of increasing bipartisan sympathy for the cause.

Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) labeled her statement "just bonkers" and "dumb," and he called her claims about an HIV menace "inappropriate." Said Snyder: "By this analysis . . . we ought to recruit only lesbians for the military, because they have the lowest incidence of HIV in the country."

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), a veteran of the war in Iraq, called Donnelly's words "an insult to me and many of the soldiers" by saying they "aren't professional enough to serve openly with gay troops while successfully completing their military mission."

Retorted Donnelly: "What would you say to Cynthia Yost, the woman on a training exercise assaulted by a group of lesbians?"

Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) pointed a finger at Darrah and glared at Donnelly. "Would you please tell me, Miss Donnelly, why I should give one twit about this woman's sexual orientation, when it didn't interfere one bit with her service?"

Donnelly said something about "forced intimacy."

Shays cut her off. "You're saying she has no right to serve her country because she happens to have a different sexual orientation than you."


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