Frank Asks Secrecy, No Penalties for Gays in Uniform


A leading gay congressman, warning that homosexuals are in danger of losing their fight to allow gays to serve openly in the military, proposed a compromise Tuesday that would enable them to serve secretly but without fear they will be discovered.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) conceded that chances of winning an outright victory on the issue are growing dim. With the Pentagon in the final stages of drafting a proposal, Frank said it is time for gay rights advocates to face reality.

“If Congress now chooses between a complete and total removal of the ban and a statutory enforcement of the ban, I am not optimistic that the side I would like to see would win, and that, I think, is reality,” Frank said.


Under Frank’s compromise, military service members would be forbidden to reveal their sexual orientation while in uniform and on base, but they would be allowed to engage in homosexual activities privately while off duty.

“On base and on duty and in uniform . . . gays and lesbians will make the sacrifice, unlike anybody else, of not talking about it,” Frank told reporters. “On the other hand, off base, off duty, on their own time, they will be allowed without fear of any penalty or punishment to express their individuality and personality.”

Frank’s proposal, immediately denounced by several gay activist groups, came as Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pressed his case for a harsher standard.

Nunn favors a compromise allowing homosexuals to serve in the military as long as they reveal their sexual orientation to none of their colleagues or commanders. Under that proposal, widely known as “don’t ask/don’t tell,” gays could be ejected from the military if their homosexuality became known or was confirmed to colleagues.

If President Clinton tries to carry out his vow to lift the ban outright and allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly, Nunn and other opponents would try to pass legislation completely barring gays from the military, Nunn said last week.

The President has directed the Pentagon to draft an executive order by July 15 that would end discrimination against gays by the armed forces.


Frank described his own proposal as “a policy that says ‘don’t ask, don’t tell and don’t listen and don’t investigate.’ Basically, the policy . . . is ‘don’t start, don’t get into the whole thing,’ ” he said at a Capitol Hill news conference.

If a service member finds out about a comrade’s off-duty behavior and discloses it to authorities, the military’s answer should be, “We don’t want to hear about it,” Frank said.

Frank conceded that Nunn and others opposed to ending the ban might prevail in an all-out battle.

In an interview with The Times, Frank said: “If we don’t compromise, we lose. If the choice is between 0% and 100%, we get zero, and that can’t be in anyone’s interest on our side. The question is, what can you salvage out of this? A total repeal is impossible.”

White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said she was unfamiliar with the proposal and did not know if Clinton would agree with it. “The President believes we have to go further than ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ that the standard ought to be conduct,” Myers said.

Among gay activists, Frank’s proposal drew strong criticism.

“I don’t think this is any time to raise the white flag,” Rep. Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.) said. “We are, after all, talking about a fundamental question of civil rights.


“I acknowledge we do not have the votes here now. But we’re not voting now. There may well be a time when we’re going to have to ask ourselves whether we are prepared to have half a loaf. But we’re not there now in my judgment, and we ought to be making the strongest case for our side now.”

Tanya Domi of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said that “there’s a rush to compromise that perhaps is premature. And we don’t support that.”