Booing of gay soldiers draws ire of activists

Palm Beach Post (FL)
Copyright © 2011 Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc.

JOHN LANTIGUA and JOHN KENNEDY Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

Fallout continued Friday from the audience’s booing of a gay soldier’s question at the Fox News Republican presidential debate in Orlando, and from candidate Rick Santorum’s pledge to reinstate the military’s just-ended “don’t ask, don’t tell” requirement.

Tony Plakas, executive director of the gay and lesbian Compass Community Center in Lake Worth, said he did not think the reaction by some in the GOP crowd would play well with most voters.

”I think what people will remember is that group of Americans there was booing a member of the U.S. military,” Plakas said.

In a video submission via YouTube from Iraq, Army soldier Stephen Hill told the Republican presidential candidates he had to lie about his sexual orientation when he was deployed to Iraq in 2010. He feared he would lose his job, he said.

”My question is, under one of your presidencies, do you intend to circumvent the progress that’s been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?” Hill asked. Loud jeers were heard immediately from the crowd.

Answering Hill, Santorum said that “sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military” and that the “don’t ask” repeal, which took effect this week, was injecting “social policy into the military.”

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund, a leading advocacy group for homosexual military personnel, criticized the other GOP contenders onstage.

”I regret that this brave patriot was not defended last night in Orlando and that no candidate spoke up to say the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal has been settled by Congress and our nation’s senior military leaders,” Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said.

A group representing gay conservatives, GOProud, assailed Santorum.

”Tonight, Rick Santorum disrespected our brave men and women in uniform,” the group said. “It is telling that Rick Santorum is so blinded by his anti-gay bigotry that he couldn’t even bring himself to thank that gay soldier for his service.”

The boos marked the third time this month that a GOP debate audience underscored a controversial policy stance with an outburst.

”It’s unfortunate and sad that the audience (would) boo and hiss at someone before you even get to a discussion about policy,” Florida ACLU spokesman Derek Newton said.

On Friday, Santorum distanced himself from those who booed the soldier.

”I thank him for his service and I hope he’s safe and returns safely and does the mission well,” Santorum said on Fox News.