EL TORO — Three Leathernecks. Three opinions.
Sgt. Gary S. Deeds said he saw some merit to President Clinton's compromise plan of allowing homosexuals to serve in the military if they keep their lifestyle hidden. "If you introduce it slowly, you may help prevent gay bashing," he said.
That's true, said Cpl. Glenn Hermosura, an ordnance technician. "Let the cold water come in slowly," he said. But, Hermosura added: "Personally, I can do without them. . . . It could create an opportunity for animosity."
Cpl. William Cotton had the strongest opinion. At first, he was reluctant to respond. When he did, his voice revealed his anger over the issue. "I don't go for it, period," he said. "I don't want to work in any kind of closeness where someone is looking at me, like in a shower. There's no way you're going to hide it."
The Marines, who stopped to talk while shopping at a post exchange store at El Toro Marine base Monday, were emblematic of the range of responses around Orange County to President Clinton's new policy on gays in the military. The reaction to the new White House policy also made clear that the President was correct on at least one point: "It certainly will not please everyone--perhaps not anyone," he said.
For the most part, from the soldiers serving on local military bases to the leaders of several gay and lesbian organizations, the opinions were distinguished only by the degree of disappointment.
At a Santa Ana press conference held by gay and lesbian organizations Monday afternoon, one speaker called Clinton's proposal a "small step forward." Another called it "a step backward."
In Laguna Beach, there was anger among gays who had served in the military.
"I think he wimped out," said Dennis Zsigo, who served four years in the Air Force. "Most of my friends are straight, and he's just losing the respect of everybody. He's not a leader."
Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) also attacked the new policy, but from the other side.
Dornan, one of Congress' most strident critics of homosexual behavior, vowed to continue his efforts to pass a federal law banning gays in the military. He predicted a fight over the issue when the House later this summer or fall considers legislation authorizing Defense Department expenditures.
Clinton, said Dornan, "hopes this (new policy) will end it. The blazes it will. The fight is on."
The Administration's new policy seeks to put the Pentagon's disciplinary emphasis on sexual conduct rather than sexual status. Under the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the Pentagon could no longer question soldiers about their sexual preference or investigate unsubstantiated reports of homosexuality.
But at the same time, homosexual conduct would remain banned. In seeking to illustrate the new policy, Administration officials have said that going to a gay bar by itself would not trigger disciplinary action but that same-sex dancing or holding hands at one would.
Clinton said in his speech that it falls short of his goal. And many in the gay and lesbian community are angry that the President did not simply dismiss the military's rules against homosexuals.
On the other side, many of the nation's top military officials opposed any changes to the previous policy of banning gays from military service.
At Monday's press conference, Ron Smebye, co-founder of Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Veterans of America, said Clinton's plan falls short of his best hopes, but he plans to work within the system to seek further change.
"This was a big step today," said Smebye, who wore a black armband saying, "Lift the Ban." "It's not exactly what we wanted. . . . As long as (gays) behave appropriately, they should be allowed to be good soldiers and Marines."
Smebye said his organization has 75 members, and it plans a meeting tonight in Irvine to discuss the President's announcement.
Julie Tanit, co-chair of the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club, described her reaction as "guarded optimism."
She said gays and lesbians "worked tirelessly" for Clinton and that although many are now disappointed with him, she said "this small step forward never would have occurred under George Bush's leadership."
But others at the same press conference sharply criticized the President.
Jeff LeTourneau of the Orange County Visibility League and ACT UP/Orange County called Clinton's announcement "a terrible injustice." He promised that gay and lesbian protesters would appear at every public event Clinton attends.
"This man, in my opinion, will be hounded from this day forward until there is a radical change in his policy," he said. "All their promises turned out to be nothing more than political rhetoric."
Dennis Caaberet, co-chair of the Elections Committee of the County of Orange, said the new policy insures that "institutionalized bigotry remains."
"The Defense Department has built an armored closet for gays and lesbians to serve in," he said. "It is genuinely un-American. The wrong thing has happened."