Congressman Mike Coffman admits he was wrong about openly gay soldiers serving in the military — sort of.
Coffman stopped by the newsroom last week while home in Aurora on summer break from one of the wildest congresses on record.
While here, we pressed him on the dozens of controversial, shocking and just plain weird things in Washington happening this week as President Donald Trump tweets away his presidency.
Rising to the top of the recent Trump flotsam was Trump’s surprise ban on transgender military personnel. The Pentagon, the military community, Congress and Trump’s stumble-tap-dancing staff were all unclear what in the hell Trump was talking about. What Congress was talking about is whether to pay for sexual reassignment surgeries and other medical costs for transgender members of the military.
Coffman finds himself in the political party on the squinting side of that question. But the life-long Republican not only sits on the House Armed Services Committee, he’s chairman of the House Military Personnel Subcommittee. This is his thing.
It was his thing several years ago when he grumped about the Clinton Administration’s stupid Dont’ Ask Don’t Tell policy. He was forthright in saying that he didn’t think soldiers should be openly gay in the military because it would be disruptive and cause a bevy of problems. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a wishy-washy political answer that a cowardly President Clinton imposed. It only underscored how weird America’s view of homosexuality was, and it danced around an embarrassing American human rights problem.
So when ‘Don’t Ask’ finally went away, and the Pentagon grew up and said that gays should and will serve in the military openly as homosexuals, Coffman, too, was adamant that soldiers, openly being homosexuals in the military, would be disruptive and undermine the military.
But last week, while talking with the Aurora Sentinel, Coffman said there have been absolutely no problems, no disruption from gays and lesbians coming out and even joining up as gays and lesbians.
“I would know,” Coffman said, because he chairs the House committee that scrutinizes such things and would hear about it if there were trouble.
So Coffman was, ahem, wrong. That’s my word, not his. This is 2017, but this is still a political world.
The subject came up when talking about transgenders and whether Coffman not was going to be pushing back against the logistical nightmare Trump had imposed on the U.S. military with his freaky tweet last week.
Coffman’s stance has long been for Congress and the White House to make policy and then let the military experts carry it out. Surprises like Trump’s transgender tweet are unwelcome for everybody.
More to the point, however, was Coffman’s pointing out that, maybe, just maybe, it could be that transgender soldiers are not only not a danger or disruption to the military, they are valuable — very valuable.
Coffman wouldn’t go there — yet. He right out-front admits that pulling the rug out from under as many as 15,000 U.S. soldiers that are transgender is a bad, bad idea. These soldiers hold myriad positions across all branches of the military, many, possibly, in key positions.
He’s willing to stipulate that if there are valuable transgender soldiers, which would mean that transgender soldiers are indeed valuable, that he could have a problem withholding medical services that are part of their gender maintenance. Here’s why. Say that a transgender soldier plugging away at keeping his or her fellow soldiers safe while patrolling in Afghanistan or scouring radio and phone transmissions in Iraq has to refill hormones or anything related to their gender treatment.
“It’s not like many soldiers can run out to the nearest Walgreens” and pick up a prescription, being forced to take care of that themselves , Coffman said. Logistically, those kind of transgender issues would fall under active duty medical programs.
Expensive reassignment surgery for new recruits? I doubt Coffman would go there, but he didn’t say.
What he did say was that there are studies underway trying to figure out whether transgender and gender-bending soldiers are in some way disruptive to military operations. And he did say that if the studies showed the same kind of thing that studies about gays in the military revealed, and how reality has proved those gays in the military studies out, well…
“We’ll see,” Coffman said.
I mention all this because Coffman has long been seen as a tea-party animal. He out-conserved a big pack of neo-cons five elections ago to win a primary race to take whacky-right Tom Tancredo’s congressional seat. But Coffman’s district was redrawn in 2010, and the race to the far-right became a journey to the middle, now serving an Aurora district that is very deep-purple.
Since then, Coffman has entrenched himself in Aurora’s immigrant and ethnic community. He gave an interview in Spanish before he came by the Sentinel newsroom. He’s the darling of Aurora’s large Ethiopian crowd. He’s apparently OK now with gays in the military and maybe, could be championing transgenders in the service.
Looks like a duck. Sounds like a duck. So it’s time to see if Coffman starts voting like a duck.