Obama Appoints Openly Gay Army Secretary; Nobody Cares

Eric Fanning will be the first openly gay service secretary.

WaPo (“Obama to nominate first openly gay service secretary to lead the Army“):

President Obama, in a historic first for the Pentagon, has chosen to nominate Eric Fanning to lead the Army, a move that would make him the first openly gay civilian secretary of one of the military services.

Fanning, 47, has been a specialist on national security issues for more than two decades and has played a key role overseeing some of the Pentagon’s biggest shipbuilding and fighter jet programs. Now he will oversee an Army that has been battered by the longest stretch of continuous combat in U.S. history and is facing potentially severe budget cuts. It’s also an Army that after a long stretch of patrolling Iraqi and Afghan villages is searching for its postwar role in protecting the nation.

Fanning’s nomination, which must go to the Senate for confirmation, reflects a major shift for the Pentagon, which only four years ago prevented openly gay troops from serving in the military. The policy didn’t extend to civilian leaders, such as Fanning.


In a sign of how much the country has changed in the past decade, Fanning’s sexual orientation seemed a non-issue among Republicans and Democrats in Congress, who were far more worried about the state of the Army.

“There is a real crisis in morale and retention that has developed for the Army over the last several years,” said Joe Kasper, chief of staff to Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.). “The Army needs a leader who will stand up for soldiers, who recognizes war can get ugly and who won’t shy away from the tough issues. If Fanning is that type of person, he’ll be embraced.”

Fanning’s historic appointment didn’t seem to cause a stir in the Army, either.

“My sense is that the Army is over this and has been over it for some time,” said Phil Carter, a veteran of the war in Iraq and senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “The Army cares whether you can shoot straight, not whether you are straight.”

Barry Goldwater, the man whose conservatism was branded extreme in his 1964 shellacking at the hands of Lyndon Johnson, used almost exactly that line during the firestorm over President Bill Clinton’s ill-fated attempt to integrate gays in the military in 1993. He was an outlier, not only in the Republican Party but the country as a whole.

Five–certainly ten–years ago this would have created a firestorm of outrage from conservative politicians and pundits and a backlash from the military brass. Now? Crickets. That’s a good thing.

While I’ll confess to Fanning’s name not ringing a bell, his resume is impressive, indeed. He’s clearly qualified for the post. That the Army has bigger fish to fry than worrying about who their secretary is sleeping with is a huge sign of progress, indeed.

Update (Doug Mataconis): Unsurprisingly, while decent Americans will most likely not care that Fanning is gay, Mike Huckabee apparently does:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) on Saturday said the nomination of the openly gay Eric Fanning as the secretary of the U.S. Army was an attempt by the president to “appease” gay Americans and accused him of using the military for social experiments.

“It’s clear President Obama is more interested in appeasing America’s homosexuals than honoring America’s heroes. Veterans suicide is out-of-control and military readiness is dangerously low,” Huckabee, who is running for president, said in a statement. “Yet Obama is so obsessed with pandering to liberal interest groups he’s nominated an openly gay civilian to run the Army. Homosexuality is not a job qualification. The U.S. military is designed to keep American safe and complete combat missions, not conduct social experiments.”

Huckabee has also used the “social experiment” line to refer to the idea of trans people serving openly in the military.

Fanning, who currently serves as acting undersecretary of the Army and chief management officer, has deep experience in the military. Before his current position, he served in several high level roles, including special assistant to Defense Secretary Ash Carter and undersecretary of the Air Force.

While Huckabee may be deeply concerned about Fanning’s appointment, the Army doesn’t really seem to be. Defense Secretary Ash Carter called him “one of our country’s most knowledgeable, dedicated, and experienced public servants.”

This is unsurprising coming from Huckabee, of course, but it’s unclear that it will have any real impact. Fanning’s nomination will be shepherded through the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is headed by Senator John McCain, and one does not get the impression that McCain or anyone else on that committee will make much of a big deal about Fanning’s sexual orientation. Nonetheless, it is somewhat pathetic that James’s headline that “Nobody Cares” isn’t entirely true.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. CB says:

    Its a shame the way Obama is discriminating against straight people by appointing this one guy to this one position. Why is he so divisive?

  2. Franklin says:

    Good news and good post, James. It’s certainly nice to see actual results of social progress, namely the crickets you speak of.

  3. Kylopod says:


    Its a shame the way Obama is discriminating against straight people by appointing this one guy to this one position.

    It’s interesting you wrote this comment as snark before the update where Huck took just this position with an apparent straight face.

    If you take Huck’s remarks at face value, then he doesn’t have a problem with appointing someone openly gay, merely with appointing that person because he’s gay. Of course we know that’s a lie given Huck’s long history of opposing basic rights for gay Americans (including his opposition to ending DADT, and his calls to restore it).

    But that’s pretty much the pattern with the right’s approach to discrimination: first they defend discriminating against minorities, then when that position becomes unpopular they claim they’re simply against “reverse discrimination.” That’s the way they dealt with discrimination against blacks: in the decades since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, their gambit has been to say blacks are being given an unfair advantage. They use this as an all-purpose explanation whenever they simply want to attack a black person without sounding explicitly racist: it’s the reasoning behind Rush Limbaugh’s remarks about Donovan McNabb, for example.

    The question is whether they will continue to adopt this gambit when it comes to gay Americans, as Huck has here, or whether they’ll just forget about it and move on.

  4. James Pearce says:

    Nonetheless, it is somewhat pathetic that James’s headline that “Nobody Cares” isn’t entirely true.

    It continues to amuse me that not everyone got the “we don’t push for gay discrimination anymore” memo.

    I’ll note that the “Nobody Cares” may not be an accurate reflection of reality, with the Mike Huckabees and Kim Davises of the world, but it is testament to the abandonment of homophobia as a political tactic. It could be read as “Nobody Important Cares,” the important people in this case being the confirmation panel as well as Fanning’s subordinates, none of whom give a rip.

  5. Tyrell says:

    These factors should not be taken int account when hiring someone: race, sex, sexual orientation. I can see where some jobs may not be suitable for women, or men (locker room attendant, lingerie store model).
    In the case of military leaders, security factors are also important.

  6. gVOR08 says:


    In the case of military leaders, security factors are also important.

    By which you mean what? There was a concern that gays could be blackmailed into divulging info. Given that it’s widely known that Fanning is gay, and nobody cares, what is your security concern?

  7. Tyrell says:

    This would be a security background check that should be standard: checking for any unusual connections, communications, or contacts with some sort of groups in Russia, China (including Manchuria), North Korea, and extremist- terrorist groups.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: Which is exactly why we want gays to be accepted everywhere, so they can’t be blackmailed.

    Huckabee really is a loon, isn’t he?