When it comes to gay rights, 20 years can seem like a lifetime. The release of a trove of papers from Bill Clinton’s White House puts that on stark display, illustrating common it was for people in position of power to talk about gays in horrifically discriminatory ways without consequence. The notes come from a sit-down between Bill Clinton and top military officials shortly after he moved into the White House to discuss his campaign promise to end the ban on gays in the military. The most shocking part of the notes released from that meeting come from Marine Commandant Gen. Carl Mundy, who “may have been the most strident opponent of allowing gays to serve openly,” according to Politico. Mundy, who died earlier this year, said that “proclaiming I’m gay” was the “same as I’m KKK, Nazi, rapist” because it’s a declaration that “I commit act America doesn’t accept,” according to the notes.
The notes make clear that even those who were more open to gay rights, such as Clinton, fed into the idea that there was such a thing as a good way to be gay. “People I would like to keep [in the military] wouldn’t show up at a Queer Nation parade,” the president said in what appears to be an effort to put Mundy at ease. Then vice-president Al Gore did express later that he wasn’t comfortable with Mundy’s statements, describing him as “borderline in his presentation.” But Clinton disagreed, saying that he thought the Marine chief “meant it well.”
Colin Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also shows up in the notes, rejecting the idea that gay rights was a civil rights issue. “Comparison with blacks [is] off base” because race is a “benign characteristic,” Powell said at one point, according to the notes highlighted by the Atlantic. Powell has since reversed his stance about gays serving in the military.
Further down the notes a portion is starred: “possible solution—we stop asking.” Clinton quickly went on to implement the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which President Obama formally repealed in 2011.
The notes were among the almost 10,000 pages of records released by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library on Friday.