Gay general decries military policy
Retired Brig. Gen. Keith Kerr, one of the men to come out last December, is this year’s keynote speaker at Aspen’s annual Gay & Lesbian Ski Week Vision Dinner, Saturday.Kerr said he will use his speech to publicly denounce the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He said the law hurts the military by preventing patriotic men and women from serving their country.A career military man, Kerr enlisted at age 22 and spent 31 years in the Army and Reserves, primarily with intelligence groups. Now 70, Kerr said the decision to publicly acknowledging his sexual orientation took all the courage he could muster.”It was very painful for me to come out,” he said. “I did it because it was the right thing to do. I knew people would benefit.”Kerr said he had always known he was gay, but only managed to admit it to himself in his mid-30s. By then, he was deep into a successful military career, wedded to a job that required he conceal his sexuality.”I was going to work every day and not being able to discuss my own life,” he said.As a result, Kerr sacrificed a romantic life until late in his career when, as an officer in the Reserves, he secretly started dating. Still, he speaks fondly of the Army.”When I enlisted, because I was gay, I was essentially marrying into the Army,” Kerr said. “I enjoyed my service. I got to travel, learn skills, leadership traits, learn from talented and courageous young men and women.”It is because of his loyalty to the military that Kerr has become such an outspoken critic of its current policy toward gays. Along with two other homosexual military men – Brig. Gen. Virgil Richard and Rear Adm. Alan Steinman – Kerr used The New York Times article to publicly criticize “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”Since the law banning homosexuals in the military was enacted in 1993, 10,000 men and women have been discharged for being lesbian, gay or bisexual, including several Arabic translators.””Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ prohibits and discourages loyal Americans who want to serve their country from doing so,” Kerr told CNN. “Americans who are interested in serving their country should be given the opportunity to do so.”Kerr said he wasn’t involved with gay rights activism until recently, when he became an honorary board member of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group for gays in the military. It was the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network that inspired Kerr’s public acknowledgement.Predictably, the response was mixed. Kerr said that on the whole his colleagues have been supportive. Still, there were some surprises. His local Reserve Officers Association made it clear he was unwelcome, and a close friend wrote him what he describes as a “hate letter.””That was very painful, very hurtful,” Kerr said. “I was still the same man.”Kerr is an avid skier who has been coming to Aspen for 20 years and he’s been a participant in Ski Week the past few seasons. His speech at this year’s event is a rare public appearance by Kerr, who has been inundated with requests since his public announcement. Still, he said it is important for him to remain active in America’s gay community.”Every time a successful person, in any field, comes out, it crumbles the wall of homophobia just that little bit more,” Kerr said.