Putting an outed gay sailor back on a boat would be a “terrible idea,” according to a Clinton-era memo that was written following the implementation of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The memo, scrawled by national security official Joe Bouchard to Bob Bell, a senior director at the National Security Council, was included in Friday’s Clinton Presidential Library document dump.
In the note dated March 27, 1998, Bouchard continually refers to a “McVeigh” and discusses whether to put “McVeigh” back on a Navy submarine. A note scribbled over Bouchard’s original message points out that it’s not “McVeigh but Meinhold,” as in Keith Meinhold, the U.S. Navy vet who successfully challenged the Navy’s attempt to discharge him for being gay in the 1990s.
While Whispers previously reported that the memo referred to the Meinhold case and seemed to confuse Meinhold for Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, retired Master Chief Petty Officer Timothy R. McVeigh, reached out to us to set the record straight. McVeigh was the first gay sailor to successfully challenge “don’t ask, don’t tell” -- several years after the Meinhold case -- and Bouchard’s memo lines up with the McVeigh case’s timeline. In 1997, McVeigh, a 17 year veteran of the United States Navy, was outed after it was discovered that he was “boysrch,” an American Online subscriber who listed his marital status as “gay” and interests as “collecting pics of other young studs” and “boy watching.”
The military tried to boot McVeigh, McVeigh fought back in court and using early online activism. “I started to send an email to every single person on America Online that had the word ‘gay’ in their profile, because that was what the military was trying to kick me out for,” McVeigh recalled. And a judge came down on McVeigh’s side. “Plaintiff contends that he did not ‘tell,’ as prescribed by the [statute], but that nonetheless, the Navy impermissibly ‘asked’ and zealously ‘pursued,’” wrote United States District Judge Stanley Sporkin, granting a preliminary injunction in January 1998, so the Navy could not discharge the sailor. On March 26, 1998, Sporking ordered the Navy to give McVeigh back his job.
Bouchard's memo was dated one day later. In it, Bouchard said putting the openly gay sailor back on a boat would be "a terrible idea for many reasons."
“The morale and cohesion of whatever sub he is put on will be destroyed,” Bouchard wrote. “Navy must decide which crew it will sacrifice. Hopefully Navy can find a sub being decommissioned to put him on so an operational unit will not be ruined.”
McVeigh clearly disagreed with that assessment. “The memo is interesting, as they seem to be saying that my leadership would be detrimental to morale and cohesion,” McVeigh said. “Indeed, quite the opposite would have been seen if they had bothered to look at my record. My evaluations are full of comments that show I promoted morale.”
McVeigh was never offered another position on a submarine, and so he decided to retire from the Navy later that year. He’s basically stayed out of the limelight since. “I kind of laid low for awhile,” he said. But last week, the 52-year-old Tampa, Florida, resident returned to a base, the Naval Support Activity Mid-South base in Millington, Tennessee, to speak to a group of sailors in honor of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.
“It was the first time I went to talk on any Naval installation since my retirement,” McVeigh said. “That was pretty awesome, it really was full circle because … I got to wear my uniform again.” But there was controversy surrounding this, too, as some in the Memphis media market spoke out against the military using resources to celebrate gay pride. McVeigh said he was disappointed. “It’s one hour out of the year where they celebrate the diversity we have in the military and that’s a good thing,” McVeigh said. “That promotes cohesion.”
Corrected on July 1, 2014: This story has been corrected to reflect that Bouchard was referring to a another sailor named Timothy McVeigh. The story has been updated with additional information from McVeigh.