Eric Fanning, Top Gay at DoD, Nominated to Lead Army

Eric Fanning, Top Gay at DoD, Nominated to Lead Army

That title is rather obnoxious, but it mirrors the craftsmanship of the mainstream media. This should simply be reported as “Long-Time Defense Official Nominated to Serve as Secretary of the Army.” In fact, an Army Times’ headline about Eric Fanning from earlier this year reads: Top DoD Advisor will be acting Army undersecretary (the fact that he was gay was only found near the end of the article and was without fanfare). But no, the mass media has got to highlight this man’s sexuality in reporting this nomination. Every mainstream headline includes the fact that he is gay, as if sexuality contributes to his competence. This should not be a criteria for the job, and I hope would not be a consideration at all.

Eric Fanning, nominated for Secretary of the Army
Eric Fanning, nominated for Secretary of the Army

Mr. Fanning has spent nearly his entire career in government and has served most recently as the under secretary of the Army since June, and chief of staff to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. He has also served as under secretary of the Air Force, Acting Secretary of the Air Force, and deputy undersecretary of the Navy. He is a close friend of Ash Carter and his appointment was no surprise in D.C.

Those are the types of facts that are relevant for public knowledge. I do not need to know that he is the highest-ranking openly gay official at the Department of Defense. Nothing about his sexuality tells me whether he can do his job. By all accounts, despite being gay, he appears to be a well-respected competent government servant.

Aside from his laudable experience at the DoD, his sexuality does seem to have influenced Mr. Fanning’s attention to specific issues. He has championed causes to advance the gay agenda. He supported repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and favors allowing transgender people to serve in the military, which is currently prohibited. So while his time at DoD seems to be respectable, personal agendas tend to look like bias. Bias undermines what good leaders need to project – objectivity, and dedication to the betterment of the organizations which they lead.

While people can disagree on the propriety of policies relating to gays in the military, in order to make this less of an issue, we should stop highlighting the attributes of sex, sexuality, race, ethnicity, you name it, that have no bearing on a person’s individual worth. Those things make up a part of who a person is, but they do not, or should not, grant anyone a higher, or lower, standing in society just because he or she happened to be born with a certain characteristic.

For example, the Marine Corps, like any large organization, is made up of a lot of different kinds of people, but the outside differences are not the strength. The strength lies in the intrinsic qualities of the inner person – that thing we call esprit de corps – that binds together people from all walks of life. In order to be united, the differences have to be shed. Admiral Stark talks about two kinds of Marines, but this colorful quote makes clear that outward appearances mean nothing to unity:

Marines I see as two breeds, Rottweilers or Dobermans, because Marines come in two varieties, big and mean, or skinny and mean. They’re aggressive on the attack and tenacious on defense. They’ve got really short hair and they always go for the throat.

RAdm. “Jay” R. Stark, US Navy; 10 November 1995.

You may have also heard about two other kinds of Marines – dark green and light green. This means black and white, but there is no ultimate separation because they are all green. This is not a slur. It is part of the vernacular, and knowing the language binds people into the special warrior community that is necessary to the strength of the fighting force.

Ironically, the way these attributes like sexuality or race are repeatedly presented in our popular culture is not actually that they lower someone’s standing, but that these immutable characteristics instead give people more power over the person or group that does not possess any “special” attributes. This is the society we live in today, where if you are a minority of some sort – YOU are the one with privilege, not the other way around. This is the exact opposite message we should accept if we are concerned about ensuring an even playing field for all Americans. Since this approach of deemphasizing differences in order to achieve equanimity is nonexistent, the conclusion has to be that there is no interest in equality. The interest is in gaining power not leveling the playing field.

While Mr. Fanning has garnered support from his colleagues, public statements from pro-gay groups have loudly praised the nomination.

The American Military Partner Association, a support group for the families of LGBT service members, also praised Obama’s decision.

“We are thrilled to see Eric Fanning nominated to lead the world’s greatest Army,” AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack said in a statement. “History continues to be written and equality marches forward with the nomination of an openly gay man to serve in this significantly important role. Fanning’s expertise and knowledge within the defense community together with his sensitivity to issues faced by LGBT service members and their families is why we urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm his appointment.”

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization, called Mr. Fanning “the perfect choice to lead the world’s best-trained, most dedicated and formidable army.”

From my perspective, these statements can have the effect of undermining Mr. Fanning’s reported good work, because it tends to show a bias on behalf of special interests.

Mr. Fanning’s nomination seems warranted considering his long record of service and apparent good-will he has fostered over the years at the DoD. His homosexuality should certainly not disqualify him and it should remain outside the scope of interest for whether he is the right candidate for the job. He has faced Senate confirmation in previous positions, so this time the result should also probably be in the affirmative. However, since he could be leading the Army of the most powerful nation in the world, I hope Mr. Fanning, and those who support him, are able to set aside any personal agendas, and do what is best for the service and the country.


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  • Nina says:

    What I’d like to know…and quite a few others who’ve been in the military (my husband for one) is what his actual qualifications are. Does he understand what the Army needs and what the Army must have to train for war and peace?

    I would want someone who looks through the lens of the Army while leading. I hope he does that rather than look through the lens of his lifestyle choices.

    You see, Whether its transport, medical, IT, tanks, infantry, or actual battle – our men and women in uniform shouldn’t be taking ANY time whatsoever to double check what the lifestyle choices are of those fighting beside them. Instead they should be concentrating on defeating the enemy, keeping each other safe, and keeping America safe.

    • Jenny North says:

      Completely agree. He appears to have had a solid career as a government bureaucrat, however it does appear like he may be tempted to use his position to diverge from the mission of the service.

  • Martin Metz says:

    All you have to remember is the Commander in Chief’s words – “Fundamentally transform……”. Severely weakening the military is a good way to do this. This guy is an administrator and not a leader. He was nominated for political reasons. His experience is with programs, not people. His focus could well end up on stuff over people. The Army will not benefit from this. The Nation will not be more secure.

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