TEP blasts 8th District candidates for anti-gay military comments

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A candidate’s forum for the 8th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. John Tanner brought some anti-gay remarks that have some calling for— and receiving — an apology.

The Tea Party forum was held in Paris on April 29, and featured Republican candidates Stephen Fincher, Dr. George Flinn, Dr. Ron Kirkland and Randy Smith, as well as independent candidate Donn Janes. According to reports first published in the Jacksonville Sun, when the subject of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask,Dr. Ron Kirkland Don’t Tell” policy and calls for its abolition came up, Kirkland and Smith were quick to call the action by some in the Obama and administration as unnecessary political correctness, and a move that would weaken the military.

"I can tell you if there were any homosexuals in that group, they were taken care of in ways I can’t describe to you,” Kirkland said.

Added Smith, "I definitely wouldn’t want to share a shower with a homosexual. We took care of that kind of stuff, just like (Kirkland) said."

The quotes quickly made their way onto state and regional blogs, with several groups calling for an immediate apology. And less than 48 hours later, Smith was offering up one.

Smith, who served in the Navy during the Gulf War, says he has a 19-year-old gay daughter living in California, and says that he supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because of potential hazing for out homosexuals, and that he “…would have no problem standing beside a gay man in a time of war, standing back to back, him having my back and me having his back, but I would, as I said last night, have trouble sharing a shower with a gay man."

Kirkland, who was in the Army during the Vietnam War, and who said after the debate that his comments were “a joke,” has said through his campaign that he thinks “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is still needed.

The Tennessee Equality Project’s incoming board chair, Jonathan Cole, said that the candidates’ explanations and statements weren’t enough, and that both had seriously maligned the honor of men and women serving in the military.

"Without a sincere apology, I don’t consider it to be a joke," Cole said. "I would question his fitness to serve in elected office if he can’t show common respect for those who’ve put their lives on the line to protect the freedoms we enjoy in this country."

And at TEP’s annual meeting on May 1, past board chair Chris Sanders said that full-scale apologies are necessary to “undo the damage that’s been done. They are joking about violence, and that’s why we’re going to keep this story alive so they can continue to be called to account for their statements.”

To that end, Cole, Sanders and H.G. Stovall, president,filmed a short video while meeting attendees were filling out postcards asking for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“They said horrible things about our service members,” Sanders said. “We want to call them out for that.”