[img id=”80253″ align=”alignleft”] General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke Friday at the Graduate School of Business’s (GSB) 55th Management Conference amid ongoing protests over recent comments he made expressing his views opposing homosexuality.
Pace stirred up controversy in March when he told the Chicago Tribune, “I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts. I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is okay to be immoral in any way.”
Following his address Friday, Pace responded to a question about the armed forces’ “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy by saying, “It is important for a nation to give all who want to serve the opportunity to serve.” The policy prohibits anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity from serving in the armed forces and also prohibits homosexuals or bisexuals from disclosing their sexual orientation. “Our armed forces are well served by diversity in many respects,” Pace said.
“But we also have the law of our land. It allows all citizens who want to serve to have the opportunity. But as with many parts of military life, there are issues of conformity. I do support the law of the land because it does allow those who want to serve the opportunity to do so,” he said to applause from conference delegates.
Outside the Hyatt Regency, where the address was held, demonstrators held signs saying “Stop the Ban” and “U.S. Out of Iraq.”
A gay veteran of the Korean War said he was protesting because his sexual orientation was “nobody else’s business.”
“I served four years as a Russian linguist and then went to college under the G.I. Bill,” he said. “I feel that because gay people cannot serve, they cannot get the same free college education that I did, which is economic discrimination. It bothers me that history will show that gay people hardly served, when there are 65,000 gay and lesbians in the army around the world.”
Also protesting was Jason Knight, who earlier Friday spoke on campus about his experience as a gay man serving in the military. Knight was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but for a reason unknown to him—potentially a clerical error—was later called back on duty. Knight is being discharged a second time for speaking out about Pace’s comments.
Pace’s speech focused on his leadership “biases” and management style. He spoke about the importance of role models, decision-making, responsibility, and courage, frequently applying lessons from the military to the business world.
“I’ve come to appreciate the kind of courage around a conference table, where the discussion is going to one type of solution and someone will say, ‘I see it different, and here’s why,’” he said. “In combat, if you’re wrong, you die. In business, you have to live with your mistakes. But you will be respected because people will know that if you’re invited to that meeting, you’ll tell them what you think.”
After speaking, Pace opened the floor for questions, which ranged from “How can we best support the troops?” to “With all the difficulties of the war, do you really think coming here to give a speech to business leaders is the best use of your time?”
In response to the second question, Pace said that he had learned a few things coming to Chicago and speaking with civilians, particularly in the two meetings he had before speaking—one with former military personnel and one with student leaders.
“Both forums helped me to better understand some issues,” Pace said. “For me, this is time well spent. I am learning and making myself available to citizens.”
A group of 10 business school student leaders, including the former and current presidents of the Graduate Business Council, an editor for the Chicago Business, and leaders from Gay and Lesbians in Business (GLiB) met with Pace for half an hour before his speech in a meeting arranged by the GSB.
GLiB co-chair Jacob Rothschild, who attended the meeting, said that the conversation focused mostly on business issues, but that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” did come up.
“Regardless of whether you agree with some of his views, it was an interesting and very rare opportunity to talk with a leader face to face,” Rothschild said.
At the end of Pace’s speech, Ted Snyder, dean of the GSB, said he wanted to close with a personal expression of his pride in the U of C community.
“Student leadership has just been terrific,” he said. “This debate and dialogue represent the core of who were are, and it makes me proud to be part of the U of C.”