Back When the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Struggle Started
I give a DAMN about being able to serve my country!
With a little background, here is why this is important to me.
Once upon a time in a small town in Texas, the kind of town where everyone is conservative and goes to church and school and does all the small country town things, there was a young man who decided he wanted to find out about the world. This guy wasn’t going to settle for just going to college and working some regular 9-5 job like everyone else. This young man wanted to take on a challenge like he had done so many times before in his youth, do something to make an impact, make a difference.
He was already an accomplished high school musician and had an aptitude for computer science and anything mechanical. So he decided when he was 17 years old to enlist in the delayed entry program of the US Navy. After he graduated High School and went off to boot camp and his rating school, he continued to earn honors just as he had in High School by re-using his skills in teamwork and developing his values of honor and courage. He became a Storekeeper Seaman forward deployed overseas on the aircraft carrier USS Independence CV-62 in the early 1990s. This was 1993, the year that change was occurring. Nobody knew for certain what these changes were going to turn into.
Like so many when he saw the question in 1992 on his enlistment contract about homosexuality, he marked No, doesn’t apply to me, have never had these experiences. In his heart he was confused and didn’t understand the question or it’s meaning. With good reason he marked no. In this little small town in Texas he had been persecuted his whole childhood, bullied, teased, called names. He didn’t have a positive role model or really any example of what it was to be gay. So at that point, though he was just beginning his discovery of young adulthood and of his own identity in the world we all share, he did not find himself to be a “homosexual.” He thought of himself as a young man like any other interested in many of the same things as his peers.
Let’s fast forward to 1996. After having served for 3 whole years and traveled to many countries and participated in many exercises. He found himself decorated with medals and having risen to the rank of Petty Officer Third Class after passing his exam and received very high evaluations. He was well on his way to becoming a career Sailor. Everything was going right in life. He was seeking out new challenges professionally and trying to get started going to college part time while out at sea. Something that many sailors struggle with due to their full time 24×7 jobs. He had found himself in a leadership role and developing management responsibilities. One thing was still untouched…Love.
Within months of becoming a Petty Officer he found himself falling for someone who he was interested in. Life was starting to seem complete. The secrecy of the relationship was unnerving. Having deployed on WestPac cruise, he wasn’t going to see this new found love for months, because he tried to obey the rules about not letting romance develop within his own command. This new found love was another sailor from a different ship. It did not take long until these sailors eventually found themselves in trouble however. When someone tipped off the base police and they were discovered and kicked out of the military, just for having found love and having expressed it to one another. Their closest friends were in shock and never felt that what was happening was just. It’s difficult when discrimination is legal and your treated professionally by your peers but you are put on trial because of who you are. They both wound up living “out” in a military service where being gay was “no big deal, just don’t talk about it.” Now the cat was out of the proverbial bag and there was nothing they could do about it.
Within thirty days of being outed this young man found himself going to captain’s mast (CO NJP), being punished for who he was, having to serve brig time on bread and water, having had to do restriction and extra duty, having his pay docked, and having his chevron stripped off. The final humiliation was when he was kicked out and sent home without a fully honorable discharge. These types of things are usually reserved for getting in fights with officers, raping someone, killing someone, lying, stealing, etc. But instead are being done to you just because you loved someone.
Some may say, well he got what he deserved, he lied when he entered the Navy. Others may say I can’t believe we are doing this to our youth and our service men and women. Still others who clearly remember after every war how the veterans who did their best and served honorably with courage and were meeting their commitments, they weren’t always welcomed home with open arms, so this is about par for the course.
Where is the change that is so desperately needed? When will freedom come to those who fight for it?
I am here to tell you I give a DAMN!! I was that sailor. I am still in touch with many of the people I served with, they all trust me and love me as an open gay man. I have never since hid who I was or have chosen to be forced to. It cost me my career, it cost me my first true romance and love. It irrevocably changed who I am and what I do for a living. I was a victim of an unjust law that is still on the books. Every day I have to witness my fellow US service members being put at risk in harms way to represent freedoms that they themselves cannot enjoy. They are told that they must misrepresent our country and lie to our own government about who and what they are. They are told they cannot have love unless they hide it. I will never rest peacefully or be happy in supporting my government until I can be represented equally and fairly. I am a conscientious objector who will speak against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell until it is no longer an issue and everyone can serve their country openly without fear of loosing their entire life over one issue…freedom to love.
I will continue to follow the path of the peaceful warrior for the rest of my life. I will never not be a sailor, no matter what my government tells me, my soul still is most happy on the vast Pacific Ocean as the sun rises to a new morning with a cloudy rainy sky and blue-grey waves beneath my feet.
I feel that love can move mountains, that’s why I give a DAMN!! Do You?
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Sexual orientation has nothing to do with how well a service member performs his or her job. But under the 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, being openly gay can be cause for discharge from the military.