Photo by Tim Evanson/Flickr
Before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Lieutenant Smith’s work office was completely devoid of any personal belongings. There were no gifts, pictures, or mementos that would indicate that he had a personal life outside of the military. He had two separate Facebook accounts; a “work Facebook account” specifically for his colleagues in the Air Force and a real Facebook account that allowed him to express his identity as a gay man. For several years, Smith would have to introduce his dates as merely “friends.” Under DADT policy, his entire life was under the radar.
On Wednesday of National Coming Out Week, three uniformed men revealed their experiences of being gay in the military to a small but intimate panel in Sproul Lecture Hall. Even though the men came from different backgrounds and ages, all three soldiers shared the common struggles of having to hide their sexuality in order to protect their career.
While straight men in the military were able to wear their wedding rings and openly display pictures of their families, gay men had to actively hide these things from their colleagues. Even letting one person catch a glimpse of their personal life could have lead to an immediate end to their career aspirations. “Everything you worked for – scholarships, your job, your reputation – could be thrown out the window in a second,” commented Lieutenant Adams. Another serviceman noted, “You usually think of the coming out process as incremental – you come out to your close family and friends, and you gradually come out to more people. But if you get kicked out [of the military] for being gay, then a lot of people are going to know really fast. You didn’t only lose your job, you lost your respect.”
While the theme of National Coming Out Week was “Silence is not an option,” the three men were able to serve their country by remaining in silence. None of them came out until the repeal of DADT. Some people may look at this and see it as a disservice to the LGBT community for not speaking out and fighting for LGBT rights. Lieutenant Smith commented, “I chose not to come out for two reasons. The first reason was selfish; it was to protect my career and reputation. The second reason, however, was that as a military servant, I have a duty to sacrifice my rights and needs for the benefit of my country. I have to put service before self, and doing something like criticizing Bill Clinton [for introducing DADT] is not the action of a servant.”
The repeal of DADT allowed the three men to continue their careers in the military without compromising their personal liberties. On September 21, 2011 Smith brought a picture of him and his partner to his office. He recounts, “By putting that picture on that desk I wasn’t waving a rainbow flag, but I was finally allowed to be myself.”
*All names used in this article are pseudonyms