As the LGBT community celebrates National Coming Out Day, a new generation of American military personnel are also coming out of the barracks room closet. More and more, proud lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender troops are serving openly to their fellow troops and, in some cases, their commands. In fact, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is aware of more than 500 men and women who are out, in some way, while reporting for duty in the armed forces. And, they are having a very real impact on the military's attitude toward our community.
While many service members are still unable to come out, and while the military continues to fire two people under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" every day, there are encouraging signs that times are changing and old prejudices are dissapearing in our nation's largest employer.
Consider the example of Marine Sergeant Brian Fricke. Sergeant Fricke (pictured) spent 8 months in Iraq, doing IT work for the Marine Corps. During his tour of duty there, he decided to come out to his fellow Marines. Their response? "No big deal." Fricke went back to work, the Marine Corps went back to war, and he finished his enlistment without incident. (Fricke decided against re-enlisting because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," making him one of the thousands of uncounted service members who decide against continuing their careers because of the ban.)
The situation was similar for Bleu Copas, an Arabic translator stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. Though Copas was eventually dismissed from the military because of an anonymous email campaign, he served much of his time openly. Copas even tells a story of hurting his leg while in the Army. His Army buddies had to carry him to (gasp!) the shower while he was (gasp! again) naked, and didn't have a problem with the situation at all.
And then, of course, there is the case of Jason Knight, also a military linguist, who came out to his command during his first military deployment. After finishing that enlistment, Jason was placed in the Individual Ready Reserves. He was called back to duty a second time, and served openly during a deployment to Kuwait . . . with the full support of the other troops in his unit. In fact, it wasn't until Knight spoke out in response to General Peter Pace's remarks about gay service members - and told his story publicly - that he was drummed out of the service.
All throughout the armed forces - on military bases both here at home and abroad - gay service members are refusing to be closeted and sending a loud and clear wake-up call to their colleagues and commands: LGBT Americans serve . . . serve proudly . . . and make our nation safer.
Indeed, SLDN reports that in cases where service members are open about their sexual orientation, harassment, threats and intimidation in their units virtually disappear. What's true in our neighborhoods at home is also true on military installations everywhere. When straight neighbors, co-workers and friends learn about our lives, their homophobia dissolves. And the fact that so many troops are serving openly in the warzone - without any negative impact on unit cohesion or morale - completely undercuts the arguments our opponents to try use to keep "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in place.
It is inexcusable that the military, our largest employer, will fire another 2 service members today, and each and every day. But the stories of those who are 'coming out of camouflage' and tearing down prejudice and stereotypes, are proof-positive that coming out has widespread (positive) reprecussions indeed.