In December of 1998 I was discharged from the United States Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas; under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. After only serving a few short weeks in basic training, I came to realize that I could not live and operate within an organization that forced me to disguise my sexual orientation. It's important for me to note that at the time when I was going into the service; I had not yet fully come out and remained very confused about my feelings.
In the year prior I had become a "born again" Christian and was taught by my church and believed, at the time, that I had demonic spirits corrupting my soul. On one occasion I was brought to the alter and many of the church members laid their hands on me praying and speaking in tongues with the goal of "curing" me. I was young, being only 17, and at the time homosexuality was far less accepted and understood than it is today. This understandably made me very confused and scared.
This loose acceptance of a possibility that I could be "cured" was probably one of many reasons I pursued a career in the military. I suppose I hoped that the strictly heterosexual environment would "help". I soon realized, being in an all male unit, that my same sex attraction was very real and not going to go away. I knew that I could easily comply with rules against engaging in intimacy that exist for everyone in basic training. But what was becoming clearer was what life would be like after basic training. I realized that after training, other airmen would be allowed to have intimate relationships and that I wouldn't be able to have one with another male.
I ultimately decided to first disclose my feelings to a chaplain who then encouraged me to tell my superiors. I was encouraged by lawyers to state only that I was bisexual even though today I am openly a homosexual. At that time, I felt same sex attraction but wasn't ready to rule out opposite sex attraction; especially in a letter that would be part of a permanent military record. I was scared and worried about all sorts of possible lingering consequences.
Certain things stand out in my memory, like going through medical examination and evaluation at my Military Processing Entrance Station (MEPS) at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. I remember listening to tapes describing homosexuality and homosexual conduct and then having to sign some forms acknowledging that I received and understood the information. I remember the recordings and/or paperwork reiterating that there would be consequences for disclosure of homosexuality or engaging in homosexual behavior which at the time seemed very broadly defined.
I remember that once I had disclosed my sexuality, I was accused of lying and held in a room for a couple of hours while my superiors decided what to do with me. I remember being screamed at by my training instructor (TI), accused of lying and deceiving. I was told by my TI that this discharge on my record would prohibit me from being successful in life and that I wouldn't be able to get a job anywhere. I remember then being pulled from my unit and placed in a unit with people who were being discharged because of physical conditions and mental disorders and then having to continue with training in this special unit alongside the other unit that I had just been taken out of. I remember feeling embarrassed, ridiculed and inferior. Maybe I'm just cynical, but I can't help but feel like this was all some sort of malicious retaliation.
I share this story, and a lot of these painful details, now because I see us at a point in America where this policy can finally be thrown out and so other people like me won't have to go through this. I believe that President Obama, who has said he intends to see this law repealed, needs to take a more active and engaged role in seeing it through, now. The law to repeal this policy can and should be passed now with a fair time-line built in that allows military leadership to carefully execute the implementation of the repeal. Any other courses of action are just delaying tactics intended to push a controversial issue into the future to avoid current election year fallout. Where is the courage?
I scored high on the ASVAB (military entrance exam) and I remember being so excited to pursue a career in the Air Force. My uncle was a retired major who had taken me to Andrews Air Force Base when I was younger to see Air Force One and I remember dreaming about working on it. While I acknowledge that it was my own disclosure of my sexuality that led to my being discharged, I feel strongly that the military should be an environment where service members can serve openly and honestly. I feel I'm smart and talented and would have been a valuable addition to the service had it been a place where I could exist as a homosexual man. I wasn't willing to live a lie. The time to repeal this policy is now.