'Out' and Back In: Gays Decide To Re-Enter In Military
Katie Miller's sophomore year at West Point was coming to a close, the point where cadets must commit to several years of military service, when she decided she couldn't do it anymore. She was tired of repeating her made-up heterosexual relationship history. She was tired of enduring advances from male cadets. She was tired of listening to homophobic remarks, and feeling like she had to stay silent.
So although she was ninth in her class at the military academy, she transferred to Yale, awaiting the day that arrived this week. With the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," former cadets and soldiers like Miller have to decide whether or not to return to the institution that rejected who they were. Most of them are doing so, triumphantly.
While at Yale, Miller served as a spokesman for OutServe, an underground organization of more than 3,000 active duty lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the military. There are an estimated 66,000 in those categories currently defending their country.
Asked by Rachel Maddow if she would return to the military if the law was repealed, Miller replied: "Absolutely. Military service is something that I am absolutely going to perform some time in my lifetime. This commitment to public service is something that's near and dear to me."
She escorted Lady Gaga at the MTV Video Music Awards in her gleaming white West Point uniform.
Miller reapplied to West Point after President Obama signed the legislation repealing "don't ask, don't tell." She was rejected, because the policy was technically still in effect. Even this didn't dampen Miller's ambitions.
"I respect this decision from West Point, and I understand where they're coming from on the implementation and the timeline [for repeal]," Miller told the Yale Daily News. "I don't want special treatment in being readmitted if they're not re-enlisting gay service members."
For many of the 14,000 men and women discharged under "don't ask, don't tell," there is just no substitute for the solidarity, the purpose, the intense and powerful experiences that come with military service, even if the military -- because of this law -- caused them deep financial and emotional wounds, and interruptions to their careers and lives from which they can never fully recover.
Former Staff Sgt. David Hall ranked first in his Air Force ROTC class at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, but was discharged in 2002 when a probably jealous peer reported him and his boyfriend, according to The Advocate.
At his age, 37, ROTC is no longer possible and officer training school may not be either. Hall may have to return to his enlisted rank, where his former co-cadets will be many leadership and pay levels ahead of him.
"I know it will bother me, but I will still be wearing the uniform and I think that's the most important part," he told The Advocate. "It's important that some of us go back in and make a point. Whatever your stereotypes are, they are wrong and the policy was wrong. This [repeal] puts it on us to go back in and do our jobs and show that our sexual orientation has nothing to do with it."
Maj. Mike Almy was from a military family, and there was never any doubt that he would serve like his father. He graduated from ROTC in the top 10 percent of graduates nationwide, and served in the Air Force for 13 years, before he was discharged after the military searched his emails during a routine computer maintenance check. He lost all his retirement benefits.
"Getting kicked out was the absolute low point of my life," he says. "I was completely devastated. I can honestly say I was suicidal after I was fired and struggled with depression for a few years afterward."
But there is no bitterness; in a letter to President Obama sent last year, Almy begins with the line: "If you end 'don't ask, don't tell,' I'd re-enlist the day you sign repeal into law."
"I want to finish what I started," he told The Advocate. "I want to finish on my own terms."
Almy wants to be a part of this moment, to make history in this new U.S. military, to prove all the anti-gay protesters wrong, and to be a role model to young gay military personnel, and give them the support so many thousands of them were denied.
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