by Mike Enders
The official United States policy on homosexuals serving in the military, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, from December 21, 1993 to September 20, 2011 has crumbled. The event was monumental for LGBT military members serving in the US and has created whole new platform for discussion an obstacles for some. One evil door shuts and many more positives doors open. We wish the repeal meant nothing more than joyous, coming out parties, an untied military and walls coming down, letting solders out like birds escaping a cage, but there still remains a lot of work to do. For many living under DADT for a years have had to weave together lies as protection. Now, untangling needs to be done.
Repealing DADT is a large leap forward needed for evening the playing field between LGBT military members and their heterosexual peers. Laws were changed and paper work was shuffled, spirits and hope were raised. After the celebration ended, soldiers then had a chance to stop and reflect on what this means on their own lives. Riding on the heels of this event, on October 24, 2011, discharged veteran Lee Reinhart made history when he became the first known openly gay man in Illinois to reenlist in the U.S. Armed Forces since the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Progress has been made.
There is a tremendous amount of inertia behind the repeal of DADT and LGBT soldiers are now applying it to their own lives which has proven to be different and sometimes challenging process for all. In the process of hiding ones sexuality, some soldiers have creative elaborate stories to cover their true identity, some even as far as getting married. Now that DADT is gone, what happens to those who have wedded to hide from the radar of DADT? Many gay and lesbian soldiers bravely made the choice to join the military while DADT was firmly in place and took drastic measures to stay “hidden”. In order to protect their personal well-being and their future careers in the military they have had to create some armor of their own as protection. The most extreme of these shields has been engaging in marriage, as a way to fit in with the hetero-normative military lifestyle as expected. Now that there is no need, there is some untangling of stories and lives that need to be done.
I recently had a conversation with a gay member of the Navy who has been enlisted with the Navy for 8 years and is now entering the reserves. He still wishes to be kept anonymous, as he and his lesbian wife are tangled in an after DADT dilemma, they are still married and fear being prosecuted for a fraudulent marriage which would be the end of his military career. Soldier X, we’ll call him, was asked how the stress level differs now, after DADT is gone compared to when it was in place. Soldier X claims, “First and foremost the end of DADT is a huge deal! Life changing for anyone that is gay and in the military or might go into it. It isn’t the end though. People will choose to stay in the closet if they feel that they are unsafe. They will also stay in the closet if the command climate is such that they perceive that they will be ostracized or mistreated if they come out. It is a cost benefit analysis that gays still must make. The partners of gay service members, if they are civilians do not have access to the base without an escort, and of course do not receive any other benefits that a straight married couple would receive with the exemption of life insurance.” He expressed his joy and optimism for life after DADT, but has new stress to untangle.
Grabbing for another point of view of how the dust has settled after the repeal of DADT and the stresses involved, I have talked with Carlos Urtiaga who has been a member of the US army for a little over three years now as a combat engineer. When enlisting, Carlos was in the closet and married to a woman. I asked Carlos, “How will your stress level change now that DADT is gone and will it still be difficult to be open and out of the closet in the army?” He gave me the raw truth, “For some people yes, for example my job being that it is combat, the guys in my company think that if you are gay you could not do what needs to be done and that gays are weak and would not be able to fight. But for the non-combat jobs I think it is more accepted and easier to deal with because the stress levels are not as high as a combat MOS.” This being proof that we have leaped forward with this end of DADT but we still have a lot of baby steps to take to ensure a healthy, safe work environment for our LGBT serve members. Carlos Urtiaga goes on to share, “But I am very proud to say that I served my country and honored to be in the military when DADT was removed.”
As DADT fades away, discussions have started and the ball rolling to ensure that all that were affected are able to manage their stress levels. Training and education should be on the top of the list of priorities to be put in place as to build a strong structure and role model for those future cadets enlisting. We can only learn from our mistakes and hope, fingers cross, to lower the stress of our gay and lesbian service men, and let their focus be on the task at hand and what they signed up for.