Challenges: Returning to Life in Uniform as a DADT Discharged Vet
The following blog entry is a personal analysis and not meant to represent the views or opinions of the Palm Center.
It has been nearly 10 months since I last reported on my experience of going through an entrance physical and trying to get back into the Navy. While I didn't succeed in returning to uniform before repeal took effect, all of that work paid off once it did.
On the morning of September 21, 2011, the paperwork was done and sitting in a folder on my recruiter's desk. He submitted it to the appropriate authorities that day and hours later, got the green light to enlist me into the United States Navy Reserves.
On September 22nd, quietly and without ceremony, I took the required oath and was reenlisted on a small pier in Baltimore Harbor. Two days later, friends and supporters gathered at Ft. McHenry to watch me take the oath again, this time officiated by my former Commanding Officer.
The process of coming back was long and winding… 11 months in the making. Navigating a post-repeal world with a DADT past is no less twisted. While most folks in my unit aren't really aware or concerned about my past - being kicked out under the old rules - I still face the decision every day of whether or not to come out to them.
So, why does it matter?
That's a good question. Here's my answer.
I still have to gauge whether co-workers are LGBT-friendly. I still have to decide whether this part of who I am is relevant to the work we do or the conversations we have.
It matters because my DD 214 (discharge paper) is part of my official record and still says "homosexual admission" at the bottom. Anyone who reviews my record will see this and immediately be informed of something I may have otherwise chosen to leave unannounced.
I'm one of a handful of people who face this situation… being in uniform with a service record that effectively "outs" us.
The irony of choosing to remain closeted in a post-repeal environment isn't lost on me; but, the reality is that DADT repeal was never about everyone coming out at once. It was about giving sexual minorities the option to do so when we felt it was safe and relevant.
So today, I have the OPTION of coming out, but not the obligation… except, I don't. That bold statement in my record says my personal life is subject to scrutiny. If I wanted to remain closeted at every command from now on… I couldn't control that. The personnel office and my Commanding Officer have access to this information.
I'm fortunate to have come back to the Navy and joined the ranks with people who are friendly and fun to work with. Among the people who are informed about my history, I've received nothing but support. I can't help but wonder, however, how it will go if more and more of the thousands discharged during the ugly DADT years decide to return to service. Will they receive the same support?
This also brings up an ethical dilemma… Is the Department of Defense obligated to upgrade my discharge or rewrite history? Is it fair to expect such a thing? Is it such an indignity to face... that is, being "outed" by my past for the rest of my career?
Or… is erasing what was essentially a punishment simply the right thing for them to do? Shouldn't they want me to blend in, and not let my LGBT status influence my career (positively or negatively)?
For returning service members, facing potential prejudice based on their DD 214 is not in keeping with the spirit of repeal. "Homosexual" is such a clinical term. It serves as in indictment against people who are innocent of anything other than being who they are. "Kicked out" for being "homosexual" is not a fun story to tell; it should be up to the individual as to whether or not they even want to.
The road to repeal began the day it took effect. It was the beginning, but only on paper. DOMA is obviously another issue to examine as we move forward from here, but the ripple effects of DADT repeal are still emerging. Being out isn't an obligation. It is an option, and one that is an entirely different kind of stress than having no choice at all.
This isn't the only oddity a post-repeal world brings about, of course. And it isn't an intentional slight against me, either. It is merely a concrete revelation that this new cultural reality comes with some very interesting challenges.
The "DD 214" twist in my path to resuming my military service is one that I will face as I always have… one day at a time. One dilemma at a time. One question and one answer at at time. As I learn, I hope those around me will as well. This is the best I can hope for and the least I can do to make life better for those who come next.