When I started at West Point, I knew I was different, but I didn’t know how. I just didn’t want to date guys. It was during my sophomore year that things started clicking. I realized I had made all these different friends, and they were all gay.
I didn’t see much overt homophobia, but there was always fear of being caught. Especially because once your junior year begins, you have a commitment to serve five years, and if you get kicked out, you can owe the military a ton of money for your education. So if someone was really homophobic and wanted to sabotage you, they could do that in an instant, and there wasn’t much you could do about it.
We ended up having a huge network of gay and lesbian cadets, though, and we had social lives. We still went out to gay bars and tried to have as normal a life as we could. I had straight friends who I told, too — you just had to find the people you could trust. While I was there, we definitely had a lot of scares where people who we didn’t want to know found out, and we weren’t sure if they were going to take it somewhere, but they didn’t.
Once I got commissioned into the Army, it became a lot harder, especially during my tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. You’d be working 24 hours, seven days a week, and the only people you’d have are the people to your left and right. If you don’t trust them, it can be a really lonely place.
When I got back, I lived further from the post so I could get away from the workplace on the weekends, but it was still hard for the girlfriend I had at the time. When we’d go out, she’d want to hold hands, but I could never do it because I was always thinking, “What if someone sees me?” I hated feeling like I had to lie and break my integrity just to be who I am.
I’m good at my job. I love my job. But it was hard to do the job I love when I knew I didn’t have the same rights as the person next to me.
Even with the repeal, though, I’ve decided not to fully come out. I’m not going to change my Facebook status or announce it to anyone on my post who doesn’t already know. I’m in no way ashamed of who I am. My family knows I’m gay, and there are people in my unit who I have told. But in the workplace, just because the policy ended doesn’t mean people’s views have changed. The military’s a big melting pot, and unfortunately there can be a lot of hate toward things people don’t understand, like homosexuality. As a platoon leader, it can make your life infinitely harder when your subordinates know you’re different, especially if you’re gay. These last few years, there’s been a lot of talk about “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and you’d hear the rumblings. People would be moaning, “Oh, God, we’re gonna have to let the faggots in.” And they don’t know we’re already there, next to them.
You need the people who stand up and shout it out. That takes a lot of courage. But serving our country, even under a discriminatory policy, also took courage. And yeah, we’re gay. But my friends and I — we’re not making it a big deal. The main thing is there’s no fear anymore. I can hold my girlfriend’s hand.
As told to Molly Langmuir.