"I will not engage in homosexual conduct while in boot camp."
I read that phrase at a Military Entrance Processing Station ( MEPS ) in Indianapolis at the age of 17. I'd spent the day taking tests, being examined for abnormalities, and walking like a duck. I was exhausted, but excited about enlisting in the Marines. After standing in line for ten minutes without knowing why, a young female soldier casually slid a form bearing those unexpected words across a table and told me to sign.
The year was 1999, and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ( DADT ) had been enacted six years before. The only thing I knew about DADT was that people in my hometown scoffed and said that "Clinton let gays in the military." I was raised in church, determined to live a good life and avoid hell, but I also had a secret. I thought DADT meant that I could live openly until I saw this paper.
I took way too long to sign. However, as it sunk in that the form said I would not engage in homosexual conduct "while in boot camp," I shrugged and scrawled my name. Then I realized I'd mouthed those words and shoved the paper back to the soldier, hurrying away.
An hour later, I stood in a room full of other recruits and swore in to the United States Military. I never made it to boot camp. I learned more about what "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" really meant and decided not to take the risk of dishonorable discharge. For years I agonized over the fact that I didn't serve, but then decided that since the military didn't want me, I shouldn't feel bad. I've always claimed that if DADT were overturned I would re-enlist immediately, e-mailing my state representatives and following the progress of this historic repeal. However, now I'm 30, with a wife and child, and making plans for a second baby. Active duty will not be in my future, but I'm excited for the next generation.
I asked an Army sergeant what he thinks about the repeal of DADT. He couldn't reveal his name because he wasn't authorized to comment on the subject at the time, but said: "Most people don't know what it's like in the Army. There is a lot of racism, discrimination, and abuse. I hear comments all the time from other soldiers how 'they shouldn't let fags in' ... I am all for gays being allowed to join ... but they are already allowed to join ... You don't tell, no one tells, and everyone is the same, this being 'everyone is one.' Telling everyone you are different will not make everyone the same and all as one."
We will obviously still have work ahead when it comes to education and acceptance, both in the military and out, but another service member, who wishes to be known only as "Airborne Soldier," stated: "I think 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is ridiculous. If someone loves his/her country enough to die for it than nobody should be able to stop them from pursuing their goals."
I have always believed that DADT would need to be repealed before our next major milestone could be accomplished: marriage rights. The spouses of GLBT soldiers will be the ones who speed this along, as enlisted service members will require the same rights of housing and benefits as their straight counterparts. After the right to marry is ours, we will need to further address bullying, adoption, international couples and more. However, already the future of the next generation is brighter and I'm proud to be a witness.