Congress is preparing to discuss “Don't
Ask, Don't Tell” – the military's policy that bars gays and
lesbians from serving openly in the Armed Forces – for the first
time since it was instituted fifteen years ago. Discharged gay
service members reflect on how the ban has affected them.
On Wednesday, a congressional hearing
will call witnesses to discuss the military's policy on gays. A
diverse list promises to provide a variety of viewpoints. Elaine
Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, and Brian
Jones, a former sergeant major, will testify in support of the
Donnelly is an outspoken critic of gays
in the military. On the website AmericansForTheMilitary.com she
says, “homosexuals are not eligible to serve in the military,”
and “Our nation's military should not be used as a tool to advance
the goals of gay activist groups.”
Witnesses likely to testify in favor of
repealing the law include: Retired General Vance Coleman, Retired
Navy Captain Joan E. Darrah, and Retired Marine Staff Sergeant Eric
Alva was the first American injured in
the Iraq War. The marine was awarded the Purple Heart and was
honorably discharged from the Marines. Earlier this year, he came
out against the policy when he announced he was gay.
Service members who have been dismissed
from the military under the policy will not be heard from on Capitol
Hill. But two agreed to speak with On Top Magazine.
Naval Petty Officer 2nd
Class Jason Knight was dismissed from the Navy under “Don't Ask”
– twice. Trained as a Hebrew linguist, Knight attempted to
“normalize” his sexuality at twenty-one by marrying the woman
whom he considered his best friend. But on his wedding night, his
conscience would not commit to a painful, lifelong deception. Knight
asked for an annulment.
Paperwork stemming from the annulment,
re-classifying Knight as single, included sexual orientation as the
reason for separation. The Navy quickly ordered an investigation and
charged him with “homosexual conduct.” The irony of the charge
is that Knight had never acted on his sexual orientation. Still,
within two weeks he was discharged from the military.
“The problem with the law is that it
creates a vicious loop – you must prove you're not gay,” Jason
Knight said. “Even straight people have been dismissed because of
a compromising photo or spiteful rumor.”
“I received a crazy email,” he
says, of a notice in 2006. The Navy recalled Knight back into active
duty and sent him to Kuwait. “I loved my Navy career. I wanted to
go back. If the Navy needed me and my country needed me, I was going
By this time, however, Knight was
living the life of a gay man and was unwilling to return to his
previously closeted life. In Kuwait he served openly. “Everybody,
including my commander, knew I was gay. It was not an issue,”
Jason Knight suddenly found himself in
an ideal situation: After an apparent mistake, serving openly, and
without retribution, in the Navy he loved. Yet, Knight would soon
surrender to his conscience once again.
In March 2007, General Peter Pace, the
former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would tell the Chicago
Tribune that his personal beliefs conflicted with the idea of
gays serving openly in the military. “...saying gays should serve
openly in the military, to me, says that, by policy, we'd be
condoning what I believe to be immoral activity,” Pace said.
“I was never political. But at that
moment – when I heard his remarks – I knew I needed to speak up,”
Knight said. He wrote a letter to the editor of the Stars and
“I spent four years in the Navy,
buried fallen servicemembers as part of the Ceremonial Guard, served
as a Hebrew Linguist in Navy Intelligence, and received awards for
exemplary service,” he wrote. “However, because I was gay, the
Navy discharged me and recouped my 13k sign-on bonus. Nine months
later, the Navy recalled me to active duty. Did I accept despite
everything that happened? Of course I did, and I would do it again.
Because I love the Navy and I love my country. And despite Pace's
opinion, my shipmates support me.”
Within weeks Knight was discharged
under “Don't Ask” – again.
When asked what was the most painful
aspect of the law, Jason Knight said, “Navy ships return home to
huge fanfare. Shipmates rejoice when they are reunited with their
spouses. But for gays and lesbians, their celebrations must wait
until they are off-base.”
Sergeant Sonya Contreras' Army career
was derailed when she volunteered to do recruiting in the United
States after a tour of duty in Germany. She had served openly in
Germany without incident. But her last six months in the Army would
prove the old adage that leadership starts at the top.
“I loved the Army,” Contreras said.
“I loved the family unit. I come from a big Hispanic family.”
Ironically, it would be this family that would ultimately turn
Contreras was living successfully in
the Army in her new post in Oxnard, California. Her recruiting
efforts reaching out to the Hispanic community had won her accolades
from her superiors. Commanders sought to promote her to her own
recruiting station command.
Her quick rise, however, would soon be
challenged by veteran recruiters resentful of her success. They
accused her of illegal recruiting tactics. Accusations she would
easily defend herself against.
When her peers turned to sexually
harassing Contreras – a move which appeared to be supported, even
encouraged, by a new commander tolerant of gay slurs – she found
herself trapped by a policy written against her. If she asked for
help, she would be outing herself, and if she kept quiet eventually
the Army would investigate the rumors. After being denied a
transfer, she gave up and admitted her homosexuality. She was
discharged honorably in June of 2003.
“If I could speak to Congress, I
would say that I felt comfortable as a woman in the Army. I felt
comfortable as a Hispanic in the Army. In all aspects, except when
it came to be being a lesbian. The Army protected me in every regard,
except as a lesbian – there they were free to discriminate,”
Learn more about discharged service
members at www.sldn.org and www.pflag.org