In 1993, I was young and reckless. I lacked discipline and direction. I lacked money for college. I needed a purpose and I thought I found one. I signed on for a 6 year tour with the United States Navy. I even tested high enough to join the Nuclear Engineering program. I was set with a direction and a purpose. I was going to help my country while finding myself and my way. In December of 1993 I was going to ship out for boot camp.
In November of 1993, I went to see my recruiter. There appeared to be something missing in my paperwork. I downplayed my allergy to bees to stay in the Navy. I even scrunched down when they measured my height to ensure that I could go. When they asked about my chronic bronchitis, I told them I was getting colds frequently. What else could be missing from my paperwork?
Well, it seems that before the internet became a world wide web, information still traveled faster than life. When I walked into my recruiter’s office in the winter of 1993, he asked me if I was gay. Like a deer in headlights, I was stunned and frozen. I was barely comfortable with my sexuality and had only come out to a few people. I knew, however, that my goal of finding myself included being honest about myself. I told him that I was, in fact, gay.
My trip to boot camp got put on hold. My life got put on hold. For weeks on end, everything was on hold while Clinton fought with Congress. Finally, the policy commonly known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was passed on December 21st, 1993. A wonderful Solstice present for me. I don’t know if the gods were mocking me or pushing me on to a different path, but the Solstice of ’93 changed the path of my life forever.
Once DADT was passed, my career with the Navy was put on hold. I had to go before the Commander to explain why I should be allowed to serve my country. I had a couple of weeks to prepare for my meeting, so I wrote a passionate speech. In January of 1994, I delivered that speech. There were tears shed that day that were not mine. There were compliments on a riveting speech. There was a private conversation in which I heard that I had a great future in front of me. There was the final nail in the coffin of my career in the military.
Weeks later, I was called back into my recruiter’s office. The decision was made. Unlike some people that I knew, I received an honorable discharge. My file was also sealed and sent to Washington, D.C. My career was over before it started. My future was once again uncertain. I was one of the first of the 258 people that were discharged from the Navy in the first year of DADT. Almost 18 years later, that policy comes to an end.
I don’t talk about this very often because this was a very dark time for me. Getting discharged before going to boot camp with all of the press around the new DADT policy is how most of my family found out that I was gay. The news broke their hearts and tore us apart. We recovered from that over time, but it was very hard for me.
While millions of people are celebrating today, I will be looking back on the last 17 years and 6 months wondering where my life could have gone. I will be thinking about the thousands of people that were told by the government of the United States of America that they were not equal citizens. I will be thinking about how America rejected me in such a grand manner. I will be thinking about how my family looked at me after that day and for years to come.
At the end of the day, though, I will smile and celebrate with you, but please understand if you see a little sadness in my smile.