LGBT Clubs Thrive at Post-DADT U.S. Military Academies
They are hailed as the best and the brightest that the nation has to offer our citizens. They are trained and educated in the ways of war, diplomacy, and strategy. They are the graduates of U.S. military academies. And some of them identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual. Up until last September, when the repeal of the discriminatory military ban on open gay service, "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" took place, they trained -- and served -- in silence. Now, all that has changed.
In the wake of DADT repeal, Knights Out (West Point, Army), the Blue Alliance (Air Force Academy LGBT Alumni) and USNA Out (Naval Academy) have stepped up their presence and influence in and around military academies, proving that the attitude towards openly LGB officer and enlisted is evolving.
"Gay-Straight organizations are important at the academies for visibility, so that people understand that yes, there are gays and lesbians at West Point," Sue Fulton, executive director for Knights Out and West Point ’80 graduate, told EDGE. "In the military, like other organizations, everyone is assumed to be straight unless they say otherwise. And people who say they don’t know anyone who’s gay are much more likely to feel negatively about gays and lesbians, and not respect them as equals. So visibility is important."
Preparing to Lead Gay & Straight Armed Forces
Renowned as one of the world’s preeminent leader development institutions, the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., a historic town 80 miles north of New York City, sees its mission as one to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of "Duty, Honor, Country." The student body, known as the Corps of Cadets, numbers 4,400 and each year approximately 1,000 cadets join the Long Gray Line as they graduate and are commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army.
"It’s also important for gay and lesbian cadets and officers to live their lives with integrity and honesty, and be role models so that others understand that we are serving beside you, we are soldiers like you, we’re in this together," said Fulton.
Cadets at West Point are preparing to lead an Army that includes gay men and lesbians as well as people from many diverse backgrounds. "Gay-straight organizations foster understanding between people that overcomes the myths and prejudices that can cause problems in a military unit," Fulton points out.
Trish Heller, executive director for the Blue Alliance and a 1987 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Col., graduate told EDGE, "We facilitate peer support, professional networking, and mentorship among LGBT alumni of the US Air Force Academy. We promote respect, through education and advocacy, for LGBT individuals at the Air Force Academy, within the academy’s alumni community, and throughout the entire United States Air Force."
Still, for those who aren’t yet keen on letting the world (or the Service) know they are gay, Heller says the Blue Alliance "maintains a framework of safety that protects the privacy needs of each individual participant and does not disclose information about them."
Blue Alliance is an organization of over 150 proud U. S. Air Force Academy alumni who are LGBT. "We are dedicated to doing our part to support the mission of the U. S. Air Force Academy in providing excellence in the development and training of our nation’s future leaders," say officials. "We also strive for providing a path for ’reconnection’ for the many LGBT USAFA alumni who have over time been disassociated from the Academy and the AOG because of their sexuality or gender identity."
Blue Alliance was denied access to academy facilities prior to the end of DADT. Now, all that has changed.
"Last fall, Blue Alliance was granted affinity status with the Academy’s Association of Graduates, had a dinner (and tailgate) on Academy grounds at Doolittle Hall attended by over 65 alumni, cadets, and Academy officials," Heller told EDGE. For the first time, the Blue Alliance was invited to attend the academy’s National Character Development and Leadership Forum as special guests last February.
In addition, gay and lesbian cadets have submitted an official request to form a group called Blue eQuality. "Gay and lesbian cadets now can talk freely to their leadership and staff about personal issues, giving them access to the same assistance taken for granted by most cadets," said Heller.
The venerable Naval Academy in Annapolis has also done a 180-degree turnaround after the DADT repeal. On April 14, 94 U.S. Naval Academy LGBT alumni, midshipmen and their guests gathered at USNA to recognize alumni and midshipmen accomplishments over the last year, commemorating seven months since repeal of DADT.
Thirty-one midshipmen of all four classes and their guests attended, along with 34 members of USNA Out, the LGBT organization of U.S. Naval Academy alumni. Sixteen of the midshipmen are seniors, who will graduate on May 29 and be the first class at Annapolis to graduate under the new policy that now allows gay, lesbian and bisexual military members to serve without fear of discharge.
Helping Those In & Out of the Closet
Just like Blue Alliance, however, USNA Out realizes that not all of their members want to broadcast their sexual orientation. In a message to would-be members on their website, the group says, "Despite ’Out’ in our name, you don’t need to be out to join USNA Out. Many of our members are allies, some are still questioning and some just aren’t out for professional or personal reasons. A few of our registered members have opted to remain hidden from other members on our roster, but still have full access to our site and communications."
"If you are not yet comfortable to join as a member, you can still take comfort in knowing that there are many other alumni & midshipmen just like you," concludes the message.
Knights Out Sue Fulton told EDGE, "Certainly there remains some prejudice; but cadets place a high value on respect and gay and lesbian cadets who have chosen to be out are treated equally." Recently, Knights Out hosted a dinner at West Point, attended by over a hundred people, including 30 cadets.
In addition, groups like OutServe have sprung up to serve all service members - officer and enlisted. In less than two years of existence, OutServe, which provides networking for over 5,000 actively serving military members in over 50 chapters, has accomplished quite a bit.
"The chapters provide support and advice for their members as well as involvement in local community efforts, including Walk/Runs in support of charities fighting AIDS, breast cancer, and MS," OutServe officials told EDGE in a statement. "One chapter leader organized a 5K run in memory of one of his soldiers killed in a training accident; another chapter sponsored a stretch of highway in memory to a gay soldier killed in action."
"We remain available to provide input, advice, and support to the Pentagon and anyone in the military to ensure that LGB and straight military members can accomplish the mission effectively and with the respect and equal treatment that are a hallmark of our armed forces."
Fulton maintains that the military has changed, and that, for the most part, there’s more a sense of relief than opposition to the United States finally joining every other Western democracy in allowing out-gay servicemembers. "The distraction of DADT -- investigating and harassing LGBT members," she said, "is gone."