Saturday, December 18, 2010


I’m watching C-Span, waiting for the vote on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  I’m thinking about the gay active–duty service members I’ve known.  I worked for the Defense Department for 40 years.  For about 20 of those years, I was out at work.  I got to know about 20 gay members who were serving their country.  Because I was working in a health–care institution, the people I got to know generally were officers and were either physicians or nurses.

Right after I came out, a Navy Captain, member of the Nurse Corps, befriended me.  I’ll never forget the day he told me his story.  I was amazed that this man could have had such a rich and fulfilled gay life in private without ever sharing it, even in the smallest ways, with most of the people with and for whom he worked.  Even when he retired, he stayed in the closet with most of his Navy colleagues.

I went on a retreat once and met another Navy Captain, this one a physician.  His closet was a lot deeper than the Captain–Nurse.  He and I became friends and over a period of several years I was privileged to get to know this man’s story.  Unlike the Captain–Nurse, he never had a long–term relationship, and had never enjoyed the company of gay men in any social setting.  All of his gay friendships were isolated from one another, as if he was afraid we’d all gang up and out him.

Another gay officer I knew well was an Army major who was a psychiatrist.  He was in his mid–30's when I met him and his Army career was going well.  He had done a tour of duty in Iraq and had seen and heard horrible things there taking care of what he thought of as his troops.  He had a partner whose existence, name, and location all were absolutely secret, even from friends like me.  He referred to his life as “schizophrenic.”  He now is a Lieutenant Colonel and still is in the closet.

There are a lot more similar stories I could tell.

All these men were good men and fine sailors and soldiers.  All were promoted time and again, and all were valued highly by their commanders.  All of them have had to lie, to varying degrees, to maintain the privilege of serving their country as physicians and nurses.

Maybe all that will change today.  May it be so!

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