I am a cadet in a service academy — I don’t think I should say which one, but they are all similar in regard to culture and policies on homosexuality. It is a conservative (72% republican), strongly religious, and homophobic environment. I like being here, and wake up every day pleased that I haven’t been kicked out yet.
I have been in the service for just over three years now, and my attitude about the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy has changed over time. Initially I was compliant and scared. I have lost relationships and peace of mind through my paranoid behavior. I have also made ethical compromises that I don’t like. I believe that this policy is designed to perpetuate ignorance. It nearly guarantees that people who express homophobic sentiments will be avoided and feared by their queer peers, thus reducing the likelihood that they will ever get to know each other. I think that the strongest hatred of gays comes from people who dehumanize them. It is harder to dehumanize gays when you actually know one or two. I want the other cadets to see that they have a real, living, lesbian classmate who shares common experiences. I don’t know if I expect (or want) to change my classmates’ beliefs, but I do want to give them the exposure they need to make informed decisions about their morality. I think it’s disrespectful not to.
In addition to keeping minds narrow, the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy leaves young military members totally isolated at an age when they are likely to be struggling with their sexuality. I was enlisted when I came to terms with my own orientation, and I had some pretty rough periods of alienation and depression. I know what it’s like to be in an extremely hostile environment without knowing what my rights are or how to find out. It is important to me that younger cadets have resources for information and support, and I want to provide them with as much as I can.
Recently (within the last year) I have been breaking "don’t ask, don’t tell" a lot. I have prioritized honest relationships with my classmates over my desire to keep my appointment. The response has been heartwarming. The more conservative, religious people who used to make me nervous go out of their way to make me feel accepted and loved in spite of our differences. The conversations are fantastic.
Of course, through out this experience I live with the ever present possibility that someone will feel differently and report my breaches of policy. My academic enthusiasm is often dampened by the distraction of making alternate plans, and the sense of hopelessness that I will ever graduate. I am willing to be discharged over this issue, but I would so much rather graduate and pursue a career in a service that is important to me. I would also like to have a relationship free from the inherent complications of my situation. I appreciate the equality riders and Soulforce. Thanks for your inspiring efforts. I hope that I can also help out, in my own way, from the inside.