- Health, Wellness & Sports
- Equality Directory
Editor's Note: San Diego Gay & Lesbian News is pleased to welcome back Stephen Brewer, MA, after a long hiatus while he completed his dissertation. We proposed DADT to Stephen as a topic to explore in his come-back column, and as a result, he conducted several in-person interviews and transcribed the responses, all from career military servicemen, about their feelings regarding the upcoming repeal. Watch for future columns where Stephen takes on more hot topics in LGBT news.
The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) is a welcome and long-overdue development in the ongoing process of securing equality for all Americans.
To many people in the military, the repeal of DADT means that they will no longer need to live in fear that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) will result in being discharged from their careers.
Among other things, the upcoming repeal will also open the door for service members who want to share their personal lives with their colleagues.
As it turns out, some service members are hesitating to step through that door. Others may choose never to walk through it.
For service members who are hesitating to come out, the repeal of DADT poses some immediate challenges. Fundamental questions such as “What does it mean to me to come out?” and “Who do I want to come out to?” are being addressed by many LGB service members, and a significant amount of self-exploration will need to happen to answer those questions.
For some LGB service members who have decided to not come out, the decision to stay quiet about their sexual orientation revolves around their individual sense of professional identity.
”After all the fuss over DADT, why would anyone choose to not come out?”
In the military, as in most professions, there are people who are entirely comfortable with their sexuality but choose not to share anything about their personal lives with their colleagues.
To these service members, there is a rigid boundary between their professional and personal lives, and sexual orientation does not play a part in their professional identity. This makes sense since under DADT these service members needed to construct their professional identity to exclude their sexuality. But even after the repeal of DADT when service members are given the option to come out, these service members have no plans to announce their sexual orientation at work.
One Marine who has been in the military for 14 years described his view:
"I always used to tell folks that I was actually a Marine before I was gay. And I say it in that manner because as all the commercials say ‘Marines are made.’ You are broken down and re-identified with a new mindset."
The mindset of being in the armed forces seems to take precedence over any other aspect of identity for these service members.
To them, personal sexual orientation is none of anyone else’s business and is not a defining feature of their profession. Furthermore, they believe that putting sexual orientation front and center represents an unprofessional act, since it involves a deliberate departure from their professional identity and duties as members of the armed forces.
For example, they hold the view that there is no such thing as a Gay Marine, a Black Marine, a Latino Marine, or an Asian Marine. There is only “Marine.”
Considering this interpretation of professional identity, some LGB service members find that they are questioning the actions of their LGB colleagues. In San Diego, the future repeal of DADT was celebrated in the local Pride parade by a sizeable military contingent that included active duty and retired LGB service members.
While people viewing the parade were witness to tears of joy and contagious expressions of happiness and freedom, behind the scenes there was a significant amount of disagreement among LGB service members over the appropriateness of such a contingent.
One service member described his point of view:
“The rhetoric among our civilian leadership that has tried to keep DADT in place is based off an assumption that being homosexual makes you unable to work professionally, and that this inability to work professionally is a quality that would make a person unfit for service. I believe that participating in the pride parade was unprofessional, and I believe that it fed into the hysteria and the myth that gayness is going to be forced on everyone. It fed into the notion that we aren’t able to work without making a scene.”
Still, service members who have no plans to come out recognize the important and profound victory that the DADT repeal represents. They emphasize that they are supportive of people who choose to come out after the repeal, even if they disagree on the manner in which sexual orientation is expressed and shared with others in a professional setting.
They share a common view that sexual orientation, race, and gender should be non-issues in the workplace.
As one Marine said:
“We will get to a point where we turn away gay people from enlisting in the military, but we won’t turn them away for being gay. Professional behavior and the ability to perform in an environment with a chain of command and an adherence to specific rules and regulations is what is going to have to be enforced. Eventually, they are going to find out that everyone - regardless of sexual orientation - is capable.”
If nothing else, the existence of various points of view among LGB service members toward what constitutes "professional behavior" illustrates one of the adjustments that all service members will likely need to navigate over the next several years.
”What if I do decide to not come out? What might happen?”
Several things may happen, or nothing may happen.
Service members who choose not to come out at work may be seen as dishonest by their LGB colleagues, there may be ongoing pressure from various sources to come out, and there is always risk of being outed at work. As with any professional situation, coming out is something that must be considered within the expectations of a given profession.
In this case, individual servicemembers must ask themselves whether they believe it is appropriate to come out at work. Nobody can answer that question conclusively for anyone else.
Just some things to think about …
Stephen Brewer, M.A. is a registered psychological assistant (PSB33858) in Scripps Ranch and is supervised by Angela Spenser, PhD (PSY15450). He runs a LGBT and kink-friendly practice, specializing in addictions, trauma, HIV/AIDS, and men’s issues. He can be reached at (619) 377–3120 or you can visit his website.