“Well, this is a sign. I should finally join.”
That was the discussion in our household on December 22, 2010.
My husband (then boyfriend), Cort, and I had had many long discussions about his desire to join the military leading up to that victorious day when President Obama signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 (DADT) into law. We were two years into our relationship, but the thought of him enlisting still selfishly lead my own thoughts towards, ‘Well what about us?’
Cort had always dreamed about joining the military, but being openly gay and in a relationship made me worry about how military gay went together. I remember the restless nights after our long talks about making it work that were followed by endless internet searches with phrases like “gay military”, “non-married military”, and of course “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“But I’m only joining if you say yes,” he told me over and over again.
The repeal of DADT was unchartered territory with so many unanswered questions and only hypothetical answers or wishful resolutions. That is when my Internet searches led me to find The American Military Partners Association (AMPA) – a secure group online for people just like me. AMPA members helped give me hope that it would be okay and though it would be tough it was definitely doable. So I jumped on board, and Cort enlisted in the United States Navy.
Our military life together so far has brought many new friendships and opportunities for personal growth, but it’s also definitely brought challenges and difficult ups and downs. In the past four years of military life together, we’ve spent more than two of those years living in separate cities due to schools and trainings, and with a looming deployment, we are once again preparing to be separated again. This military life is tough — but I still think we’ve had it easy, relatively speaking, compared to so many other LGBT families who lived and worked under DADT. The repeal of DADT in 2010 was soon followed by changes to the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, (DOMA) and sequentially, full marriage equality in 2015. Married same-sex couples now have access to all the rights and benefits available to military service members and their families. This is a right and an honor that people like my husband and I so gratefully appreciate from those who came before us.
Those people include Lt. Col. Jen Bower who was commissioned as an Army lieutenant the same year that DADT was put into place. Now she reflects, “Life under DADT meant keeping my work life and my personal life compartmentalized, which was difficult with the Army’s focus on family. It meant that I could not live genuinely and my partner could not be included in work related events. It meant going to formal and social events by myself, and not having the full support of my unit during difficult times.
It meant I felt like a survivor.
It meant the person I loved and shared my life with had to be a silent, invisible secret. It meant certain retirement after 20 years of service. The repeal of the DADT policy changed everything. For the first time in my career, I have been able to be genuine and truthful with my command and colleagues about who my family is. We have become unlikely ambassadors of the LGBT community at our tiny installation, and the leadership has been amazingly accepting of our little family. I’m still serving after almost 22 years, with my wife by my side.”
Major James League-Pascual of the Army also worked under the DADT policy and he looks back now with sentiments and the feeling of relief. “DADT was a psychological prison. It was truly an invisible barrier to being your authentic self. My biggest fear back then was how despite building a life with someone, we would never in reality be ever recognized as a couple, which plays an emotional toll on your relationship.
The day of the repeal I was befittingly in Army training and was able to openly come out to my colleagues. It was a wonderful weight to be lifted off my shoulders.”
December is always a time to reflect and pause for an extra moment to be grateful – grateful for the end of DADT and DOMA. Grateful for technology that our service members are only a Skype call away during deployments or TDYs, that phone calls and letters don’t have to be disguised as secret love letters to your “friend” back home, and that our marriages are open, legal, and come with all of the rights and benefits of marriage in this country that we all love and that our loved ones fight so hard to defend and protect. All our journeys and life experiences living through the era of DADT are unique and all our journeys will be historically important. There is still a long way to go to and AMPA will be charging the course and supporting you along the way.
Please keep those who can not be together with their families this holiday season in your thoughts.
Happy Holidays to you and yours.