Gay in the Army

Letter from a Soldier

by J. Scott Thomas    
Published: October 31, 2009 in A&E / Life&Style, Letter from a soldier

[Ed. Note — In the summer, Q-Notes was contacted by a gay North Carolinian who wished to write about his experiences as a gay man in military service. We wanted to share his thoughts with readers to not only commemorate Veterans’ Day, but to raise awareness of the trials and tribulations LGBT men and women face as they serve our nation in silence and fear. You will see J. Scott Thomas’ letters back home spread about the next few issues as we receive updates from the field.]

Photo: U.S. Army

Photo: U.S. Army

I am a soldier serving in the North Carolina National Guard currently deployed on active duty in Iraq. I hope that after this summer time of Pride and celebration you will think about what an historic and pivotal time in our nation’s history we are witnessing. This is a time America has chosen to give change a chance. This is a time when we as a community can gain ground in our struggle for equal rights.

We are closer now than we have ever come to being openly accepted to serve in the armed forces of our country — to finally be truthful about who we are and have our qualities be recognized openly. It is a fact that full acceptance of a minority in society has never been achieved in this country without first being accepted as equal in/by our military, whether grudgingly or otherwise.

Things are changing in our military with a new generation, within and outside the services. I would like very much to write to y’all during my deployment; about being in the military, those I serve with, the importance of equality in the military and its overall importance in the fight for equality and full acceptance. We are Carolinians; we are your family, friends, and neighbors. Our significance as soldiers in the U.S. Army National Guard, now activated, has its impact not only on you as our community and state but on the rest of the country.

There are a few of us that we know about and we are lucky to have found each other; the internet can be a good thing. Every once and awhile, you just need to let your hair down, be yourself and, luckily, we are here for one another. It is ridiculous, however, that we have to hide it. We are all in combat arms branches and all hold important positions. We are officers, translators, intelligence team members, communication specialists, electronic warfare officers, technician, mechanics, gunners, drivers and the list goes on. All are crucial to our unit yet we must hide who we are while we listen to our counterparts talk about their loved ones and can be honest about who they are.

Bill Clinton came the closest to recognizing us as equals, but his policy back fired. Our new commander-in-chief, Barack Obama, has just renewed his vow to get rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and I have been encouraged by the Human Rights Campaign’s renewed support of the movement to repeal the ban.

We have waited 13 years for this moment. We have been told to be patient, and we can be, but why should we have to wait? I guarantee you that once we are allowed to serve openly all other barriers will begin to fall, just look at our history. It is important that our community’s leaders recognize this fact. We should not be discouraged by this seemingly small promise; rather we should be ecstatic and encourage its passage as soon as possible.

Irish Catholics, Latinos, and other immigrants gained acceptance after demonstrating their patriotism, courage, and fortitude while under fire. New immigrants still to this day can obtain their citizenship by serving in the armed forces. Likewise, African-Americans began winning their battle for civil rights once they were fully integrated in the military. While the position of women is still continually progressing in the military, the women’s rights movement was bolstered by the integration of women into the military.

The point is, diversity is good and it starts with and in the military.

As we have seen in polls, the younger generations of our country recognize the hypocrisy. They are the “Will & Grace” generations that grew up, thanks to all the work of the LGBT leaders of the past, with openly gay kids in school and don’t see a problem in serving alongside gay people in the military. Studies have unequivocally and definitively now reported that there is no threat to unit cohesion from “out” members of the military.

Through the winter and into the new year, I hope you enjoy reading my articles and will realize how important the total repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is to our community’s overall fight for equality. We miss y’all back home, especially the boys of Charleston and Wilmington, the queens of Columbia and Charlotte. We miss the nights in Greenville, Asheville, Greensboro and Raleigh, the mountains. We miss the days at the beach and on the lake and the cool Carolina evening breeze.

— Your Soldier, J. Scott Thomas