Since Veterans Day is fast approaching on Nov. 11, we thought it’d be the perfect time to introduce you to a local community member and a veteran. And, if you’ve never met Jim Thompson, you’re certainly missing out. Jim, a supporter of a wide range of local LGBT and progressive causes, is also a lifelong lover of all things Judy Garland. Her signature ruby slippers have become Jim’s calling card and many of his friends call him “Judy.” He wears a small pair of the ruby red slippers as a lapel pin and even gives many of his friends and acquaintances small pins just like his. Originally from Massachusetts, Jim’s a proud Irish-American and a Democrat. He lives in Rock Hill.
In which military branch did you serve and when?
I served in the U.S. Navy, briefly from 1977 to the end of 1978. I came from a Navy family.
Who else in your family served?
My dad, my grandfather and his father. My mother’s side was all Army, though.
When you signed up, was it something you felt called to or something of an expectation?
It was sort of a bit of both. It was something that was expected and it wasn’t anything I was against doing. But, about 12-13 months into it I figured out it just wasn’t my thing.
What was your brief service like?
It was a good relationship. I started out as a seaman. By the time I left I was a petty officer third class.
How old were you at the time?
I was 18.
And, where did you serve?
I spent some nice time in Norfolk and then in San Diego. I ended up in Charlestown, Mass., on the USS Constitution, where my grandfather had been a foreman in the Navy Yard there. He also had served in World War II.
Were you aware that you were gay when you enlisted?
Yes, but I was lucky growing up. I didn’t have too much negative stuff, even with all that Anita Bryant stuff going on. Now, you didn’t hear too much positive stuff, either. It just wasn’t something that we really thought about. A couple years before, I thought, maybe this is how I feel. I kinda skated through all that in junior high and high school. There certainly wasn’t, at least that I was aware of, any support groups. There were plenty of clubs to go to around the Navy Yard, though.
Do you ever wish you had served longer?
Honestly, in hindsight, I’ve said I could have done a few more months.
What do you think about the inclusive progress we’ve made in the military?
I’m proud and that’s fantastic. It should have been done a long time ago. Even military leaders, if they could speak honestly, would say it was a waste of a lot of talent.
During the Democratic National Convention in 2012, you got to meet former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Douglas Wilson. [Wilson was confirmed to his position by the U.S. Senate in February 2010 and was the first openly gay assistant secretary at the Pentagon.] Tell me about that.
Yes. And, it’s a funny story. They had called all the veterans up [during the LGBT caucus] and I was there. He was going round hugging and kissing all the women veterans. He got to me, and I said, “What about me?” And, he hugged me, too. : :