As a youth in South Florida, Sue Fulton says her family was always patriotic. As a student she won the American Legion’s essay contest and the Voice of Democracy contest. After serving her country as a member of the Army’s Signal Corps in Germany, Fulton now works in corporate America and volunteers her time as communications director for Knights Out. The group, founded in March 2009, is an unofficial, yet large and growing, association of LGBT West Point graduates and supportive allies including West Point staff and faculty.
Fulton, who recently appeared as a guest on SC Pride’s Rainbow Radio in Columbia, says she felt her personal call to duty from an early age.
“I’d always felt called to service,” Fulton says,” but it didn’t come into sharper focus until I was in high school.”
There, Fulton said an older friend joined the schools’ Junior R.O.T.C., a high school version of the more rigorous officer training corps present at colleges and universities across the nation.
“We talked about the military as an opportunity for women to serve,” she says. “That hadn’t really entered my mind. It appealed to me.”
Fulton’s desire to serve her country was, in part, turned into a career reality during her senior year of high school. That was the year the historic U.S. Military Academy at West Point decided to integrate women into its cadet corps. Her freshman class was the first at the more than century old school to see women standing side-by-side with male cadets.
“It was a very challenging first year, although the first year at West Point is always very challenging,” she says. “Some people were supportive and others were not so supportive of women being at West Point. As we were there longer, we had a chance to prove ourselves and we either did or didn’t. As is clear now, though, women do have an important role top play in the military.”
Sue Fulton will be a guest on Columbia’s Rainbow Radio on Sunday, Dec. 19. Listen in at 10 a.m. locally at Air America WOIC-AM 1230, or download the pre-recorded show here.
Fulton says her experiences among the first female West Point cadets taught her many lessons about how the military handles diversity and integration. She thinks the process used by West Point officials helped to seamlessly integrate women into the previously all-male student body. It is a process she says could be just as easily used to allow LGBT servicemembers the opportunity to serve openly with honesty and integrity.
“One of the things they did early on was to integrate women into one out of every three companies,” Fulton explains. “They did surveys to understand how the integration was proceeding so they’d know, as good officers would, how they were progressing.”
Those surveys to cadets, Fulton says, included questions about the place of women in the military, at West Point and their success in leadership.
“They found that companies with women were much more positively disposed about women in the military,” she says. “In the second year, they put women in every company.”
Fulton says a similar model could work for integrating LGBTs into military academies and the service.
“It is hard to cling to prejudices and biases when you are faced with actual people, rather than the idea of what people will be like,” she says.