U.S. military sees some progress 10 years after ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal

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Kelly Normoyle was terrified as she arrived at the Coast Guard Academy campus in Connecticut in 2008. She was exposed as a lesbian to a few friends near the end of high school, but she encountered a military environment where “don’t ask, don’t tell” still allow gay people to openly serve. It was a deterrent policy.

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Fearing expulsion and the ruin of her yet-to-be-started career, she kept quiet about her sexuality for her freshman year. He began testing the waters in his second year.

“Well, maybe it’s someone I can trust, maybe it’s someone who identifies with the way I do it,” said Normoyle, who is now a lieutenant on the cutter Sanibel based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “But then you always have that moment that was that kind of leap of faith.”

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Marking the 10th anniversary this week of the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a new generation of military academy students say their campuses are now for the most part tolerant, welcoming and inclusive — but for More work is needed done.

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Homophobic or ignorant comments still occasionally come up. Many transgender students still don’t feel comfortable coming out. And advocates say the military needs to do more to include people with HIV, as well as non-binary and intersex people.

Normoyle, 32, of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and fellow cadet Chip Hall led the formation of the Coast Guard Academy’s Spectrum Diversity Council, the first advocacy group for LGBTQ students at the U.S. Military Academy, a few months after “Don’t Ask,” Don’t Tell” ended on September 20, 2011. Similar groups later formed at the other four service academies.

Gays and lesbians in the military were banned until 1993 with the approval of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, which allowed them to serve only if they did not openly confess their sexual orientation. Advocates say that instead of helping, the policy actually created more problems. Throughout its history, the military fired more than 100,000 service members on the basis of their sexual or gender identities – 14,000 of them during “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

The law’s repeal was approved by Congress and President Barack Obama in late 2010 and took effect nine months later, allowing gay, lesbian and bisexual people to serve openly.

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At the Air Force Academy in Colorado, second-year cadet Marissa Howard, who came out as a lesbian a few years ago, said she admired LGBTQ service members who struggled under the former policy.

“I appreciate them,” said Howard of San Antonio, a member of the Academy’s Spectrum group. “I feel very involved in the environment, and it’s a good place to feel that my identity is seen and I don’t have to hide who I am here.”

However, some fellow cadets do not support their LGBTQ classmates, she said. Once, during an online class, someone called her “weird” for being gay, perhaps thinking they were silent, she said.

The Coast Guard Academy in New London was the only US military academy to hold a public event to mark its 10th anniversary on Monday. About 100 people attended a dinner that included a discussion after watching a documentary on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

For many cadets, it’s hard to imagine what it was like because their generation is more accepting, said Casey Cummins, a bisexual Coast Guard Academy from Altuna, Iowa, and current Spectrum Diversity Council president.

“There are so many of us now. It’s hard to ignore that we’re here and … it’s the new normal,” Commins said.

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The Superintendent of the Coast Guard Academy, Rear Admiral William G. Kelly told the crowd on Monday that officials are working hard on LGBTQ inclusion and are developing a campus policy for transgender students.

Transgender people were allowed to openly serve in the military in 2016, but the Trump administration largely banned them in 2019. Although President Joe Biden reversed the ban earlier this year, formal policies are still being drafted in some places.

At the US Naval Academy, sexual orientation is mostly a non-issue, said Andre Rasco, a senior midshipman who is gay.

“In my experience, you always have one or two people who feel uncomfortable being or being with, like, a sports team with someone who is in the queer community, but those are anomalies,” he said. said.

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According to an independent review commission report submitted to Biden in June, after students graduate, they will face a military environment where sexual harassment and harassment continues to be widespread and where gay, lesbian and bisexual service members are being abused. suffering unequally.

In its latest annual report on sexual assault and harassment at West Point and the Air Force and Naval Academies, the Defense Department said 129 sexual assaults were recorded during the 2019-20 school year, down from 149 a year earlier. Twelve complaints of sexual harassment were received, down from 17 in the previous year.

“Obviously there’s a lot of room to grow,” said Jennifer Dane, chief executive and director of the Modern Military Association of America, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

Dane, who served in the Air Force from 2010 to 2016, said the Air Force launched an investigation into her sexuality during her first year, but dropped the investigation after the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal.

“When it was repealed … I was finally able to be my authentic self, and it was very empowering,” she said.

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