Many of the graduates who walked out America’s military service academies this past month and into the military itself were less than a handful of years old when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was enacted eighteen- almost nineteen- years ago. For many, the end of DADT means that they no longer have to hide their sexual orientation. For many of them, it once meant that they would not be able to take their partners to graduation events, proms and balls.
Gay students at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis were able to take same-sex dates to the Ring Dance for the third-year midshipmen. The US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs even formally recognized a club for gay students. Gay cadets at West Point (New York) and Norwich University (Vermont) have been able to be open about their sexualities.
Air Force Second Lieutenant Dan Dwyer graduated from the Air Force last Wdnesday and stated “For the most part, it allows us to be a complete person, as opposed to compartmentalizing our lives into different types of boxes.” The social club at the Air Force Academy called Spectrum means that gay students no longer have to hide in order to meet. The openness has also benefitted the students and the experienced personnel in that it can mean one more bit of common ground for them to build a mentorship.
Dwyer stated “That’s what makes this type of networking a little bit more meaningful in our lives, because they’ve gone through the same thing and, yeah, it’s great to have that family. It’s great to have that support.” Dwyer was even inducted into the academy’s gay alumni gropu called The Blue Alliance. It was a group that he never even knew existed. Their executive director, Trish Heller, swore him in as an Air Force officer.
Heller stated “That was all based on the networking and mentorship relationship from Blue Alliance and Spectrum that would not have happened before, because we just didn’t have that much of a presence and that much of a connection with the cadets.”
Of course, the West Point LGB alum group is well known. Knights Out has been able to recognize LGB graduates and cadets including Kaitlyn Kelly, who was one of the cadets to attend Knights Out’s annual dinner in March. She stated about the repeal of DADT that “It was a remarkable thing for me, because I had taken her to previous things … but I had to do the ambiguous, ‘Oh, she’s my best friend,’”
One source states “Kelly emphasizes that she had always been respected by her fellow cadets and officers at West Point and that changes in her day-to-day life have not been dramatic. But both she and fellow graduating cadet Idi Mallari said the repeal lessened their stress.”
Kelly stated “My friends and I, we were so relieved that we didn’t have to worry about that. Where we might not have necessarily worried about it 100 percent, it was still something in the back of your mind that you kind of always have to watch your step.”
By and large, people have been accepting. Mallari, who was awarded a Purple Heart in Iraq, stated that there have been a few exceptions to the acceptance, but “I think it has to do with the fact that we’re here at West Point and everybody here is just a little more educated.”
Back in Annapolis, a gay couple attending the US Naval Academy had their picture taken in front of the academy’s Bancroft Hall with dozens of straight couples for the Ring Dance- which is a dance where the third years receive their class rings. Midshipmen Andrew Atwill and Nick Bonsall said that they received complements from their fellow students. Atwill stated “Because they made us feel so comfortable for going to the dance with each other, we didn’t have to worry about any negative consequences.”