Monday, May 28, 2012

A Memorable Memorial Day: After DADT

from left: gay midshipmen  Caitlin Bryant, Kay Moore, Nick Bonsall, and Andrew Atwill   

Last year, Andrew Atwil's roommate at the Naval Academy joked that Atwill was gay, and Atwill told him to cut it out; because he is gay. And because, last year, Atwill could have jeopardized his military career if anyone know.

This year, though, it's a different story at Annapolis. Now, with DADT repealed Atwill says the academy has changed, and that now, talking about his sexual orientation is no longer a reason to be drummed out of the military. In fact, most in the academy now come to the defense of its gay and lesbian cadets.

Andrew Atwill:  "Pretty much everybody in my company knows now, [and] they actually stand up for me." 

As it should be.

Eight months after the repeal, midshipmen both gay and straight describe a quiet but significant transformation at the Naval Academy. Gay midshipmen are seeking recognition for a student club, and, just last month, for the first time, faculty members and staff openly attended an off-campus dinner that had been organized secretly every year by and for gay midshipmen.

And this year, Andrew Atwill and his boyfriend, classmate Nick Bonsall, are going to Saturday’s Ring Dance, a formal ball held each spring for third-year midshipmen.

"It's been really great, actually," says Nick Bonsall. "Everyone has been really accepting of us."

As it should be.

The experience at Annapolis this year mirrors those across the country at the other service academies, but some future officers worry about what might happen upon graduation. While their generation might be accepting, the majority of military personnel is still made up of people of all ages and backgrounds, and some senior officers say privately that they won't come out for fear of jeopardizing their careers.

Even Andrew Atwill, while aware of this new level of understanding and tolerance, wonders what life will be like after leaving Annapolis and joining the fleet: "For me, personally, it's still a concern. When I become an officer, I'm kind of worried about whether or not my sailors will take it the wrong way if I give them a pat on the back or, you know, happen to be in the bathroom at the same time as them. I'm afraid that if they know that I'm gay, that if I was even to look at them wrong, they may end up somehow turning that against me."

But not everyone sees any problems arising. Caitlyn Bryant, a second-year midshipman, says, "In the fleet, it will be good, you don't have to worry about what they might think your orientation is. You can just focus on being a leader….People have accepted it."

As it should be.

And Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, however, doesn’t foresee a problem. He says the repeal of DADT is going very well: "It's not impacting on morale. It's not impacting on unit cohesion. It's not impacting on readiness."

As it should be.

And change is coming to all branches. Gay cadets at the U.S. Military Academy and the Coast Guard Academy are forming clubs, while gay alumni at the Air Force Academy hosted their first football tailgate last fall, and Air Force Academy and West Point gay alumni held their annual dinners on campus for the first time.

Kara Yingling, a fourth-year midshipman , who is not gay, says the majority of the student body "didn't make a big deal" of the policy change: "We have seen more openly gay people, and I think that's good for them, because they no longer have to live their lives in fear that something's going to happen just because of their sexuality."

This Memorial Day will be, if possible, more memorable, because of this new openness and honesty and acceptance.

As it should be.


the dogs mother said...

I tell you - you're going to run out of toaster ovens. :-)

Mitchell is Moving said...

A great post and great news. As it should be!

(Very strange: my word verification today was: incendiary hernia)

Ron said...

You said it all Bob..."As it should be"

Ask the Cool Cookie said...

All these months after it has been revoked and the moral in the military has not sunk to the new lows that fascist right said that it would. And the longer this law is dead and buried the fewer and fewer arguments they have. Fuck you Mitch McConnell!