CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — While the military policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the overturning of part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act opened doors more widely to gay people serving openly in the military, it didn’t mark radical changes to the way the fighting force looked or behaved.
Instead, it brought the possibility of marriage and spousal benefits to soldiers that were previously denied. And, an opportunity to live more freely.
“When you come out and you’ve been out so long, it’s hard to just go back in,” said Spc. Corderra Dews, 24, who was living in Austin, Texas, and openly gay before he joined the Army in 2011.
While there are no solid statistics on the number of gay and lesbian soldiers currently in the military, a group of soldiers at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, spoke with The Leaf-Chronicle about life in the military before and after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Army’s decision to extend benefits to same-sex spouses, furthering the full inclusion of gay and lesbian soldiers in the military.
Each soldier spoke about being concerned about their sexuality surfacing while the policy was in place, in some cases walking away from conversations that turned uncomfortable and, in the case of Spc. Brian Scott, being married to a woman as cover.
Scott, 28, is in the Army Reserve, but he was active-duty at Fort Campbell from 2009 to early 2011 in the 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne as a fire support specialist. He is also the chapter leader for Kentucky’s OutServe-SLDN, a national organization dedicated to LGBT equality and ending harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the military.
“I definitely had that fear of not being complete and still having to hide that part of me,” Scott said. “You’ve got to lie to yourself and lie to the person you’re with.”
Stereotypes of gay people remain prevalent and deep-rooted, particularly about gay men.
“Everyone expects them to be very, very flamboyant,” Scott said.
Sgt. Cristian Saldana, 23, gets similar reactions. Saldana is in communications with 326th Engineer Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade, and he is married to Spc. Nicholas Harriel.
“I always get the comment ‘You’re not the stereotypical flamboyant gay guy—you’re not flaming,'” Saldana said.
With the repeal of DADT, however, gay soldiers are openly challenging those stereotypes.
“We weren’t that new species anymore,” said Harriel, 23, a medic with 86th Combat Support Hospital. “It allowed us to come out because we don’t have purple dots on us. It’s not obvious. So whenever you don’t see something, it’s easy to fear something you haven’t seen.”
Lt. Col. Brian DeSantis, a spokesman for the 101st Airborne spokesman and Fort Campbell, said harassment of gay soldiers is not taken lightly.
“Fort Campbell and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) are dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our community is treated with dignity and respect, to include our gay and lesbian service and family members,” said DeSantis said.
For Dews, that helps as the Army adjusts to the new reality of openly-gay soldiers.
“My hope as a gay soldier,” Dews said, “is I really hope to get stationed somewhere nice, meet somebody, be able to bring them around, take them to balls, to be like any other spouse in the military.”