Here's What I Learned From 25 Years Fighting For LGBT Equality

There was a time when the U.S. military spoke of bestiality and homosexuality in the same sentence. Surprisingly, it was just a few decades ago. In the 1980s, I trained as a ship-to-shore radioman in the U.S. Navy. Despite my academic and professional excellence, I was relentlessly persecuted for my sexual orientation.

I was at the top of my class in 1986, and in a position where classified information would eventually be shared between me and the top echelon of the military, including commanders of bases, ships, and possibly the top brass at the Pentagon. But instead of heading to Okinawa, Japan, where I would have been specialized after another six weeks of personalized training, my military career — and my entire life —  was put on official hold, and my military ribbons replaced with a flimsy plastic tag.

I was investigated for my sexual orientation. The investigation team followed me off the base, downtown to San Diego, and, eventually, to my appearance before the Naval Investigative Service, which processed me out of the Navy completely.

In the 25-plus years since I left the U.S. Navy, I have seen major results from our long and tiring efforts for LGBT equality, especially the recent overturning of DOMA, which impacts the LGBT military members serving right now, allowing them to obtain federal benefits. Although the military once denied my orders to Japan, and put me on “hold” because of my sexual orientation, it now has policies that make it possible to serve openly.

I served in the Navy during the Reagan Administration, when there were, "nearly as many [servicemembers] discharged — at least 13,236 — as in the entire 17 years of Don't Ask Don't Tell.", I became an instant activist and advocate the moment I uttered the words, "Are you asking me if I’m gay?" to the U.S. Naval Investigative Service. After a couple of degrading interrogation sessions, and countless required visits to the psychologist on base, I proceeded to negotiate my own general discharge of a General, even as a dishonorable one lingered over my head.

Up until then, I has been just another worried service member. Between being my authentic self and the sailor that the Navy wanted me to be, I felt like an underground criminal on the verge of a meltdown. How could I merge my two lives, and still be a full member of the U.S. armed forces?

I learned, sadly, that it wouldn’t be possible for me. It was time to leave. Because of the humiliation involved (especially seeing bestiality and homosexuality classified in the same sentence on my discharge paperwork), I became an open opponent to any and all policies that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. I was never going back in the "closet," and I respected anyone who put their neck out in the name of equality. From icons like Frank Kameny and Leonard Matlovich, to the undying determination of everyone in between and ever since, I learned that equality had to be fought for, and it is worth every drop of blood, sweat, and tears.

Now I’m a member and volunteer with Military Partners and Families Coalition (MPFC), which helps all LGBT military spouses and families. One of the greatest accomplishments of our movement happened just this year through MPFC and American Veterans for Equal Rights, when I was asked to carry a rainbow flag in the parade of colors for the first time, for the Memorial Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery. We followed the parade by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in honor of all LGBT fallen heroes.

Do we still have a long way to go? Absolutely. But through every moment of progress I’ve seen over the last 25 years, I also see that equality is undoubtedly possible.