Service members come out post DADT repeal

  • by Chuck Colbert
  • Wednesday September 21, 2011
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Army soldier Carmen Everingham came out this week. (Photo<br>courtesy of Carmen Everingham)
Army soldier Carmen Everingham came out this week. (Photo
courtesy of Carmen Everingham)

Just past the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, Sept. 20, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the nearly 18-year-old ban on openly gay military service, became history.

Now currently serving gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members, both active duty and reserve, are at liberty to come out without fear of being discharged solely for being gay. 

One soldier who has come out is Sergeant 1st Class Carmen Everinghman. A combat medic, the thirty-something California native, presently stationed in Sacramento, has seen duty stateside and overseas, including a deployment in Afghanistan, where she saved a Navy chief's life. Altogether, Everingham has served for 14 years in the Army and plans to make it a career.

"Many, without my saying anything, knew about me; they knew I was gay," she said.

Everingham is not only out. She is way out.

A member of OutServe, an association of more than 4,000 actively serving LGBT military personnel, Everingham is featured in OutServe Magazine's September 20th repeal issue. There, she is spotlighted in the publication's third edition with a bio and photo - along with those of 100 other LGB men and women.

"We could not be more proud of this magazine and the opportunity it gives us to educate and inform all service members - gay and straight - about who we really are," stated Air Force 1st Lieutenant Josh Seefried, co-director of OutServe, until now known by the pseudonym "JD Smith." "There is so much misinformation out there about the LGBT community and as we begin a new day for the American military, OutServe Magazine will be a vehicle to tell our stories and a way of helping all of us understand each other better. As of today, we can speak up for ourselves honestly, so the troops on either side of us can understand, we have more in common than you might imagine."

Recently, the magazine launched an interactive website ( www.OutServeMag.com) where readers can share articles via Facebook and Twitter and order both digital and print versions of the publication. The website also includes videos and member blogs. In addition, the Army and Air Force have given permission to distribute the magazine at limited base exchanges.

"Profiles of currently serving people is how OutServe chose to celebrate September 20," said Sue Fulton, the association's communications director, an Army veteran and West Point alumna.

Pretty much, "the day was business as usual for active duty," Fulton said.

Meanwhile, during a recent telephone interview, Everingham said she "loves" her job and Army life. 

"I love the morale within units," she explained. "I am a hard worker and do my job well and get a lot of respect."

Out to family and friends since she was 18, Everingham enlisted under DADT.

"I pretty much grew up in the Army," she said. "I loved it so much that I was willing to stand by the whole 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy."

She is half Filipino on her mother's side and half English and Italian on her father's. Everingham was raised in a "warm" close-knit family. Her father is a retired Air Force veteran.

"He is one of my biggest supporters," she said, along with "my mother, brothers and sister."

From personal experience, said Everingham, there is no evidence that the presence of out gays in the Army hurts morale or undermines unity cohesion.

"I think the military will be fine," she said. "I don't think there will be a lot of commotion post 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"

"Strong leadership" is key to ensuring transition of the armed services into a new era, said Everingham.

"We're here to enforce the new era for everybody regardless of rank, gender, or sexual orientation," she said.

Everingham said she chose to come out so that her military colleagues understand she is no different than any other service member except for one quality.

"I want people to understand that I'm just a normal person but have a different sexual orientation. I am the same person who will do anything to save your life," she said. "I also want people to understand that just because you are gay, it doesn't mean you can't do your job."

After all, explained Everingham, "the whole point of military life is to do your job" and fulfill "your obligation" to serve "your country."

Despite being nervous about her decision to come out, Everingham hopes by doing so she can make a difference in someone else's life.

"My goal now is to take care of soldiers who are not being taken care of," she said.

 

Retired U.S. Navy Petty Officer Joseph Rocha speaks at a press conference in San Francisco Tuesday, September 20 marking the end of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Rocha, who was discharged under the anti-gay policy in 2007, has applied to re-join the military at the Marine Officer Candidate School. Behind him in uniform are Keith H. Kerr, retired Brigadier General, Retired U.S. Navy Commander Zoe Dunning and past post commander of the Alexander Hamilton American Legion Post John Forrett. (Photo: Rick Gerharter)

Out marines, too

Corporal AJ Garcia, a Marine Corps rifleman, is another gay service member who has come out. Like Everingham, Garcia has also come out in a big way. He is featured in a cover story in the September 19 issue of Marine Corps Times.

"We love. We bleed. We cry. We fight. At the end of the day, we're people, too," Garcia told the weekly publication. "And we want respect."

The Marine Corps Times piece has been out in print for nearly a week, with its front-cover headline, "We're gay. Get over it." Immediately, the cover and story drew strong reactions. More than 700 people have responded to the piece on the publication's website.

One person named Mike wrote, "The cover makes it sound like all Marines are gay." A staff sergeant wrote, "Nothing against homosexuality in the military, but the perception your cover gives about the entire Marine Corps is truly shameful."

And yet, the Times� piece covers a range of topics, including, close quarters - showers and the barracks - unit cohesion, and life after DADT. 

In a phone interview Marine Corps Times editor Tony Lombardo said the idea for the story came from a couple of Marines who are gay.

"They wrote into us and expressed their feelings about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' They were willing to come in and speak with us," said Lombardo. 

Over the course of several weeks, he said, "We had some really interesting interviews," both in person and over the phone.

"There hadn't been a lot in the press about the perspective of gay Marines, how they were feeling," Lombardo said. "We wanted to have that perspective, and that's what the story has."

For the most part, many Marines are going to be pretty cautious, predicted Lombardo.

Initially, he said, "Some may tell an inner circle of friends and then broaden that." 

Indeed the Marine Corps Times has struck a raw nerve. Last year, when the Pentagon surveyed troops about repeal, the Corps - more than any other service branch - was the most opposed to open service. More than 60 percent in combat arms specialties, for example, said out gays in the unit would negatively affect cohesion. Similarly, 43 percent of Marines overall said unit cohesion would suffer if gays served openly.

Marines' opposition to DADT, said Tammy Schultz, an openly gay professor at the Marine Corps War College in Quantico, Virginia, may well be based on a "rigid warrior ethos." As she told the Times , "Marines have an almost uber-warrior mindset. The commandant has even spoken of this. They recruit based on that warrior ethos."

Moreover, "there's the perception, in many cases wrongly, that homosexuals may display more effeminate qualities that may run counter to the warrior ethos," she said.

Also important, tradition is sacred in the Marine Corps. In fact, Marines uphold their traditions with reverence.

Among the most cherished of those traditions is the Birthday Ball.

"It's very important to every Marine," said editor Lombardo, referring to the annual event, held on November 10 all over the world, to celebrate the Marine Corps' founding on that date in 1775.

Last summer, celebrity pop musician Justin Timberlake made entertainment news when he said that he had accepted an invitation, schedule permitting, from Quantico-based Corporal Kelsey De Santis to be her date at the Birthday Ball.

"One question on Marines' minds," said Lombardo, "will gay Marines bring dates?"

 A gay Marine named Mitch told the Times , "If I've got a date, I will take one."

Marines also have another question: whether two leathernecks will slow dance at the ball?

"It's going to happen one way or another,� said Robert, a field grade officer in combat service support in California, who has a partner and plans on serving openly as a gay man.

As he told the Times, "Will some Marines and family members not like it? I'm sure. But at the same time, just because they don't like it, doesn't mean they can't respect those individuals for who they are."

"Quite frankly," he added, "if that's the only thing we have to worry about in the Marine Corps, we have big problems. That should not be the focus of the Corps, period."