Last week history was made. President Obama signed the repeal of DADT into law. This was an especially meaningful moment for me as a former gay member of the military and as a vocal advocate for repeal for several years.
My military experience as a gay male became a cornerstone of my life and psyche. Forsaking two full four year scholarships to outstanding universities, I decided instead to join the military. Knowing at the time that I was gay, I made the difficult decision to lie on my enlistment application. I joined the Air Force in a time beset by the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of social change within our country.
My military career as a Personnel Specialist started at the 615th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron in Neubruecke, Germany; a bit of a homecoming for me as I had spent my formulative years in Germany as a military brat, and had just returned to the States less than two years earlier. A small, tight-knight unit housed in an old Army hospital from the post-war period, we worked alongside NATO forces, Canadian Air Force, and the Army protecting and serving our country. It literally was a facility where everyone knew his fellow soldier.
During my years here I enjoyed great success in my military career, having been selected as the unit’s Airman of the Year and was one of four nominated for the command-wide USAFE (United States Armed Forces Europe) Airman of the Year. My personal life was also rewarding me with the completion of my college education through the University of Maryland and a formulative relationship with my best friend whom I care for deeply to this date.
Following my tour in Germany, I was assigned to Ellsworth AFB, in South Dakota. Continuing to be involved in the community and matters that involved my fellow soldiers, I was elected President of the base’s Air Force Sergeant’s Association, and (thanks to my language skills) was nominated for a special duty assignment with HUMINT, located at the Pentagon.
Later, I was transferred to Eglin AFB in sunny Florida, and spent the remaining four years of my military career there. It was during this period that I began to embrace the fact that I was gay, and without a stable relationship since I left Germany, I immersed myself in what I found to be a fairly large gay community in the Fort Walton Beach area. A community composed of civilians and an alarming (to a young me) number of active duty, former military, and retired Air Force members.
Of the one hundred or so Air Force personnel at the Consolidated Base Personnel Office (CBPO) where I worked, there were nearly ten of us who were gay, including the Chief of Personal Affairs and the Chief of the CBPO, a Major.
For many years as a Personnel Technician in the Air Force my job was to process administrative discharges for cause. Some of these were otherwise outstanding men and women, discharged for being gay. Of them, a few just “wanted out”. Others accepted their fate and were willing to move on. Some were the targets of “witch hunts”, and were exposed to the full impact of homophobia in the military. Those I knew, I spoke with at length about my trepidation and the implied hypocrisy of my position in processing their discharge. We agreed that I was merely doing my “job”, and I had to be convinced several times to not speak out as it would affect my career.
I left the military and moved on with my life. Over the years, the fact that I was gay became less of a “chore”. That may be an unusual statement to make, but you must understand first that my entire life, up to this point, revolved around keeping my sexual orientation a secret from authorities: My family, led by a career military man; and the military, led by the institutionalized homophobia fueled by ignorance.
To say that being free from these constraints of society was challenging would be an understatement. On two occasions I was the victim of extreme hate in the form of gay-bashing, with the last incident leaving me seriously injured, physically and mentally, at the hands of a law enforcement officer attending training at the FLETC in Brunswick, Georgia.
As a result, I’ve become increasingly an advocate for gay rights and equality. More so after someone (a former Navy enlisted man) had the following statements to say (on an internet forum) about me a few years ago:
With those assumptions… and your own admission… I can safely say that you falsified government documents to gain employement in a government position under false pretenses. That is a federal crime.
…a guy who admittedly broke the law and lied to his government for almost 2 full decades.
Howey is a guy that illegally served in the military.
The fact that you lied to your employer and broke the law for your entire career.
A man can not serve his country while breaking the laws of the land.
…gay person that made a false statement to gain employment with the government commited a federal crime.
If someone lies about their eligibility to serve, it is fraud.
…you are a liar and should be in jail for defrauding the United States government of money you don’t rightfully deserve.
I’m glad to see current service members don’t agree with those statements, as well as our Service Chiefs, Congress, and a majority of Americans. What I see is the opportunity for gay men and women to continue serving for, and dying for, their country without fear of reprisal and shame merely because they happen to love someone of the same sex.
The President is correct.