Pride in the Armed Forces - At Last
Rome, Italy was my first Gay Pride event. I was 26, newly relocated to the country, and was scared out of my mind. As one could imagine, Pride in Rome is an extravaganza.
I was scared because, at the time, I was an active duty sailor serving with a NATO command and was suddenly surrounded by hundreds of TV cameras, photographers, and would-be Youtubers, who were documenting it all. "What would happen if someone saw me on TV?" I thought. The answer was clear: I’d be booted out for violating "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell," the military’s discriminatory policy on gays serving openly in the armed forces.
Gay Pride, at its core, is really about living ’out’ loud. The constraints of DADT made it especially difficult. It actually messes with your mind. Be proud; but not too much. Show your Pride; but on the inside. Wish others a "Happy Pride;" but use your inside voice.
In 2006, when I boarded a train from Naples, Italy bound for Rome, I felt as though I could get away from the suffocating pronoun game of changing all of the "he’s" to "she’s" when talking with my shipmates and -- maybe, just maybe -- I’d be able to wave a Pride flag and shout out to the world, "I am gay! I am Proud!"
The truth is, I could’ have. I just didn’t know it at the time. Back then, I was a bit conflicted because of DADT. Not much intimidated me (boot camp and some time in the fleet will toughen you up faster than you can say "nut-up sailor!") but losing my naval career and benefits wasn’t on my bucket list.
The conflict was that, up until a year later when I met the right group of gay service members -- each more different and outrageous than the last -- I had a very narrow Gay Pride worldview. I was never going to be one of those rainbow flag waving queers I saw on the news during Pride events I’d told myself years before. Yet, suddenly, in Rome, I wanted so badly to be one.
Luckily, no one saw me that year ... or the year after and the year after that. I wasn’t truly able to share in the joy of Pride until I became a civilian and moved to Seattle in 2009 where I didn’t have to look over my shoulder and I could live out and proud without fear of retribution.