LGBT Clubs Thrive at Post-DADT U.S. Military Academies
They are hailed as the best and the brightest that the nation has to offer our citizens. They are trained and educated in the ways of war, diplomacy, and strategy. They are the graduates of U.S. military academies. And some of them identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual. Up until last September, when the repeal of the discriminatory military ban on open gay service, "Don't Ask Don't Tell" took place, they trained -- and served -- in silence. Now, all that has changed.
In the wake of DADT repeal, Knights Out (West Point, Army), the Blue Alliance (Air Force Academy LGBT Alumni) and USNA Out (Naval Academy) have stepped up their presence and influence in and around military academies, proving that the attitude towards openly LGB officer and enlisted is evolving.
"Gay-Straight organizations are important at the academies for visibility, so that people understand that yes, there are gays and lesbians at West Point," Sue Fulton, executive director for Knights Out and West Point '80 graduate, told EDGE. "In the military, like other organizations, everyone is assumed to be straight unless they say otherwise. And people who say they don't know anyone who's gay are much more likely to feel negatively about gays and lesbians, and not respect them as equals. So visibility is important."
Preparing to Lead Gay & Straight Armed Forces
Renowned as one of the world's preeminent leader development institutions, the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., a historic town 80 miles north of New York City, sees its mission as one to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of "Duty, Honor, Country." The student body, known as the Corps of Cadets, numbers 4,400 and each year approximately 1,000 cadets join the Long Gray Line as they graduate and are commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army.
"It's also important for gay and lesbian cadets and officers to live their lives with integrity and honesty, and be role models so that others understand that we are serving beside you, we are soldiers like you, we're in this together," said Fulton.
Cadets at West Point are preparing to lead an Army that includes gay men and lesbians as well as people from many diverse backgrounds. "Gay-straight organizations foster understanding between people that overcomes the myths and prejudices that can cause problems in a military unit," Fulton points out.
Trish Heller, executive director for the Blue Alliance and a 1987 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Col., graduate told EDGE, "We facilitate peer support, professional networking, and mentorship among LGBT alumni of the US Air Force Academy. We promote respect, through education and advocacy, for LGBT individuals at the Air Force Academy, within the academy's alumni community, and throughout the entire United States Air Force."
Still, for those who aren't yet keen on letting the world (or the Service) know they are gay, Heller says the Blue Alliance "maintains a framework of safety that protects the privacy needs of each individual participant and does not disclose information about them."
Blue Alliance is an organization of over 150 proud U. S. Air Force Academy alumni who are LGBT. "We are dedicated to doing our part to support the mission of the U. S. Air Force Academy in providing excellence in the development and training of our nation's future leaders," say officials. "We also strive for providing a path for 'reconnection' for the many LGBT USAFA alumni who have over time been disassociated from the Academy and the AOG because of their sexuality or gender identity."