Soldier Of Change: From The Closet To The Forefront Of The Gay Rights Movement

by Lewis Whittington

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday October 2, 2014

Soldier Of Change: From The Closet To The Forefront Of The Gay Rights Movement

Stephen Hill and Joshua Snyder had to fight to get married and had to fight to get their names officially combined. The Snyder-Hills have been on the front lines of gay activism since Stephen finished his military career. Stephen became a cause clbre just days after the repeal of the military's DADT policies, while still deployed in Iraq, when his video question to the 2011 Republican presidential candidates was broadcast during a televised debate.

While still deployed in Iraq, Snyder-Hill, who had served in two wars, asked the GOPers whether they, if elected, would reinstate DADT policy, for which he was booed by audience members. In a GOP low of lows, every candidate stood silent and let an active duty soldier be booed.

Snyder-Hill chronicles that experience and his journey as a closeted enlistee going to Desert Storm to being an out, proud gay soldier-activist in his book "Soldier of Change." Stephen and Joshua married just before Stephen was redeployed in Iraq. Later, they were plaintiffs in a class action suit for the repeal of DOMA, and continue to fight for same-sex spousal rights and benefits for military personnel and their families.

His video also meant that he was coming out to his nation and to his unit, without knowing the consequences. Candidate Rick Santorum's smug answer was to dismiss Snyder-Hill's question with his aria that "sex has no place in the military" ("Since when?," Stephen wryly asks). The book is worth it just to read how Snyder-Hill vaporizes the likes of politicians like Santorum and Michelle Bachmann, who have built careers with antigay rhetoric and campaigns to marginalize and demean gays.

It is a manifesto of a gay soldier who fought for freedoms on foreign soil, while being denied those freedoms himself. It is also Stephen's candid account of how he had to deprogram his own internalized homophobia, which in his case didn't just disappear when he finally came out to himself, his family, his friends and the military. Fortunately, his comrades in arms of every stripe, up and down the military line, stood by him after the public trashing he got.

In his great introduction, actor-activist George Takei salutes Stephen's courage and commitment to fighting for gay civil rights, but not before his blistering j'accuse against anti-gay conservatives, which starts this book off with a bang. As antigay violence and bigotry are being stoked by greedy politicians and antigay fanatics, "Soldier of Change" is a required reading and a rallying cry on the new GLBTQ front line.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.