West Point Lesbian Culture Lesson 3: Underground Support

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West Point Lesbian Culture Lesson 3: Underground Support

Next week I’ll be returning to West Point, coming out to my commanders, and announcing my resignation from the academy. Since I’m anticipating a rough ride I thought I would provide examples of better coming out experiences during my time as a cadet.

So some background information: West Point and Annapolis have one of the oldest, most intense rivalries in collegiate sports, so the Army-Navy football game is a big deal to us. By an unexplainable act of God, I ended up in box seating. This also happened to be around the time I was discovering the underground networking of gay and lesbian military personnel. Specifically, I spent a lot of time on the Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network’s website, which featured Congressman Patrick Murphy’s Voices of Honor speaking tour back in December. Basically, Voices of Honor is a handful of veterans that travel across the country speaking out against DADT and support Congressman Murphy’s bill calling for its repeal.

So, back to the Army-Navy football game. A rather familiar face walked into the very box in which I was staying. He casually socialized with the occupants, but the tone which they addressed him was notably formal. I grasped my friend’s upper arm and asked “Who is that?”

“Murphy, I think he’s a Congressman. “

“That’s what I thought.” What are the odds, seriously.

I leaned in so he could hear me clearly. “Sir, my name is ___ and I’m familiar with your Voices of Honor tour. Thank you for what you do. It means a lot to me.”

“You’re welcome. And thank you for your service. I want you to email me so we can talk.” He handed me his card later in the football game with his personal email on the back. I’m still not sure how he wandered into our particular viewing box, but this is the serendipitous story of me coming out to Congressman Murphy.

A few months passed after that void of any epic coming out experiences, covert or otherwise. However, I kept busy by applying to other colleges and applying for LGBTQ scholarships. The one I pursued particularly aggressively required me to submit letters of recommendation within a week of being notified as a semifinalist. I saw the word “congratulations” in my inbox, confirmed my assumptions with a glance at the email, and picked up my hat and gloves before I headed out of my barracks room. I didn’t even have to think about it; I couldn’t pursue my activism any longer without help.

Five minutes later I rushed haphazardly into my professor’s office. I was sweating in my shiny, plastic Chorofram shoes, and after feeling my pulse my throat I became aware of how tight my collar was around my neck. “Ma’am, do you have a second,” as I closed her office door behind me, consciously worsening the stuffiness in the room and in my heavy wool uniform. Without waiting for a response, I seated myself. “Ma’am I’m transferring next semester. And I need a leader of recommendation in three days. For a scholarship for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students.”

“So does that mean you’re-?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re leaving because of Don’t Ask, Don’t-”

“Yes.”

She studied me for a second, asked a series of questions for clarification, and agreed to write me a letter of recommendation.

As soon as I was out of her sight, I did a little Jersey Shore fist pump in the air.

Fighting the beat back.

I just came out to my professor. I didn’t speak in code. I didn’t use leave her with any ambiguity. I just told her. I maintained my composure enough to issue a hand salute to a passing officer after letting out a sigh of relief. The very next evening I had an email from her in my box. I knew I wasn’t in this fight alone anymore. Next week, I hope my chain of command is half as receptive as Pat Murphy and my professor were.



Comments [13]

Private Second Class Citizen's picture

Thank you, VelvetPark

Your unwaivering support has been extremely encouraging. If you get the chance, I'll be in NYC next week for a panel discussion, and I would love for you all to be there.

http://www.yalegala.org/Events/2010/KnightsOutNYC.html

Take care, and thank you all once again.

 

AirForceCloset's picture

As a 20 year AF vet who has

As a 20 year AF vet who has served with the Army in more than a few overseas locations, I would have been very proud to have served under you. Good luck. 

 

wdd's picture

Congratulations

As a straight, male, West Point grad, former officer, etc etc... I could never understand what all the big deal was about being gay in the military.  I've known plenty of gay service members, and never for a moment had a problem serving beside them.  It's just unfortunate that that can't be the institutional sentiment.

Congratulations on your courage Katherine.  Such a shame that you can't continue on the path you started out on- but best of luck to you in your future endeavors.  Stand tall.    

 

Not2Taem's picture

wdd

As someone who spent many years on military bases where I did not here discriminatory comments any more often than I did in town, I am very happy to see straight folks in service supporting this issue on queer community sites. Thank you for posting.

MsMayhem's picture

Katie, As a member of the

Katie,

As a member of the Class of 2006, a Women's Army Rugger (Declare It!), and a member of Knights Out, and an out lesbian, I want to say that I am proud of you for standing up for what is right and refusing to hide. The Army is losing a leader of great character and potential, but I know that the rest of the world will benefit from your decision.

As you have articulated, and probably realized from all the support as your story makes its way around the internet, you are not alone. You and I and thousands of men and women shared experiences as LGBT members of the military that were both cruel and touching, and can never be fully understood by those that did not live them. The lying, the hiding, the accusations, the dragnets and witch hunts, the fake boyfriends and the pronoun switching...as well as the Family. It is good to see that "the Family" back at our Rockbound Highland Home is still strong and looking out for each other.

When I was finally out of the Army, I kept a promise to myself to come out publically to all of my friends still in the Army, as well as joining Knights Out. I wanted to stand as a voice and a positive example for those still closeted who have their voices silenced by DADT, and who cannot refute those like Elaine Donnelly that slander their service and honor. I am proud of you for choosing to likewise serve as an example and champion for your peers.

I know it is slightly 'toolish of me', but there were a few lines of The Corps that always came to mind when I thought about being closeted at West Point:

"Grip hands with us now, though we see not

Grip hands with us strengthen our hearts

As the long line stiffens and straightens

With the thrill that your presence imparts

Grip hands, though it be from the shadows.."

 

With Pride,

S. Smith

c/o 2006

CPT, USA (ret)

Private Second Class Citizen's picture

Thank you

Ma'am:

 

Your resuscitation of the Corps touched me. Thank you for reaching out to me. It's been a tumultuous week and a half, but people like you remind me that I'm not in this fight alone.

You know, whenever the poop-deck guy says anything about women's rugby the entire Corps still chants WAARRR!.

Hope to be in contact with you again.

 

Best,

Katie

heathr's picture

Congratulations on your character and your scholarship and Yale

I came out at Yale 20 years ago and I hope you'll find it to be a great place to learn and be yourself. You've shown more real leadership than most of what I see from the military (from the outside place that I sit). 

Being gay should be a yawner at Yale, but having been committed to the military might be different. I hope not. Don't let anyone give you any crap.

I'd love to talk to you more on my online show if and when you're willing to do an interview (heathergold.com). Thanks so much for taking a stand. Commitment and excellence speak for themselves and are part of the best kind of activism. You are making a huge difference.

Thanks to Grace for having you post this way here.

JayhawkAnne's picture

Official Resignation

I actually found this site through Towleroad's blog - http://www.towleroad.com/2010/08/top10-ranked-west-point-cadet-resigns-o... and I'm so happy I did! I've already added Velvet Park to the select list of sites that open automatically on my browser each morning. Towleroad blogged this morning about Cadet Miller's story, mentioned her posts as Private Second Class Citizen on Velvet Park and referenced her writing for the Washington Post leadership series. The post has only been online for about 90 minutes and there are a LOT of positive responses. Some of my favorite responses to the blog post, which echo my own feelings:

"Can't wait to see where this gal goes with her talent and chutzpah. She has all the integrity our government lacks."

"Brava, Katherine. Placing a high value on personal integrity and ethical conduct may have derailed her military career, but that kind of attitude will make her a success in anything she chooses to pursue from here forward."

"Integrity, brilliance, ethics and an impeccable moral code. Her remarkable valor ought to shame her West Point superiors to their marrowbones."

SMBrown's picture

Wow, I felt like I could feel

Wow, I felt like I could feel that collar tightening as well!  Do you sort of know what to expect, procedurally, once you tell your commanders?  Obviously the personal reactions will be more interesting, but just wondering if you're operating completely blind here. 

Private Second Class Citizen's picture

Thank you for the support

It means so much to me right now.

And yes, Tex, Navy did beat Army last year... I'm going to let that one go for now Smile

 

-PSCC

Tex's picture

Big smooch!

jdevil76's picture

Keep Fighting the Good Fight

Good luck and be strong.  It takes a lot of courage to speak the truth.  This policy will be repealed because not only does it undermine national security, but it's just plain violates our Constitution.  

Congressman Patrick Murphy ROCKS!  And so does every man and woman, who has and is wearing the uniform to fight for all our rights.

Semper Fi,

One of 13,500

Jules Sohn
Media Director and LGBT Women in the Military Project Coordinator
Service Women's Action Network
Jules@servicewomen.org

Tex's picture

Me too....

keep you in my thoughts! It WILL be okay. And if I remember correctly, Navy beat Army - knocked them out of a bowl. You had a good day!  

Smile

Twitter Time @kdhales