“This is an invisible song
From an invisible man
Lost in the wilderness
Of a static avalanche” ~ Matthew Ryan, “The World Is . . .”
If you believe as I do that DADT is repugnant and has cost the U.S. military too many dedicated men and women, then please read the following.
Jeremy’s letter has been nominated for CNN’s first ever iReport Awards. Click the link, read the story and vote for it.
Jeremy Johnson joined the Navy in 1996 and received an honorable discharge after he came out to his commanding officer in 2007. He shared the powerful letter that ended his career because he wanted others to see how coming out in the military feels.
I thought I might share the note that got me booted from the United States Navy. The CO read it very carefully and before turning it over to the JAG (legal department), asked me to reconsider. I was told that the policy would be probably be overturned soon and that I could simply take the paperwork with me like it never happened. I wish he had been right… that was almost three years ago and even with President Obama in office the enacted repeal won’t begin for at least 12 months. In the end, I did receive an Honorable discharge.
Here’s the Coming Out letter I handed my Commanding Officer:
March 6, 2007
I have served the United States Navy in an Honorable fashion since I joined in December of 1996. In ten years of service, I have made every effort to make a difference in the lives of the people I have both worked for and supervised.
At Yokota Air Base, I did my best to learn my new trade in a joint service environment and pass it on to those around me.In Italy, as a newly-frocked Third Class Petty Officer, I worked to bring an un-designated Sailor into our rate and he is now a First Class Petty Officer.
In Washington, D.C., I served a high profile tour as a broadcast “A” school instructor, not really to teach journalism, but to be at the career gateway where I could help new Sailors prepare for their lives in the active fleet once they graduated. It was one of the richest and most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
In Greece, I inherited a cable TV-based radio station with no existing “On-Air” practices and institutionalized it to DoD standards within nine months, bringing it online in time to launch the first “over-the-air” military radio station in Greece since 1995.
I am proud of all of these accomplishments. What I am not proud of however, is my forced lack of Integrity. Throughout my career, I’ve had to practice a duality that requires me to serve my country under false pretenses.
I am a homosexual American citizen and while I fight to defend the rights of free speech and a democratic legislature process, I suffer because these very same freedoms are denied to me as a gay Sailor. I can not write to my congressional members and tell them my story without risking my career.
On a regular and increasing basis, I am hearing and even reading (in shipboard e-mail) demeaning remarks and comments belittling homosexuals. While I was once willing to endure these comments and give up my otherwise constitutionally guaranteed freedom to defend myself (were I black, Asian, etc.), I now find I’m unwilling and unable to continue.
Therefore, I am respectfully requesting that you, my Commanding Officer, endorse my request to be administratively separated from the U.S. Navy on the grounds of a “homosexual statement”. (MILPERSMAN 1910-148)
I realize I’m asking for an RE-4 discharge and forfeiting the right to return to military service. This request comes because I value the Navy core values of “Honor, Courage and Commitment” more than the moral dilemma of whether to complete another year of service and accept government benefits based on another day, week or month of carrying on my life as a liar.
While I’ve remained silent, men like Army PFC Barry Winchell and Navy SN Allan Schindler, both killed by fellow service members, suffered the physical repercussions of mere perception. Men like gay Marine Sgt. Eric Alva, the first soldier to be injured in Iraq, were unable to call home to a “significant other” because they weren’t allowed to have one in the first place, let alone communicate with them. In fact, under the policy, Sgt. Alva wasn’t even allowed to mention his sexuality to friends or family.
Living with the ever-present worry of being “outed” is a sacrifice that has affected me both mentally and physically (for anxiety and lack of sleep) and unless the Navy leaves me no other options, I would like return to a civilian lifestyle.
I recently received my profile sheet from the 2007 Chief’s exam and my score was in the 91st percentile. I have made the eligibility list and I realize that I stand a decent chance of picking up E-7. However, I have no intention of submitting a “package” or even of accepting the promotion if selected.
In Italy, I worked for a Chief who had 16-years of service and was one of the most professional and outstanding khakis I’ve ever known. Unfortunately, one year after he transferred to Boston, he realized that the same sacrifice I’ve described above was too difficult for even a 17-year Sailor and worked with his Commanding Officer to exit the Navy. His CO considered him a valuable asset and she asked him to reconsider his statement, even refusing initially to let him go. By no stretch of the imagination has his discharge made his life easier, but it has made him immeasurably happier.
One of my former “A” school students, JO1 Rhonda Davis, made national headlines in 2006 for standing on the Brooklyn Bridge during a rally and announcing on the radio that she wanted equality so she could be with her Asian girlfriend. When approached by her CO, he told her that if it wasn’t her who made the comment “I’d like to marry my Japanese girlfriend” on the radio, all she had to do was deny it and the whole thing would go away. After considering for a moment, she replied, “Sir, I believe you have the facts wrong.” He asked what she meant, presumably hoping she would say that it wasn’t her. She replied, “My girlfriend is Korean.”
He laughed and though he said he would miss her dedication, he worked with her to let her exit the military under Honorable Conditions and she now works in the civilian sector… also much happier, though also notably disappointed that she gave up an 11-year military career she loved.
Regardless of geography or rank, two more years of living under these conditions would be unbearable for me. I’m losing respect for myself. Air Force Technical Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, a gay Vietnam veteran who passed away in 1988 was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. with this simple statement on his tombstone:
“When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”
It’s a contradiction and observation that describes the way I feel about my service. Wanted, yet unsupported. I awake every morning and look into the mirror at the face of a hypocrite. I know that you have the option of denying this request based on “needs of the Navy”, but I am risking humiliation and ridicule by my shipmates at this command to humbly ask for your assistance.
Please help me by giving me the opportunity to restore my dignity and my life by living it as an Honest Man.
“Freedom lies in being bold.” ~ Robert Frost
More later. Peace.
Music by Matthew Ryan, “The World Is . . .”