The percentage of American men and women who take the oath to protect and defend the United States and the American way of life: 1%.

These soldiers work day in and day out to ensure that our rights are protected. The work is often long and grueling. Then there are the sacrifices. Giving their lives is the ultimate price they might pay for our freedoms. Rarely do we think of the extra sacrifices made closer to home.

The repeal of Department of Defense Directive 1304.26, “Don't Ask Don't Tell,” has brought about a great era in the advancement in the battle for service members’ equal rights. But there is a long way left to go. As an Army soldier who has dealt with disappointment arising from military life, I wanted to see how my peers felt about the current battle for equality. Shianne Mack (Army Specialist, Active Duty, 22) and Erick Matthews (Army Specialist, Active Duty, 30) were willing to offer some insight into issues—particularly social—still facing LGBT service people, based on their own personal experiences.

 

O&AN: Have you ever been discriminated against in a military setting because of your sexuality?

Shianne: No. I don’t think anyone knows about my sexuality.

Erick: I haven’t experienced it directly, but there was a time when I was in basic training…and the drill sergeant—who was our supposed Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) representative—was giving us an informal chat on sexual harassment. Well, during his briefing, he paused for a moment and then continued on to say “effing faggots. You can't trust em.”….You could tell that it was from his heart, because he paused, said it, paused again, then shook his head and continued on with what he was saying. At that point, I didn’t care what he had to say anymore: I was offended.

O&AN: No, I totally understand. I would be, too. So, what did you do next?

Erick: I removed myself from the situation…[and later] I went and spoke to our main drill sergeant…. So after our talk we went on to the Equal Opportunity (EO) Sergeant…. The EO sergeant’s superior, an E8, wanted the whole situation swept under the rug. He said, “This is something that could ruin someone’s career. This is a small slip up that could ruin his life. Get him kicked out of the military. He has a wife and kids, and you want to do this over something he probably didn’t even mean to say? He will personally apologize to you in front of the whole company…” (yes, he said he would do this), “if you would just let it go.” At that point I felt like my feelings didn’t matter. They just wanted to sweep it all under the rug and let it go. They even went on to say that this is something that would follow me for the rest of my career. That I would have a packet saying that I was a person who got someone kicked out of the military for this reason. So, eventually I did let it go, I didn’t accept his apology, and I just went on to AIT and my first unit. I haven’t had any negative backlash here for my sexuality or what I like, I guess.

O&AN: Now, you say you’ve never found any negativity towards your sexuality here at Ft. Campbell. Does your unit know?

Erick: Yes.

Shianne: Well, like I tell everyone, it’s none of their business. I mean people say to me, “Oh, you can tell me.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I probably could.” But that’s my personal life. That has nothing to do with my job performance, nor will it.

O&AN: So, you feel that if they knew, they would treat you differently?

Shianne: I don’t think they would, but secretly I feel like they would.

O&AN: Do you think that’s because of a stigma in the military? Even after the repeal of DADT?

Shianne: Of course. Some people think that just because a man likes a man, that makes him less of a man. NO! Incorrect…. I disagree, but until we change the mindset of the Army as a whole, we won’t get rid of that stigma.

O&AN: How do you feel about marriage equality and where it stands in the military currently?

Erick: I do know two couples who are same sex and married in the military. One is a lesbian couple and the other couple is a male couple. The two males met on this past deployment and ended up getting married when they got back. The female couple I know personally, and they received time to go get married because [they had to go out of] state. They received time for a honeymoon, and I believe they are receiving full benefits. They’re happy about it; so far I haven’t heard any complaints from them.

O&AN: How is the dating scene, being in the military?

Erick: The dating scene in the military sucks…. Military guys are usually like, “Yes, I’m gay, but only a select few people know.” Then you have those that are like, “Yes, I’m gay, but I’m still in the closet, and I can only be with another guy who can portray that straight outer façade.”….I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud to be black, I’m proud to be Christian, I’m proud to be gay, I’m proud to be in the military. Why would I sit there and sacrifice who I am just to be with somebody else?….I won’t fake who I am to be with someone else.

O&AN: You shouldn’t have to! Now, is this your first duty station?

Erick: Yes, and…I’m from the north, where you could walk down any street and get hit on by a couple of guys, one being black, one being white, one being Asian, before you get to where you are going…. [Here] it’s like, “Yeah, you have a great personality, and I could see us being great friends, BUT I don’t date black guys.” The thing with that is that it’s not just the white guys that say that: it’s also other black guys. It’s just strange because where I come from, that doesn’t happen.

O&AN: Okay. That’s not specifically military, but the military doesn’t exactly ask you where you want to be stationed!

Erick: Definitely.

O&AN: How is raising a child as a single, gay parent in the military? I couldn’t even imagine!

Erick: I sacrifice a lot of my own needs and wants to ensure that she is raised correctly. It does weigh down on you. You’re a single parent. All your other friends are going out to parties and having fun, because they don’t have the responsibilities of parenthood. It also makes it harder to date because you’re the single parent who’s not against meeting somebody but…you’re gay and out in the military with a kid. So, that lowers the group of people that you could choose from.

O&AN: So, the military aspect complicates it even more?

Erick: Dating in the military for gays just [adds] so much more stress on it. If you meet a civilian, [then] they live in this area, so when you get stationed somewhere else the odds are slim you will see them again. If they are military as well, when you get stationed somewhere else it’s not guaranteed that they will be stationed there. So it’s like a “don’t get emotionally attached” type of thing because you’ll be leaving soon.

O&AN: Have you dated at all while you’ve been in the military?

Erick: Um…ha. No.

O&AN: Looking forward at the military’s advancement with Equal Opportunity, where would you like to see us head? Would you say it’s gotten better since you joined the Army?

Erick: I have heard stories of how [people]…were excessively teased or pushed to the point where you admitted to being gay so that they could kick you out. Now, however, I get back to work from a weekend, and my coworkers ask me how my weekend was, and I’m like, “It was good. I went to the gay club and danced with this other guy.” They’re like, “Oh, sounds like a great weekend.”… I have great faith in the change that is happening in the military. Hopefully, it will be able to have a greater [effect] on not just the United States but the rest of the world.

 

 

 

 

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