(Trigger Warning: Homophobic slurs)
“I stand for excellence and the fair treatment of all.” Dismissed. The last verse of the sailor’s creed was still ringing in my ear as I ran upstairs to my barracks room. Just a few more minutes of prayer.
Our orders were coming next month and I was hoping I would end up at Naval Station San Diego. My boyfriend was planning on moving south of Los Angeles. Since I couldn’t just marry him and bring him with me like straight sailors did, all I could do was pray I’d end up near where he’s going. I put my key in the door and a sheet of paper was lying right in front of my boots.
I was short of breath. Maybe I just ran too hard this morning? No. No, I was upset. Who cares what they think? No. No, I could get jumped – or worse.
I tore the note up. If anybody found out, the investigation might backfire and end up outing me. I had a career to worry about. I flushed it down the toilet. No more problem.
Two days later it was Saturday. An instructor of mine that was particularly fond of me was watching over the barracks for the day. The instructors each took a day or two a month to watch over us on weeknights and weekends so that someone was always there to keep things from getting out of hand.
He started up some friendly conversation. I felt morbid.
Should I tell him?
“Can you promise not to tell anybody about this?”
My instructor looked concerned.
He paused for a moment and said, “It depends on what you have to say. I can’t promise anything. I have to report certain things, you know, but depending on what it is I might not report it.”
He pulled me aside once and said that if I told him I was gay, he wouldn’t tell anyone. He didn’t want me to feel like I was in a cage, unable to be “out” to anyone. He was a kind, caring instructor that took a lot of interest in my development as a sailor. I still didn’t tell him, just to be safe. I figured that if he was asking, he basically knew anyway.
I told him about the note.
“I have to report this. I know you want to avoid the investigation, but if they try to turn it on you just let me know. I’ve got JAG friends. I won’t let it become a witch hunt. But honestly, shipmate, whoever wrote that note – that son-of-a-bitch – he needs to get kicked out. I don’t care what the policy is – someone who would threaten another sailor doesn’t deserve to be in my Navy.”
I had mixed feelings. I knew I’d have to answer questions on Monday from my Chief Petty Officer and my Officer in Charge. They’d want to know why I hadn’t told them first. They’d want to know why I didn’t hand them the note. Why did I have to open my big mouth? This could end my career if any fingers pointed to me saying, “He told me he’s gay.” It didn’t matter if they were credible or not. I was horrified.
They called me into the office before morning muster.
I went over the details again. They just listened. When I was finished, Chief spoke up.
“Well, first of all, I want you to know that none of us really care if you are or aren’t gay. It isn’t our business and Navy policy says so, too. If you are, please, just don’t tell us. We don’t need to know. However, this incident is pretty serious. I’d like to address this to the detachment during morning muster, but I don’t want to make things any more uncomfortable for you. Is it okay if I talk to the barracks about it?”
“Okay, then. LT and I will figure the rest out. Thank you.”
At morning muster, after attendance was called, Chief spoke briefly. He spoke in very general terms about discrimination, threats, and made it clear that anyone who was found to have done anything to intimidate or harass another sailor would be legally charged at Captain’s Mast.
There was hardly any air left in the room. Then, the lieutenant walked up. She was angry. Extremely angry. I could tell she was going to talk about the incident, too, but she wasn’t going to be as vague.
“Let’s talk about this guys. Let’s talk about discrimination in the military. I know some of you think that because we have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, that it’s okay to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Well I guess I’ve got some news for you – it’s not.”
My lieutenant, a five-foot-two Latina, was scaring the crap out of all of us. Between her rank and how she was screaming now, we were all being overpowered.
“If you have anything – anything – you want to say to somebody about being of a certain sexual orientation, about being a certain race, religion, gender – I don’t care. If you want to say it – say it to me. Apparently we have someone who likes writing hate mail to shipmates. Whoever you are, know that I will find you and you will be punished. So let this be a lesson to all of you here: if you want to tell a shipmate to Die, Fag, say it to my face first. Because guess what – you’re going to be admitting it to me at Captain’s Mast soon enough.”
We repeated the five verses of the sailor’s creed. Dismissed.
I never heard anything from anybody again. Nobody harassed me. Everyone figured it was about me, since I was the only feminine gay guy in the barracks. Some of my shipmates came up to me later to ask if the letter was written to me. I always told them the truth. They told me how angry it made them. There was an outpouring of support from my shipmates. We never found who wrote the note, but it didn’t matter.
“Nobody deserves that crap, man. You’re good at your job – nothing else should matter.”
Sometimes, the Navy really does stand for excellence and the fair treatment of all. When it does, it’s because sailors are standing with it.
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