On September 20, Congress repealed the U.S. military's controversial, nearly 18-year-old Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy, allowing gay, lesbian and bisexual service members to put their lives on the line alongside straight soldiers without having to hide their sexual orientation.
The news signals the end of a long personal battle for service members, including Camp Pendleton -based U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Kristofer Allgary, 23, who joined the Marines because he felt he "had an obligation to humanity."
"My sexuality never even came into play; it was an afterthought," says Allgary, who has been gay for as long as he can remember and is readying for his first deployment to Afghanistan. "Having to suppress who I was didn't register because, for me, that's not what being a Marine is about. It's God, country, Corps...'boyfriend' is way down on the list."
But once in the military, Allgary found himself struggling with a double life. "There was personal/social Kris and then there was Marine/work Kris," he says. "I was a Boot [fresh out of boot camp]-stressed, angry, adjusting to the Marine environment-and having difficulty synchronizing my personalities. I was so angry for fear of being 'found out,' I formed fake friendships with other Marines to continue the facade and real friendships with civilians, who were my outlet to be free."
Navy Lieutenant Jerry Cannon, based at the Southwest Region headquarters in downtown San Diego, has spent more than 20 years in the military "closet." Married to a woman and then divorced at an early age, he explored bisexuality prior to enlisting; once he joined the Navy, his ambition-as illustrated by his current rank-trumped the pursuit of personal relationships. After 10 years, his frustration surfaced.
"I wrote a letter to my skipper saying I wanted out of the military because I was gay," Cannon says. But he never delivered it. "Ultimately, my desire to be a success outweighed honesty with myself or anyone else. I figured, 'I have 10 more years and I'll get a paycheck the rest of my life. I can be gay then.'"
Since DADT's repeal , Cannon has experienced a mild change in the demeanor of the sailors in his charge. "I don't care so much if I snap my fingers or have a GQ magazine on my desk," he says. "And I no longer have to lie to colleagues about the 'girl' I dated."
Still, the lieutenant admits that conformity and discipline will always be at the military's core. "It's not like working on Wall Street or corporate America," he says. "You sign a contract saying this is who you are and how you will act. You give up much of your personal freedom. But it's a choice you make to serve."
Lieutenant Cannon and Corporal Allgary agree: the repeal is a major step in the right direction-a victory for the LGBT community (and the military) and indicative of an ideological shift in America.
Yet political mines remain. For example, several Republican presidential candidates have gone on record with promises to "repeal the repeal."
"Without a federal constitutional ban on this kind of discrimination," Allgary says. there's no guarantee that open service is eternal."