As a senior in high school, I made a life-changing decision; instead of going to college, I enlisted with my older brother to join the United States Army.
I joined the military for a number of reasons, but one affected that decision more than any of the others – the idea that being in a hyper-masculine organization would make me more “masculine;” that it would “set me straight.”
This idea transformed itself: beginning as a mantra, solidifying as a natural belief that affected every important aspect of my life, and embodying the lifestyle that deprived me of my integrity.
The realities of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law were harsh for the entire lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) military members secretly serving. I consider myself lucky because I did not have a partner, nor any children – who I had to pretend didn’t exist. DADT was in place my first two years of service, during which I was a single soldier living in the barracks.
The environment forced me to hide parts of my personality that could potentially “out” me to the rest of my unit. Hiding pieces of myself that were integral to my identity stripped me of my voice. Coupled with the power dynamics inherent in a strict hierarchy, I was left disadvantaged in a system that already valued time in service, rank, and position over a new soldier at the bottom of the chain. I suffered through constant sexual harassment, emotional and psychological abuse, and a ubiquitous desire to change one of the most fundamental aspects of my identity – my sexual orientation.
The environment forced me to hide parts of my personality that could potentially “out” me to the rest of my unit.
The months leading up the repeal of DADT were crucial, as I gradually accepted my sexual orientation. I soon left the Mormon Church and its strict, anti-gay policies behind. Three months later, I decided to live openly amongst family and friends, even though I had to continue to conceal my sexual orientation in my military life.
In the winter of 2011, I discovered an underground network of service members secretly serving just like me. This network, OutServe, rose to the surface and became the leading organization in the LGB military world throughout the repeal of DADT. The silence to which I grew accustomed became a distant memory as I was able to share my story and hear others share their own experiences.
The 2012 “Our Families Matter” summit, hosted by OutServe, launched my career in activism. I regained my voice as I told my story to several Members of Congress in our nation’s capital, and I was able to advocate for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). I began my career in the LGB military world as the New York/New Jersey/Eastern Pennsylvania Regional Director, to my current position as an Education Program Manager for LGB military spouses and partners.
Along the way, I have had the opportunity to share my story in a number of venues. I spoke with young cadets who were afraid of being themselves at the United States Military Academy at West Point, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender veterans who did not have the opportunity that I did to be open about who they were while they were in uniform. I received overwhelming support from the veterans present at my speech, and inspiring stories from cadets who were going to live up to their full potential by being honest.
I started as a closeted soldier, accepted and celebrated my identity, and now I am married to a Navy Veteran and activist who shares the same passions that I do. I have used my experience to critically reflect on civil rights, and I have come to understand the need for every citizen to become active in shaping the policies that affect our lives. There are many ways to become an activist, but none launch you into that world more powerfully than personal experience.
About the Author: Colin Blevins is an undergraduate student at the University of Colorado Denver. He is pursuing a degree in Political Science with a certificate in Democracy and Social Movements. His academic interests include political theory, social movements, and human rights. He is the co-founder and former President of the International Studies Club at the University of Colorado Denver. He has worked for LGBT military nonprofits since 2011 and currently serves in the United States Army Reserve.