Gay Marine Led Double-Life Under Military Policy

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy was honorably discharged from the Marines Corps under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. He talks to Steve Inskeep about his time in the service.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's hear now from one former Marine who would like to return to the service. Will Rodriguez-Kennedy was serving in Iraq when he was investigated for homosexual conduct. These days, he volunteers for the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay advocacy group. When he joined the Marines, he was 17 years old.

Mr. WILL RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY (Former U.S. Marine): I had actually went to a lot of the recruiters, and I'd spoken to prior service members, and the one that seemed to have the most pride and that seemed to have the best brand, so to speak, was definitely the Marine Corps.

INSKEEP: They advertise themselves even among the troops as the elite force, the people who are hardest on themselves and hardest on the enemy.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: Absolutely. The few and the proud.

INSKEEP: And so you wanted to challenge yourself?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: I wanted a challenge. If I was going to do this, I was going to go all the way.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk through what happened in Iraq. Where did they send you?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: For the most part, we were in the al-Anbar province, and my unit was spread out throughout there. I was, for the most part, in Ramadi.

INSKEEP: What was your position?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: Well, I was a corporal at the time. My mission was detainee operations.

INSKEEP: You were basically helping to guard these guys, or move them around when they needed to be moved?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Now, forgive me for asking a personal question, but did you know that you were gay when you joined the Marines?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: I was very young when I joined the Marines, but I sort of knew. But it wasn't a big part of my life at that time. I had discovered young that my calling was service. And this is a terrible analogy but like, if someone could do it in the clergy, for example, then I could do it in service to my country. And so I figured that the policy wouldn't affect me too much.

INSKEEP: Did it, in any way, interfere with you performing you duties?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: No. I mean, most people didn't know. So it never came up in conversation, and I was good to go.

INSKEEP: Were there people who were straight who did know and basically didn't care, also?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: Just close friends. I mean, because I had to sort of lead a double life - like, I was always concerned, well, if I don't do what the other troops do - go to a bar, or something like that - they might suspect me. So, I would make sure I'd make my appearances, but I would also have my own, personal life where I would just stay away from everyone.

INSKEEP: So how'd you get in trouble?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: Well, I was attached to an artillery battalion. So this is an all-male unit. And we were attached - a detachment of female Marines to basically deal with female detainees. One of those Marines was subordinate to me, and she made up a rumor about me. I don't know what her motivations were. I never spoke to her about it afterwards. I obviously was very hurt by her actions. She basically told someone that I had told her that I was gay - which was not true because I was not very forthcoming with the information, and only a very tight group of friends that I connected with knew.

But she made up the rumor, and that was enough for the command to start an investigation.

INSKEEP: So then they came back to you, and confronted you with what they'd learned.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: It was very vague in the sense that I was called into a room with a captain and a staff sergeant. They didn't ask me whether I was gay or not, but they asked me if I had heard the rumors that had been going around about me. They would not ask the question; they totally stuck to the policy. And then a couple days later, they said, well, I think you know what's going on, and they basically separated me from my platoon.

I was questioned by an officer. He didn't ask me if I was gay. They have a way around that. They ask you if you engage in homosexual conduct, which in my mind was the same question. So I invoked my Article 31 rights, which is pretty much what the average American would say is their Fifth Amendment rights. That probably looked good for me, at that point. Then when we returned from our deployment, they put me on a legal hold. And then several months later, I was discharged honorably.

INSKEEP: So you said you were honorably discharged.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: Yes, which I had to sort of negotiate for that. I was honorably discharged under the condition that I wouldn't fight it.

INSKEEP: Would you like to rejoin the military if you could?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: Yeah. I mean, that was my primary plan. Now, I'm going through college, and I would rejoin maybe as a reservist. But I definitely want to return to service in some capacity, for sure.

INSKEEP: Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, who was honorably discharged from the United States Marines under the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Thanks very much for taking the time.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ-KENNEDY: Thank you, Steve.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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