Active-Duty Gay Officer Reacts To DADT Repeal

JD Smith is the pseudonym of an active-duty military officer who is gay and is a co-director of OutServe, a closed social media network of gay and lesbian active duty military personnel. He speaks to NPR's Robert Siegel about the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

JD Smith is the pseudonym of an active-duty military officer who is gay and who is a co-director of OutServe. That's a self-described underground network. It's actually a closed social media network of gay and lesbian active duty military personnel.

Given the still uncertain status of a service member who comes out as gay, that is until the policy is certified and adopted, we are granting JD Smith anonymity. Thank you for talking with us today.

Mr. JD SMITH: (Co-director, OutServe): Thank you so much for having me on.

SIEGEL: And first, from your standpoint, how important is this?

Mr. SMITH: It's huge. I mean, it's a chance to actually be who you are in the military and not have to worry about watching your back constantly.

SIEGEL: Once the policy is formally revoked, when you say not watching your back, what actually will you do differently?

Mr. SMITH: I mean, I don't think much will change. The next day it'll be business as usual. I mean, for example, in my unit, I'm mainly out already to most of my unit. But it's - there's that small minority in the military that would, you know, use this policy against you, maybe get what they want or blackmail. And it's not always having to worry about maybe next day, I'll get fired for being found out by just the wrong person.

SIEGEL: But you say in your case, you're out to most of the people in your unit, including your superiors?

Mr. SMITH: Correct.

SIEGEL: And it hasn't been a problem for you?

Mr. SMITH: It has not.

SIEGEL: Here's something that our colleague who went to Quantico heard from some servicemen today, he heard people say: Look, I'm not biased against gays or lesbians, but there are a lot of others here who are. So coming out could be dangerous for them, and conceivably our immediate superiors might ignore acts of harassment or violence against them. Are you concerned about that?

Mr. SMITH: Absolutely not. And the Pentagon working group study actually proves that. When you take even the combat arms, just the Marine Corps, we saw over 80 percent of those Marines that knew somebody that was gay or lesbian in their unit were okay with it.

So I think there's some kind of, like, group-think mentality among the Marines. I mean, and the leadership sets that tone that they have to be, quote-unquote "anti-gay."

So when the leadership, you know, starts setting the tone that you will accept this, and you will respect one another, that's what will happen. But furthermore, I mean, history and this study shows us that the Marines that know people that are gay in their units just simply don't care.

SIEGEL: Do you think there are going to be a lot of conversations in the service sometime next year of saying, by the way, I'm gay, and the others saying of course, I knew that, I've always assumed as much for the past couple years?

Mr. SMITH: Well, they're already taking place. I mean, people are assuming that, you know, the wall of people coming out is going to happen when the certification process takes place. That's not the case.

As soon as the Senate passed this, regular soldiers saw the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" has happened. And so we saw - within our network, people started getting Facebook messages, congratulations, from people that didn't know - like, they weren't out to.

So, I mean, we've already seen the walls fall of "don't ask, don't tell" right now. So I think it's the matter of the certification catching up with the unit at this point.

SIEGEL: And yet whatever the technicalities might be, as I understand it, your very group, OutServe, is cautioning people not to do that.

Mr. SMITH: We caution people to be as cautious as you can. I mean, I guess I've always pushed the envelope in being out to my unit and to my friends.

SIEGEL: I assume that there are also levels of coming out. There's confiding what you're all about, and there's also, on the other hand, say, bringing a partner to a social event with people whom you work with.

Mr. SMITH: Absolutely. And, I mean, when you work in such a close environment in the military, when you start, day one, lying to everyone - and that's what you're doing. I mean, the conversations, people just think it's easy, you just don't have to talk about who you are. But, I mean, these conversations take place all the time. Do you have a girlfriend? I mean, why didn't you bring a date here? It's not "don't ask, don't tell" because you're asked constantly.

SIEGEL: So, I mean, what's the answer to all those questions? How does one answer those questions up to now?

Mr. SMITH: You either have to lie or just say, oh, I don't have any. I mean, at one point, I just decided to stop lying about it.

SIEGEL: But in part you're dealing, then, with luck of the draw as to who your officer might be or whom you'd be reporting to.

Mr. SMITH: Absolutely.

SIEGEL: Seeing as how, as you've described it, you're out to much of your own unit, what for you is the tipping point? When do you decide you will no longer be JD Smith, that you can use your own name and your own rank to describe yourself?

Mr. SMITH: Well, when - I guess when the commander-in-chief officially signs that certification, and that 60-day window is up. I think that's when my pseudonym will drop.

SIEGEL: When you feel absolutely rock-solid confident in your legal right to do that, you're saying?

Mr. SMITH: Yes.

SIEGEL: Well, JD Smith, as we shall call you, I guess, for another couple of months, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. SMITH: Thank you so much for having me on.

SIEGEL: JD Smith is an active-duty military officer. That's a pseudonym. He is a co-founder of the gay and lesbian group OutServe.

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