Kendall Bailey (right) spoke with his friend Don Davis at StoryCorps in Virginia.
Kendall Bailey joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2001. Five years later, he was a sergeant, assigned to a recruiting office in Virginia. Bailey was considering making the military his life's career. But, as he recently told his friend Don Davis, those plans changed.
"And one of the other recruiters, a staff sergeant, went through my cell phone," Bailey says. The sergeant saw text messages between Bailey and his boyfriend.
"The atmosphere at the office just changed from that point on," he says.
"So I wrote a letter to my commanding officer saying, 'You know, I'm gay.'
"And the sergeant major basically said, 'You're not gay, it's a phase; you need to go through counseling.'
"So they sent me home. I couldn't show up for work, for my safety — which I wasn't really concerned with, because I could handle my own."
The exposure of Bailey's private life brought an end to what had been a promising career. Before becoming a recruiter, he was part of Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) — one of the military units responsible for transporting the president of the United States.
Courtesy of Kendall Bailey
Kendall Bailey poses for a photo with President George W. Bush at the White House in early 2006.
Courtesy of Kendall Bailey
"When you want to do something that badly, and you've put five years of blood, sweat and tears into it, and then all of a sudden it's not really an option for you anymore — it's a hard thing to take," Bailey tells Davis.
"On my discharge paperwork, it says RE-4. And that means that I'm never, ever allowed to be in the military again. Which sucks — I mean, if I could go back, I would."
The RE-4 status code, which signals "not recommended for re-enlistment," is often given to soldiers who have gone absent without leave, or have been found to have drug or alcohol problems.
Davis asks Bailey, "How has your family responded?"
"Well, my family didn't find out I was gay until after I was discharged," Bailey says.
"I kept playing this role, as if I was still in the Marine Corps.
"My dad and my stepmother decided that something was wrong, so they decided to take a trip out here.
"At the time, I had a boyfriend. And I was like, 'Well, if I'm going to come out, I guess now is as good a time as any to do it.' So I just said, 'I got out of the Marine Corps because I was gay.'
"And my dad said, 'Uhh, yeah?' That's his answer to everything. I'm like, 'Dad it’s raining outside.' 'Uhh, yeah?' " Bailey says, as the two start laughing.
"So, it was assuring. I was happy about that," Bailey says.
"My life changed dramatically when I got out. I'm able to hang out with my boyfriend and hold hands walking down the street," he says.
"Obviously, I'm very disappointed that I can't serve. But my feelings toward the military really didn't change.
"It's just, being equal is something that I think everyone deserves. And obviously, we have a long way to go."
Produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher. The senior producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.