RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
One change President Obama promised in the 2008 campaign was to undo Don't Ask Don't Tell. And now that hes gotten to it, some gays who were once in uniform are stepping forward to tell their stories. Many have been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation.
NPRs Ina Jaffe introduces us to two who served proudly until they were forced out.
INA JAFFE: In a tailored black pantsuit and crisp blue shirt, Julianne Sohn could be any office worker in downtown L.A., only the bulge made by the gun on her right hip gives her away as a police officer. She used to be a Marine. She went into the Corps officer training program right out of college, though she knew that being bisexual might make that complicated.
Ms. JULIANNE SOHN (Police Officer): Serving my country was a huge honor, and I was willing to sacrifice my personal life to go into the Marine Corps.
JAFFE: Where she served four years on active duty, rising to the rank of captain, and four years in the reserves. That included a tour of duty as a public affairs officer in Iraq escorting journalists around Fallujah. Now seated on a bench in the Plaza in front of LAPD headquarters, Sohn explains that the dont ask, dont tell policy was different in practice than on paper.
Ms. SOHN: I was out to some of close friends. These are lieutenants and captains, but a lot of them didnt care. All that really matter is just getting the job done.
JAFFE: So she eventually became comfortable enough to begin talking to college groups about serving under Dont Ask Dont Tell. She figures it was a news clip about one of those talks that led to her forced resignation. But she told her military lawyer that she would not sign the standard document.
Ms. SOHN: Because I want to be a Marine. This thing says that I dont want to be a Marine. And Im like, I'm going to write whatever I please because, at this point, you know, there's no point in lying about anything, you know. So, sorry.
JAFFE: We sit for a while till her tears stop.
Ms. SOHN: I wrote my own letter basically stating that, yes, I wanted to stay in the Marine Corps. And if the Marine Corps finds a public affairs officer, who actually has a masters in journalism and has done a tour of duty in Iraq and who graduated at the top of her class at LAPD as somebody who's not qualified, then so be it.
JAFFE: But job qualifications aren't the issue. In 2008, when Anthony Loverde left the Air Force, the military lost a staff sergeant who was an expert at calibrating weapons systems and had been in charge of cargo on 60 flights into Iraq. Then, after seven years in the Air Force, he went into his commander's office and outed himself.
Mr. ANTHONY LOVERDE: Because I just didn't believe any longer that it was appropriate for me to continue to tap dance around the subject. And I thought I was being dishonest to my crew members.
JAFFE: It took Loverde some time to get to this point in his life. When he'd enlisted at the age of 20, he was fighting the idea that he was gay.
Mr. LOVERDE: I actually thought the military would teach me so much discipline that I'd be able to control myself and not be gay.
JAFFE: It was the many gay service members he met after enlisting in the Air Force who helped him find his sexual identity.
Mr. LOVERDE: So when I entered, I thought it was going to help me stay on the straight path. But, in essence, it just made me more gay.
(Soundbite of laughter)
JAFFE: When Loverde left the Air Force, he was hired immediately by military contractor, KBR. He was sent to Iraq, Afghanistan and Washington, D.C., to do roughly the same job he'd had in the service.
Mr. LOVERDE: Everyone was very welcoming to me being openly gay. And this time, as a civilian, I didn't have to pretend, you know, and it was very liberating.
JAFFE: Now, Loverde's trying to find a new path in life. He's working on a MSA degree in photography in San Francisco. His little apartment is strewn with photographic equipment and black-and-white shots of gay service members in uniform.
Mr. LOVERDE: I'm taking their portraits in a way that conceals their identity, but shows their patriotism and service.
JAFFE: Loverde has been intensely following the debate on the possible repeal of don't ask, don't tell taking place in Washington.
Mr. LOVERDE: I want to be hopeful, but I'm also a pessimistic person. So Im not holding my breath.
JAFFE: But he knows exactly what he'd do if don't ask, dont tell were repealed: He'd reenlist in the Air Force without hesitation.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.