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Across nation, LGB service members celebrate end of DADT
by Chuck Colbert
2011-09-21

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Marine Corps Times cover courtesy Tony Lombardo of the Marine Corps Times


At the stroke of midnight—12:01 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 20, to be precise—"Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the nearly 18-year-old ban on openly gay military service, became history.

Now current gay, lesbian and bisexual service members, both active duty and reserve, are at liberty to come out without fear of being discharged solely for being gay.

One soldier who has come out is Sgt. 1st Class Carmen Everingham. A combat medic, the thirty-something California native, presently stationed in Sacramento, has seen duty stateside and overseas, including a deployment in Afghanistan, where she saved a Navy chief's life. Altogether, Everingham has served for 14 years in the Army and plans to make it a career.

Everingham is not only out. She is way out.

A member of OutServe, an association of more than 4,000 members, actively serving LGBT military personnel, Everingham is featured in OutServe Magazine's Sept. 20 repeal issue. There, she is spotlighted in the publication's third edition with a bio and photo—along with those of 100 other LGB men and women.

Recently, the magazine launched an interactive website ( www.OutServeMag.com ) where readers can share articles via Facebook and Twitter and order both digital and print version of the publication. The website also includes videos and member blogs. In addition, the Army and Air Force have given permission to distribute the magazine at limited base exchanges.

"Profiles of currently serving people is how OutServe chose to celebrate Sept. 20," said Sue Fulton, the association's communications director, an Army veteran and West Point alumna.

Pretty much, "the day was business as usual for active duty," Fulton said.

Meanwhile, during a recent telephone interview, Everingham said she "loves" her job and Army life.

"I love the morale within units," she explained. "Many, without my saying anything, knew about me; they knew I was gay," Everingham said. "I am a hard worker and do my job well and get a lot of respect."

"I pretty much grew up in the Army," she said. "I loved it so much that I was willing to stand by the whole 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy."

Everingham has been out to family and friends since she was 18 and enlisted under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Everingham is half Filipino on her mother's side and half English and Italian on her father's. She grew up in a "warm" close-knit family. Her father is a retired Air Force veteran. "He is one of my biggest supporters," said Everingham, along with "my mother, brothers and sister."

Why come out? "I want people to understand that I'm just a normal person but have a different sexual orientation," Everingham said. "I am the same person will do anything to save your life."

"I also want people to understand that just because you are gay, it doesn't mean you can't do your job," she explained. After all, "the whole point of military life is to do you job" and fulfill "your obligation" to serve "your country."

Sure enough, Everingham is "nervous" about her decision to come out, she said. "Maybe I can make a difference in somebody's life."

"My goal now is to take care of soldiers who are not being taken care of," she said.

Cpl. AJ Garcia, a Marine Corps rifleman, is another gay service member who has come out. Like Everingham, Garcia has also come out in a big way. He is featured in a cover story in the Sept. 19 issue of Marine Corps Times.

"We love. We bleed. We cry. We fight. At the end of the day, we're people, too," Garcia told the weekly publication. "And we want respect."

The Marine Corps Times piece has been out in print for nearly a week, with its front-cover headline, "We're gay. Get over it." Right way, the cover and story drew strong reactions. More than 700 people have responded to the piece on the Times' website. One person named Mike wrote, "The cover makes it sound like all Marines are gay." A staff sergeant wrote, "Nothing against homosexuality in the military, but the perception your cover gives about the entire Marine Corps is truly shameful."

And yet, the Times' piece covers a range of topics, including, close quarters—showers and the barracks— unit cohesion, and life after "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Over the telephone, Marine Corps Times editor Tony Lombardo said the idea for the story came from a couple of Marines who are gay. "They wrote into us and expressed their feelings about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' They were willing to come in and speak with us."

Over the course of several weeks, he said, "We had some really interesting interviews," both in person and over the phone.

"There hadn't been a lot in the press about the perspective of gay Marines, how they were feeling," Lombardo said. "We wanted to have that perspective, and that's what the story has."

For the most part, he added, "A lot of Marines are going to be pretty cautious." Initially, "Some may tell an inner circle of friends and then broaden that."

Indeed, the Marine Corps Times has struck a raw nerve. Last year, when the Pentagon surveyed troops about repeal, the Corps—more than any other service branch—was the most opposed to open service. More than 60 percent in combat arms specialties, for example, said out gays in the unit would negatively affect cohesion. Similarly, 43 percent of Marines overall said unit cohesion would suffer if gays served openly.

Marines' opposition to repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," said Tammy Schultz, an openly gay professor at Marine Corps War College in Quantico, Va., may well be based on a "rigid warrior ethos." As she told Marine Corps Times, "Marines have an almost uber-warrior mindset. The commandant has even spoken of this. They recruit based on that warrior ethos."

Moreover, "there's the perception, in many cases wrongly, that homosexuals may display more effeminate qualities that may run counter to the warrior ethos," she said.

Tradition is also important to the Marine Corps. In fact, Marines hold their traditions with reverence.

One of the most cherished of those traditions is the Birthday Ball. "It's very important to every Marine," said Lombardo, referring to the annual event held on Nov. 10 all over the world to celebrate the Marine Corps' founding on that date in 1775.

Last summer, actor/musician Justin Timberlake made entertainment news when he said that he had accepted an invitation, schedule permitting, from Cpl. Kelsey De Santis to be her date at the Birthday Ball.

"One question on Marines' mind," said Lombardo, "Will gay Marines bring dates?"

"If I've got a date, I WILL take one," a gay Marine named Mitch told the Times.

Another question Marines have is "whether two leathernecks will slow dance at the ball?"

"It's going to happen one way or another," said Robert, a field grade officer in combat service support in California, who has a partner and plans on serving openly gay.

As he told the Times, "Will some Marines and family members not like it? I'm sure. But at the same time, just because they don't like it, doesn't mean they can't respect those individuals for who they are."

"Quite frankly," he added, "if that's the only thing we have to worry about in the Marine Corps, we have big problems. That should not be the focus of the Corps, period."

�2011 Chuck Colbert. All rights reserved.


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