Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor
About WCMG Publications News  Entertainment Features Donate Bars & Clubs Calendar Archives OUT! Guide    Marriage



LGBTQ HISTORY MONTH: United States Naval Academy evolves with LGBTQ acceptance
By Jeremy Rodriguez

This article shared 1534 times since Thu Oct 1, 2020
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Before graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1985, Paula Neira had difficulties accepting she was trans.

"I was fighting this internal battle, but asking for help would've gotten me kicked out," Neira said.

Steve Clark Hall, a gay graduate from the class of 1975, said he knew gay classmates who were kicked out of the Academy and could not return home to the families who disowned them.

"If you were gay [back then], it was the worst, most despicable, disgusting thing," Hall said of society's views at the time.

Up until 2011, it was difficult to be openly LGBTQ at USNA, which has roughly 4,500 students who go on to become military officers after their time in Annapolis.

However, with increasing acceptance of LGBTQ people in mainstream culture, USNA students are experiencing a different environment. The Academy now boasts an LGBTQ alumni association for graduates, a Genders and Sexualities Alliance club for current students, and an overall supportive atmosphere.

The Road to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Joseph Steffan was among the students who had similar experiences to Neira and Hall. Steffan was forced to resign in April 1987 — two months before his graduation — after Academy officials learned he was gay. According to a 1989 story in the Philadelphia Gay News, he said his father did not immediately accept his sexuality.

"It was my father's dream, my going to the Academy," Steffan said at the time. "He was very crushed, hysterical with me over the phone. I was afraid he'd have a nervous breakdown."

"But he's turned around 180 degrees," he added. "It's just a process of learning."

Steffan sued the Department of Defense and asked for reinstatement, but he ended up losing the legal battle in 1994. He wrote about his experience of getting kicked out of the Academy in a 1988 New York Times op-ed. In the piece, he noted he was one of the 10 highest-ranking midshipmen at the Academy and had excellent performance and conduct records.

"I was immediately forced to resign, weeks before graduation, and was denied the opportunity to complete my degree and serve in the capacity for which I had been trained at a cost of over $110,000," Steffan wrote.

Steffan added that this "sanctioned prejudice is unconscionable" and that one's sexuality does not affect their ability to serve.

"It is obvious to me that the real problem is not homosexuality, but rather, the military's open and officially supported prejudice against homosexuals who have the desire and capability to serve their country."

Despite these feelings, Steffan told PGN at the time that he would have returned to the military without hesitation.

"I believe in the service," he said. "I believe in the need for a capable and strong military."

Not long after Steffan's dismissal from the Academy, a new era began for gay servicepeople. On Dec. 21, 1993, President Bill Clinton issued Defense Directive 1304.26, otherwise known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Through this directive, servicepeople were not required to disclose their sexual orientation and others were not permitted to ask them.

Hall noted how this policy created a set of rules to keep servicepeople safe.

"It was OK to be gay as long as you didn't say, 'I am gay,'" he said of the mentality at the time. "So all of a sudden, it was OK to be gay as long as you didn't tell about it. And [others] weren't allowed to ask you."

While this was seen as progress at the time, Hall pointed out how part of Clinton's platform was to allow gays, lesbians and bisexuals to openly serve in the military. However, the directive "didn't go far enough."

"When Clinton promised you could be openly gay, I was planning on being openly gay [while serving]," he said. "But it didn't happen."

Making themselves visible

Shortly before DADT went into effect, LGBTQ alumni of the Academy started to have the courage to come out. This resulted in former midshipmen and cadets founding the Service Academy Gay & Lesbian Alumni ( SAGALA ) network in 1991. Through 2011, it was the primary social network of the Academy's LGBTQ alumni, midshipmen, cadets and commissioned officers continuing to serve on active duty.

However, the group was still separate from the United States Naval Academy. This inspired Jeff Petrie and 31 SAGALA members to form USNA Out in 2003.

"The purpose was to reconnect with the Naval Academy, to network with other LGBTQ alumni and to advocate for change in the Navy," said Neira, one of the group's founding members.

Hall, another founding member, noted they also formed the group to let the alumni association know the Naval Academy had LGBTQ graduates.

"The number-one reason it existed is to let everybody know, 'We're here,'" he said.

USNA Out applied for recognition as an official chapter of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association on Nov. 11, 2003 but their proposed bylaws contained mission objectives that were counter to the association's mission. The USNA Alumni Association Board of Trustees then unanimously rejected the application three weeks later on the grounds that it was a "special interest chapter" and "not geographically based."

The group then took the guidance from the rejection and formed the chapter in the Castro of San Francisco to make it "geographically based."

"The Board of Trustees said that our sexuality was never considered in their decision to reject us," Petrie told the Washington Post in a November 2004 interview. "Now, we get to put that statement to the test. We just want to support our alma mater openly and honestly."

The board rejected USNA Out's application the following month, claiming it was due to the group being part of a special-interest chapter and because many members did not have a primary residence in the Castro.

However, these rejections did not stop USNA Out from making accomplishments in promoting LGBTQ visibility at the Academy. The GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco opened a "Gays in the Military" exhibit, which featured several USNA Out members on display. After noticing the interest in the exhibit, Hall began a project profiling the group's members called "Faces of USNA Out" in June 2007. The project then became the "OUT of ANNAPOLIS" project, a documentary film about the Naval Academy's LGBTQ alumni.

"You don't want to be invisible," Hall said of his motivation to make the film.

In March 2009, the members attended a national meeting of alumni to discuss the future of USNA Out and as a result, they were incorporated as a 501( c )( 3 ) nonprofit in Maryland later that September.

Finally, a little over a year later, the group was present during a historic moment for LGBTQ individuals in the military. USNA Out founding member Navy Cmdr. Zoe Dunning stood by President Barack Obama's side when he signed the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on Dec. 22, 2010.

Safe Spaces for LGBTQ Students

While USNA Out was specifically for alumni, its mission still reached students currently attending the United States Naval Academy. Fabian Ortiz, a 2009 graduate, read a newspaper article about Petrie and USNA Out while attending the Academy.

"As soon as I read this article, I just felt like my whole world changed," Ortiz said. "I felt like I had support. I felt like I wasn't alone and I understood that there were other gay people out there."

Ortiz then tracked down Petrie's contact info and gave him a call. From there, Petrie mentored Ortiz and set him up with other LGBTQ mentors within the Academy. This experience made Ortiz feel lucky to have a strong support system.

However, Ortiz soon recognized his privileges. After losing two friends to suicide, he became more aware of how sadness can impact one's life. This made him take a closer look at the military and it's effect on LGBTQ students at the Academy.

"I started noticing throughout life that the military can psychologically hurt people," Ortiz said. "Now I understand that the numbers are higher for suicide within the military, but being gay and in the military definitely would spike those numbers even higher."

Other students also started coming out to Ortiz in confidence.

"They were petrified that they were going to be kicked out of the Naval Academy, so then it started hitting me that not everybody is like me," he said. "I wanted to do something to get everybody to know each other and to offer a stronger support group."

Ortiz organized a private dinner for a closely guarded guest list of about two dozen gay midshipmen and alumni. He catered the dinner and used his midshipmen loan to book a room at an Annapolis condominium. The dinner quietly became an annual tradition for a small group of people until the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." That first dinner after the repeal had nearly 100 guests.

A 'Spectrum' of Changes

While these initiatives helped LGBTQ students and alumni outside of the Academy, there still needed to be changes within the Academy's walls. Those changes began when a small group of students formed Navy Spectrum, the Genders and Sexualities Alliance club for the United States Naval Academy.

"We knew [this club] would be cool for midshipmen to feel comfortable in that environment and also for other midshipmen to learn about the LGBT community and create an atmosphere where people felt safe," said Kris Moore, one of the club's founding members.

The 2014 graduate said the club was a great way to interact with others "about your personal life and not have to worry about padding anything here or there." However, the Academy still needed to make progress with acceptance of trans people. Moore, who is also a trans man but didn't come out as such until after he graduated, said he received some pushback from senior midshipmen about including trans education in the club.

"Of course they were like, 'this isn't a political group.' I was like, 'There's nothing political about it. It's human rights,'" Moore said. "I think slowly over time, the more people started understanding the trans community, the more they started to relate with it. I think that's how slowly over time, they became part of Spectrum."

These trans education initiatives continue to be a part of Spectrum's goals. Current President Lorne Beerman, who will graduate in May, said in an email that before the military's trans ban, the club hosted a brief with a transgender advocate lawyer, who provided tools to help trans midshipmen stay at the Academy and commission to be a military officer.

Beerman also noted how one club member took a small step recently by including her pronouns in a student-wide email.

"All of us, including faculty and staff, can make a small step in normalizing the discussion about gender identity and expression by including our preferred pronouns in our introductions in conversations and in our email signatures," he said. "I cannot wait for the Spectrum team and I to host club events that have more productive conversations like these. I believe these efforts will improve general acceptance and create a more welcoming environment for all LGBTQ+ midshipmen."

Moving forward, Beerman said he would like to increase general knowledge about people who outwardly identify as non-binary or agender. The club currently discusses what it means to be genderfluid and why people use they/them pronouns, but no current members identify in these ways.

"The male/female dichotomy in the military is stronger than at the average liberal-arts school because of strict male and female differences in grooming standards, uniforms, physical-test standards, sports teams, room assignments, etc.," he said.

"There is a feeling of otherness towards people who deviate from the gender binary because there is little exposure of 'out' gender nonbinary students among the student body."

However, even though changes still need to be made, it seems like students now have a stronger support system at the United States Naval Academy.

"The most rewarding part is helping members learn more about their own identity and accept themselves, and support them if they make the tough decision to come out to their family," Beerman said. "Our group's solidarity helps us feel accepted and supported."

This article shared 1534 times since Thu Oct 1, 2020
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

Lawsuit filed regarding trans exclusion for health benefits
Lambda Legal and Sirianni Youtz Spoonemore Hamburger PLLC filed a federal lawsuit challenging Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois' (BCBSIL's) administration of a blanket exclusion of gender-affirming care in an ...

Gay News

NATIONAL Conversion therapy, LGBTQ deaths, Pantene, Ralph Lauren
A federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling and struck down local ordinances prohibiting licensed therapists from practicing the debunked "conversion therapy" on minors, reported. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ...

Gay News

WORLD European Union, groundbreaking case, Caster Semenya
The European Union announced its first strategy to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people, noted. Many saw the development as a response to the rising anti-LGBTQ+ hate and rhetoric in Poland and Hungary. The new ...

Gay News

11th Circuit Court rules on conversion therapy protections, groups respond
--From a press release - ATLANTA, GA — Today, in a split decision, a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit issued a decision today striking down local laws in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County, Florida protecting minors from undergoing conversion ...

Gay News

GLAAD: 81% of LGBTQs voted for Biden
GLAAD released the findings of its 2020 Post-election Poll of LGBTQ registered voters. The findings included a phenomenal turnout of the LGBTQ vote, a surge of first-time LGBTQ voters, an overwhelming vote for President-elect Joe Biden, ...

Gay News

Lopez's office vandalized again
A brick was thrown through the front window of Chicago Ald. Raymond Lopez's Southwest Side office Nov. 19—the fourth instance of vandalism targeting his properties this year (including three times in July), The Chicago Sun-Times reported. ...

Gay News

Lambda Legal files diversity-based suit against Trump executive order
On Nov. 16, Lambda Legal urged a federal district court to bar the Trump administration from implementing its recent executive order that prohibits federal contractors and grantees from conducting workplace diversity trainings or engaging in grant-funded ...

Gay News

Hate crimes rise to highest level in a decade
The FBI revealed that hate-crime reports in the United States surged in 2019 to the highest level since 2008, reported. The new figures indicate that hate crimes reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies ...

Gay News

National Black Justice Coalition welcomes new directors
--From a press release - WASHINGTON, DC — This week, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) announced two new senior level hires, Victoria Kirby York, MPA, and Dr. Kia Darling-Hammond. Their leadership and experience will ...

Gay News

NATIONAL Political news, gay adoptive father, judges, Houston bar
Adrian Tam, a 28-year-old gay Asian American son of immigrants, defeated a leader of the Hawaii chapter of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, to become the only openly LGBTQ person in Hawaii's legislature, NBC ...

Gay News

WORLD Trans deaths, China census, Rob Halford, Hungary measure
Globally, at least 350 transgender people have been killed this year (2020)—a figure that has risen since last year's total of 331, Forbes noted. The annual list, released for Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov. 20) by ...

Gay News

Civil rights, LGBT groups challenge extreme punishment of gay man for texts
--From a press release - NEW YORK, NY — On Nov. 9, 2020, the Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP) filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of Virginia in support of Galen Baughman, a young gay man at ...

Gay News

Healthcare for tens of millions, including LGBT elders, at stake in Supreme Court hearing
--From a SAGE press release - Today, the Supreme Court hears yet another case challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This challenge takes up whether eliminating the penalty for not having health insurance makes the individual ...

Gay News

Number of COVID-19 cases among Cook County Circuit Court employees updated
The Office of the Chief Judge has announced that four employees and two judges have tested positive for COVID-19. One judge works at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, while the other judge works in the Cook County ...

Gay News

NATIONAL Stonewall march, lawsuits, electoral items
A peaceful "We Choose Freedom" march that started at the Stonewall Inn descended into violence as police arrested marchers for a second consecutive night on Nov. 5, reported. Multiple videos of the scuffles with police ...


Copyright © 2020 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.







About WCMG Publications News  Entertainment Features Donate Bars & Clubs Calendar Archives OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.