Silenced no more, service members speak, reflect ten years later

September 20, 2021 (ST. PAUL, Minnesota) — It has been ten years since the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was repealed.

Since September 20, 2011, the Department of Defense cannot discharge service members solely based on sexual orientation.

“I joined the Army thinking I would never be able to love anyone, never be able to marry, never be able to date, and never have sex; because of DADT,” said U.S. Army Capt. Forrest Jennings, a basic branch officer recruiter for the Minnesota National Guard and the officer-in-charge of the Officer

Preparation Academy. “I chose to join out of a true desire to serve and love of my country.”

The policy was initially a way to lift the ban on gay, lesbian, bisexual service members from serving since World War II and allow them to serve in the U.S. military. The effect was that GLB service members had to keep their sexual orientation and same-gender romantic relationships a secret. Since the DADT policy’s implementation by the U.S. Congress in 1993 until its repeal in 2011, more than 13,000 service members were discharged from the armed forces for violating the policy.

“I’ve always had a strong calling to serve my country,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brandon Moore, commander of the Minnesota National Guard’s 133rd Operations Support Squadron, 133rd Airlift Wing. “I did not grow up in a military family, but I think seeing all of the good things that the military was doing and how they were respected by the general public helped to steer me in that direction.  I also believe in the ideals that our nation stands for and wanted to protect those ideals.”

Moore joined the U.S. Air Force in 2003 and started his career as an Air Force special operations command navigator for eight years.

“I was still struggling with accepting myself as a gay man when I first joined the military,” said Moore. “For the most part, I just hid who I was. Looking back, it was hard. It definitely delayed my coming out to myself.”

Ten years post-DADT, it may seem that service members would feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to their service, but that is not the case, said Jennings.

“I feel grateful for its repeal and for the progress we have made,” said Jennings. “I am also struck by how many LGBTQ+ service members are still afraid to come out. As leaders, we are called to lead all Soldiers regardless of sex, race, sexuality, or religion, and we can bring out the best in others when they are allowed to be their truest selves, when they feel safe to be who they are.”

According to Military OneSource, a Department of Defense support resource for the military community, “The fear of backlash to living openly [LGBT] is understandable, but keeping a key part of their identity secret can affect their physical and mental health.”

As a society, it is still challenging to be an LGBTQ+ person, said Moore.

“I’ve watched how society is constantly challenging LGBTQ+ rights and am concerned,” said Moore. “I watched in disbelief when the policy was changed back in 2017 regarding transgender military members serving in military.  Thankfully that was corrected, but it shows how fragile LGBTQ+ rights are.”

Everyone chooses to serve in the military for different reasons, and each person has their own reasons for staying. For Jennings, the military feels like his home, he said. The Minnesota National Guard has become his family. Serving and leading Soldiers is his passion and honor.

For Moore, his greatest accomplishment has been graduating from the U.S. Air Force Weapons Instructor Course because the challenges he faced gave him the confidence to face obstacles and to be a better leader, he said.

Both Jennings and Moore hope to see more LGBTQ+ people join the Minnesota National Guard and other military branches in the future. They say Minnesota National Guard has provided a welcoming and inclusive environment for current and future LGBTQ+ Soldiers and Airmen.

“I hope more LGBTQ+ people will join the military, and I hope more who are serving will decide to come out of the closet,” said Jennings. “We fight back against those who would have us be silent, those who would treat us as ‘less than,’ by boldly existing and exceeding the standard of what was thought possible.”

Story by Sgt. Sebastian Nemec, Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs