The XX Factor

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Gay Marriage … and Those Uniforms!

Jess, the Q&A segment of the pro-life feminism panel you attended yesterday sounds like the most interesting part. That was the case, too, at an event I attended in New York on Wednesday honoring Katie Miller and Jonathan Hopkins. Miller is the lesbian West Point ’12 student who just outed herself and withdrew from the academy rather than graduate and serve under “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Hopkins is an ‘01 grad who didn’t come out until after leaving what he called the “fish bowl” of West Point but went on to serve three tours of duty as a decorated, closeted infantry officer. He was informed in the summer of 2009 that he was up for promotion to the rank of major a year ahead of schedule and that his sexual orientation was under investigation. As a result of that investigation, he was discharged last week .

As Miller and Hopkins told their stories, there were actually a few light-hearted moments, like when the 20-year-old Miller stated that she was “able to network almost immediately with the lesbians at West Point.” (“It’s those uniforms!” said a woman behind me.) Unsurprisingly, there were many more sobering ones. I was impressed by Miller’s and Hopkins’ continued respect for the military and pride in the service they chose. Miller, who has devoted a lot of her undergraduate work to studying DADT, said that if the law is repealed, she will still attempt to become a military officer. As someone often skeptical of the U.S. military’s tactics, structure, and motives, I was particularly affected by Hopkins’ statement: “You enter the military, believe it or not, to do good. You could die doing it. You don’t enter thinking you could be destroyed by your own side.”

But the most interesting discussions of the evening arose from audience questions, particularly one from the middle-aged lesbian who so appreciated those cadet uniforms. She asked Miller whether a lot of “swapping” goes on in the lesbian community at West Point, or if cadets actually attempt to form meaningful relationships. The older woman’s concern, from her seat next to her partner, was rather touching, and anecdotal proof that gays are just as concerned about monogamy-and have the same intergenerational misunderstandings-as straight people.

The most forward-thinking question of the evening addressed what happens if DADT is repealed before the federal government legalizes gay marriage, if it ever does. A West Point ‘99 alum asked Hopkins whether a repeal of DADT would enable the military to support gay service members’ dependents. In response Hopkins asked how the military could move ahead of the rest of the country politically and culturally. Could the armed forces recognize marriages that most states still don’t? Should the military recognize and financially support only those marriages performed in states where gay marriage is legal? “Could people be married by military chaplains in denominations that accept that? Has anyone wrapped their heads around that one?” Honestly, I hadn’t, but I hope Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Pentagon colleagues are on it.

Here are Miller and Hopkins discussing DADT on The Rachel Maddow Show last week: