Monday, January 21, 2008

Interview with Pepe Johnson

This is former U.S. Army Sgt. Pepe Johnson, who was discharged in 2003 under the DADT policy for being gay. Today he works for the repeal of DADT, which include efforts through Integrity In Service. From this photo I'd say he looks like he stepped off of a recruiting poster. His record seems to bear out this distinction too. West Virginia Queer News interviewed him recently, which you can read in full here. There are many aspects of his story which I find interesting and I can only shake my head at the stupidity of this law in keeping such fine individuals from serving their country. I really liked how he described DADT's effect on the military and homosexuals in particular:

It mandates that gay soldiers lie to their brothers and sisters-in-arms. It compromises their personal integrity. Lying is what compromises unit cohesion, not the presence of an openly gay soldier. Gay soldiers who are barely coming out have no one they can turn to. Even telling a military chaplain or doctor, is grounds for discharge. You can’t tell anyone, including, civilians, like your mom. Leaders have long recognized the importance of making the soldier’s personal and family life easier in order to allow him to focus on the mission. Don’t ask, Don’t tell makes the gay soldier’s life more difficult. We can’t communicate to our loved ones in the same way a straight soldier can. When we return from an overseas deployment, our partners cannot meet us at the airport, like the wives of straight soldiers can.

I can remember when I first joined the Navy in 1989 before DADT, they tried to screen out gays by asking about sexual orientation on the enlistment application. It may surprise some but I was honestly able to answer "no" at that time. Growing up in the South and the dearth of information available back then for people questioning their sexuality (remember there was no internet for the general public then) contributed to a great amount of ignorance. I was a virgin and from everything I could find in the library, along with what the Church told me, being gay wasn't something somebody is but rather a sin that one chooses. Given what I knew about homosexuality as a good lil' Catholic I certainly didn't want to choose that. The feelings I had were nothing more than a 'phase' which praying hard enough would in time go away. Of course they didn't, nor did any sexual attractions for the opposite sex develop much to my dismay. Like Johnson, I was left with nobody I could trust to talk to lest I be kicked out in disgrace. leaving young soldiers/sailors in such a predictment with no one to speak with is not only extremely cruel, but detrimental to the service as whole. Gays have just as much, if not more, at stake in this War on Terror as heterosexuals do. Let's just say that if Islamofascists dislike America and what we stand for in general, they particularly do not care for people like myself and Johnson. DADT is an anachronism that needs to go and people like Johnson and those from the younger generation should be allowed to freely serve. God willing, the day of its repeal isn't long off.

UPDATE: Welcome Washington Blade readers! Feel free to put yer feet up and have a look around. I also guest-blog over on Gay Patriot from time to time.