Friday, March 30, 2007

USAFA Gay Alumni Association

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that says "USAFA Gay Alumni Association."

It may be just on the horizon.

I got a call the other day from a guy whose goal it is to organize such a thing.

What is USAFA you might ask?

It is the United States Air Force Academy, that venerable but incredibly sexist and homophobic institution that asked me to resign my post as a "cadet-second-class" a few hours after my final of seven four-hour final exams on that unforgettable day in December of 1990.

I got this email a couple of weeks ago:
Hi [Blogauthor],

My name is [cut for confidentiality purposes]. I'm a 1985 USAFA grad and I'm gay. I got your contact information from SAGALA. I'm doing preliminary work to develop a network or organization of gay USAFA alums. Navy currently has one. Air Force and Army do not. So I'm wondering......

Would you be willing to chat with me on the phone for 20-30 minutes? The main reason for the call would be to learn how you think an organization like this could benefit you and the gay USAFA community as a whole and what privacy concerns you may have or you think may exist for other individuals to participate.

About me

I live in SF with my partner (Mike) of nearly 13 years. I flew ugly (I say with affection) cargo planes and then got out in 95 to try the business world. A couple of years ago I started thinking about our school again. Since I missed my 10 year reunion, I decided to go to my 20th and, well, Mike was an amazing sport----he went with me. Last year I went to a conference hosted by the AOG (The Graduate Leadership Conference) at the Academy to tell us what's going on at USAFA - especially in light of the sexual assault and evangelical proselytizing that had been all over the press. Best part was the tour of Jack's Valley during BCT. I have pictures if you're interested. I then realized that our school could use some help in a number of areas. So recently I decided to focus on an area that is quite important to me, and I suspect it may be of interest to you too.

The idea

I've found there is real interest and a real need to form a network or organization of LGBT USAFA Grads. But the issues of building the structure of this network are complex - especially if it is to effectively serve both civilian and active duty grads, and if it is to leverage whatever support we are likely to find among the broader Academy communities and constituencies. My initial thoughts are that the primary focuses of this network should be:

1) Support (personal and professional including perhaps even mentorship)

2) Visibility and Advocacy (I'm not really sure what these should mean yet - what do you think?).

------Confidentiality, privacy and safety will certainly be an important prerequisite for some grads (both civilian and active duty) in order to participate, others will be at the other end of the spectrum (i.e. WAY OUT).

I'm two and a half weeks into this idea and I have realized that the most important current task for me is to speak with a significant number of grads to understand what folks want or need. So I'm hoping we can talk and exchange some ideas.

Can we schedule a call?

Best regards,

[Incredibly Efficient and Determined Man]

USAFA 1985


So, I talked with him after clarifying that I was/am not, in fact, a USAFA alumni.

The conversation was fascinating. He wondered how such an organization could help me and what I thought an organization should be about and should provide for its members.

I had to say that I didn't think that such an organization would help me in any specific way. I do not think of myself as being attached to that institution, formally or informally, but have to admit that the experience and the deep wounds that it caused affects me at both a conscious and subconscious way on almost a daily basis. I cannot even describe to you what it was like to apply to such an institution (you not only have to be accepted into the school, you also have to be interviewed and recommended by a senator or house representative in order to attend), survive the first year (academically, militarily, and physically), orient your life's goals around the military's peculiar occupational ladder and then, on the eve of receiving your class ring (mine was ordered and paid for... you get it at the end of your junior year when you become a "firstie" or a first-class-cadet) be told that since you've been outed as a lesbian, you have to leave and start over somewhere else. Tomorrow.

It was both the best and the worst thing that ever happened to me in my entire life.

During the call, the guy wondered who I thought should be considered members in the organization. Should it be limited to grads? to gays?

Other than some of my immediate friends with whom I attended USAFA (many of which have subsequently come out) I never really considered the gays and lesbians that made it through and then continued to be GLBT military members. And I never really considered men in this situation. As I told the guy, my stereotypes of the occupation itself (appearing to attract a mainly gay female clientelle rather than a gay male one) and the guys that I went to school with there (clean cut, square jawed) led me to assume (in a sexist and homophobic way) that the majority of GLBTs associated with USAFA would be women.

What struck me though was how important all of the stories around this issue are to such an organization. On one hand, it is people like me -- people who got kicked out of the military -- that you hear about. People who were so obviously discriminated against. On the other hand, those that aren't actually removed from their position continue to live in fear and dread that their cohorts will learn the truth about their personal lives. He told me that there was not one person he talked to that didn't refer to deep wounds inflicted while cadets and afterwards in the military.

The caller told me that he remembered an African American man talking about the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama* (the first all-black military aviation program) and the issue of segregation in the military and that he dreamed of standing up in Arnold Hall** and talk about being a former gay cadet and military officer.

Now that is a dream in which I'd love to take part.

*In May 1943, the first group of Tuskegee-trained pilots was sent to North Africa to join the Allied forces. They were headed by Capt. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., who would later become the first African-American Air Force general. The accomplishments made by the 99th Fighter Squadron, especially in it's collaboration with the all-white 79th Fighter Group in October 1943, helped pave the way for integration in the Air Force.
**Arnold Hall is the cadet social center. It contains a 3000-seat theater, a ballroom, and a number of lounge and recreation facilities for cadets and visitors. It is named after General of the Air Force Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, commanding general of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.


Sean Smith said...

that is an interesting post. I just retired from the reserves after 25 years in the USAF, 7 on active duty. There are many gay officers, enlisted, pilots, you name it (me included). And an equal share from the USAFA. It's too bad that there still is so much discrimination and I'm sorry about what happened to you.

giddings said...

Thanks Sean!
I learned so much from that man. He is moving forward with a USAFA alumni association and I am going to take part in it despite not "really" being an alumni.
Thanks for all of your effort being gay and on the inside as well.