Closing the closet door on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Jonathan Kaupanger
June 21, 2018 - 3:09 pm

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The military and gay communities are very similar, in one way.  No matter what anyone’s like, no matter where they come from, no matter what they look like, everyone is the same. The military teaches this value but Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell left us with a legacy that LGBTQ service members weren’t 100 percent part of that family.

And while the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy has changed, there are still pockets of resistance in the military and veteran community where this cultural change needs to happen. The Ask & Tell Project is trying to fix this. 

“It just kind of came to me,” says Ask & Tell founder Alisha Guffey.  “There are organizations advocating for LGBTQ service members and veterans, but I didn’t know that many other gay service members.  I didn’t know their stories.”  Ask & Tell does exactly that. LGBTQ active duty and veterans have a chance to tell their stories or find someone who went through similar experiences while serving their country.

Guffey was in the Army and still serves as a member of the Reserves. She started this project for LGBTQ veterans and active duty to be a place where they can share stories and make connections with others like them. She believes that DADT was a harmful policy that forced people to mask their true identities. She pulls from her own experience to explain why.

“The policy had a lot more reverberating effects than people realize,” she says. “I think that culture is still in the organization and it takes time to change this. I work in a DoD building now and I still feel uneasy about being myself. And I think that’s so ridiculous. I live in one of the most accepting cities in America if you’re gay, so why am I still worried what people think of me?”

Many people don’t realize how strong the effects of the policy were on them until much later in life. “I used to advocate that DADT was a good policy,” she recalls. “It protects people and that’s why we had it.  But it wasn’t until years later that I realized, well maybe this is why I haven’t had consistent stable relationships. This is why these things were a struggle or emotional or hard.”

And Guffey will tell you that she didn’t have an overtly negative experience while serving under DADT.  “I think most of it is because I really didn’t share my own sexuality while I was serving,” she says. “Whether it’s fortunate or not for me a lot of people weren’t aware of it. So it’s something I was able to hide.” 

Guffey thinks that was where the real impact of the policy hit her, "it was something that was this secret thing that you weren’t talking about.  And you were always kind of worried.  It just really affects your whole life.”

Hiding part of yourself all the time is hard. “I think it actually slowed down my acceptance of myself,” Guffey says. “It kind of changes into almost a self-hatred because you’re told this is a bad thing. And you’re always kind of living in fear. You can’t talk about your roommate or your friend because if they’re gay, then someone will think that about you and then you lose your job. It’s more the hiding that was negative for me.”

Things have absolutely changed for the better for the younger generation of military and veterans, but there’s still a lot that needs to be shared within the gay military community.

“Younger generations are having really positive experiences at their units right now,” says Guffey. But she believes hearing what it was like before and during DADT is important for them. Specifically, what it’s like for transgender service members now. 

“For the most part, I think LGB service members and veterans are a little bit removed from what transgender service members are going through because it’s not the same experience they had," says Guffey. "Especially under the current administration.”

Guffey’s plan is to partner with institutions and Veteran Service Organizations and let them use the videos and materials to help tell the story of LGBTQ Americans who served in the military. If you have an interesting story to tell, you can contact her at [email protected]. You can find more information and watch some of the stories of fellow veterans on the Ask & Tell Project Facebook page as well. 

The mission page of Guffey’s website it says it best: “The Ask & Tell Project works not to weaken the U.S. military, but to strengthen it. By ensuring that the large and growing LGBTQ community can enjoy equal treatment and opportunity with no fear of mistreatment or career harm, the US military will be able to grow in both size and efficacy.”

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