Matt Comer

An inside look at 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Filed By Matt Comer | January 12, 2009 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Don't Ask Don't Tell, lesbian, LGBT, military

Paul McNeal, a gay former U.S. servicemember, contacted me a while back. He submitted a guest commentary at and then sent this "inside look" at "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" over to me a couple days ago. It's posted at my pad but I thought I'd share with you all as well.

McNeal's piece is a fabulous look into how some LGBT servicemembers might feel about the dreaded anti-gay military policy implemented by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

His piece serves as a great reminder of the sacrifices our LGBT servicemembers must make as they put their lives in harm's way to protect us.

An Inside Look...DADT

By Paul McNeal . Guest Contributor Wow, it appears the submarine force is representing! I didn't think the topic of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) would be discussed among submariners and boy am I surprised. Steven Hall, a former submarine commanding officer, came out and is working on a film about DADT. On the blog "The Stupid Shall Be Punished" Joel Kennedy, former submarine officer, discusses Gays In The Military and says that he is torn on the issue. I can understand why he is, but I am not. I served 10 years in the military on three different submarines and I believe that it can and will work.

Let's discuss the current situation and see how it is working now. I served under DADT and as a gay sailor and struggled a bit. Why? It was not because my hormones were continuously raging and I was after my heterosexual comrades. In fact, it was just the opposite. I could not disclose the events surrounding times spent with a other, things as simple as chatting on the phone or going to dinner. I could never let them really know me and that meant I had to keep them at a distance concerning the most intimate part of my life; the person I loved. While they talked about their girlfriends and wives, I could only shake my head in agreement and pretend that I would one day get married to a women. BLAH! Because of DADT I was forced to keep a significant person in my life private, live in the closet and live a life void of integrity and self-dignity. Britain's Spy Agency is seeking out gays to fill their ranks, why? Because we are so good at pretending to be something we are not; how unfortunate.

I did my job well, just like so many other gays and lesbian currently serving. I am a well-decorated veteran. To list a few, I was awarded good conduct every year I was enlisted, named sailor of the quarter, and chosen as a United States Navy League recipient. As a Second Class Petty Officer (E-5), I attained the qualification to be Chief of the Watch and Duty Chief Petty officer; positions normally staffed by Chief Petty Officers onboard submarines. I was qualified and received my dolphins in three months (one of the fastest qualifying times on record), normally time is 8 months.

I busted my butt day and night to take care of the crew and the ship. I didn't like DADT but I served my country in light of the fact that I had to compromise my integrity. When my Chief of the Boat asked me several time to stay in, I declined. Why? Because I was tired of hiding and knew that developing a relationship and family in the military was not possible with that law in place. So I gave up being a 20- -year-guy; how unfortunate. I was a good asset and I still talk with a lot of my colleagues who are still in, they tell me, "Mac, you would be COB by now" - I agree.

Now to face some very controversial issues: I've read some of the comments from Joel's blog and I have to agree and disagree with some of the posters.

The dreaded gays-in-the-showers argument: Come on, listen - we are all big boys and girls. I've never seen any kind of sexual issues going on in open showers. Oh, and by the way, the only place I dealt with open showers was boot camp. That was almost 20 years ago. I'm not even sure they still have open showers. Has anyone even stopped to think that there are already gay people showering with straight people; right now as I type it's happening. So, what's the problem? Are we so untrusting that we think just because we now know that John likes guys that he would do something when he hasn't done anything prior to that?

Someone else commented, and I agree, that every gay man or woman is not attracted to every straight man or woman. Message to straight folks who think all gays want to get in their pants: Get over yourself. I can personally say there might have been a handful of folks I was attracted to and who I served with. And even though I might have been attracted to them, I would have never approached them. Are you kidding me? Even with an indication from them that they might be attracted in return, I was still super-hesitant to even consider that an option. That doesn't even take into account that current military policy already prohibits fraternization, no matter the circumstance. Without DADT, the same policy would still apply. So what's the problem?

Someone else used the example of having women serve on submarines. What's the point? During one tour, we actually had a woman come and serve onboard. We were underway with her for about three days. She slept in the XM Stateroom and shared showers with our CO (not literally). The crew responded well to her and her to the crew. Could women serve onboard submarines? YES; some already do. I can't believe how we keep thinking that people just lose all morals in the presence of the opposite or same-sex or something. Guess what: We don't - we know how to control ourselves.

Others talk about unit cohesion. We had folks on our sub who we didn't like but we worked with them and the crew was still tight. As a matter of fact, on one port call in Japan there was an altercation between that person and a crew from another ship. Our crew defended him and said, "We can pick on him but you can't!" Kind of like brothers, you know. I truly believe that we have common sense as military people and we know where to draw the line. Suggesting otherwise calls into question your own belief in the professionalism of our servicemembers. Sounds like an insult to me.

As for transgender servicemembers, I don't see a problem. I say transgender servicemembers should be allowed to wear the uniform of their choice. It's not as if transgender people willy-nilly "switch" genders. If they do, it's only because of social pressures. And, if any person - gay, straight, transgender, whatever - isn't well-enough adjusted to life to serve in the military, then they simply won't be there to begin with.

I am excited to know that organizations like Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) are working on these issues. The work they are doing with Congress is awesome and I look forward to the day that DADT will be repealed. We have everything we need to do it: A president that is willing to sign the repeal, a good number of folks in congress (147 members), retired admirals and generals (100 of them), Colin Powell (part of the reason DADT is in effect), and a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who have signaled that he will do what he is instructed to do. What's the problem?

I have been blessed since I have left the military to chat about my sexuality with former friends I served with including one of my commanding officer's and each have responded favorably. I was floored. I had feared that they would abandon me and have nothing to do with me; not true. I hold each of them in high esteem for at least understanding. I don't need them to approve but I appreciate that they understand and love me anyway and they let me live my life. That is all we are asking, let us serve our county, live our lives and be at peace.

The military teaches us honor, courage, commitment and discipline. Repealing DADT will fulfill those lessons.

Okay enough from me. Would you take the time to participate in this poll? Should Obama Overturn "Don't Ask Don't Tell?"

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Boy, does this hit home. As a former submariner myself, I fully understand the mindset of the Silent Service. I was crossdressing when in port and having some free time, but I knew that if i was caught, I would have been out in a second. No DADT in the 1970s. I hope he reads this blog and sees our comments. Pass on my contact info to Commander Steven Hall, at [email protected] Tell him I thank him for his service.

Oh, and ask Paul to put in paragraph breaks. Thanks.

Monica - Yes I will pass on your email to him. We will have to chat bout the old days :) Thank you for your service as well. I'm not sure I would agree with your superior complex of the guys. On all three boats, I never felt that from the guys on my sub, my only thing was that I felt I couldn't be honest with them because of the law.

As I mentioned, I speak with a lot of them now and it's like nothing has changed. I am very proud of the guys I served with and would serve with them if the law was removed; the respect level was high. I would like to think they would welcome me with open arms to serve along side of them open.

Now were there guys that I didn't particularly didn't care for? Sure. At the end of the day, we were good boats and we served our country well. I am sure your experiences were real - but I just wanted to share my viewpoint as well.

I am looking at what I saw in the mid 1970s, and with my conversations with submariners older then me. If what you say is correct, then things have really changed. Just wait until NAVSEC says women can serve on subs. It will be fun to watch. Thank you both for your service.

When you were in, did they have submariner bumper stickers? We had one that said, "Submariners go deeper and stay longer." Seems it's perfect for gay men ("go deeper") and lesbians, ("say longer.") The second half works for me.

Monica... Sorry about the paragraphs. They were there. Guess something got messed up in the publishing.

NP, Matt. Thanks for bringing Steven's story to light. There is estimate to be about 300,000 submarine veterans. I know that it is a branch of the military that attracts intellegent people (some) but because they are also one of the last branches of the military where women are not allowed to served, they have become a Navy-imposed good-ol'-boy network.

This gives many of the straights on submarines a superior complex and a very sexist attitudes. I've seen it first hand. That means that gay men or transgender people would not be welcomed, and may not be welcomed even after DADT is repealed. A lot can happen to a person when spending 70 or more days under water.

Yet, I have to laugh at something seen on every submarine. When on a long patrol, we would celebrate Halfway Night with music, contests and skits. Without exception, there was always one man who just so happened to have women's clothes on board to do a drag act at Halfway Night. (I wasn't that one man.) I know why now, from my perspective of today.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | January 12, 2009 1:36 PM

DADT is a policy that codified military bigotry and its passage was entirely the result of bigotry in the Democratic Party. Some was expressed openly by people like then Senator Sam Nunn (now a key Obama advisor) and some by people like Clinton who pandered to bigots like war criminal Colin Powell.

It should be repealed on that basis and because its discriminatory policies are used by bigots as a justification for harassment, beatings and even the murder of GLBT military personnel. That's intolerable.

The statement " The military teaches us honor, courage, commitment and discipline. Repealing DADT will fulfill those lessons. is a lie.

There is no honor in the murder of Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis in a series of wars whose only goal is to steal their oil. There was no courage when the US terror bombed Panamanian civilians, killing thousands and reimposing colonial rule. There was no honor in killing several million Vietnamese. Etc.

The role of the leaders of the US military has been dishonorable and despicable for decades. Colin Powell is a perfect example of that.

We need an International War Crimes Tribunal to investigate Powell, the Bushes, Rice, Clinton, and others who organized the genocide in Southwest Asia. Powell can also be investigated for covering up war crimes in Southeast Asia. Obama can be added to the list if he doesn’t end the war and announce the immediate and total withdrawal or all US military, mercenary, secret police, terrorist and espionage units back to their US home bases by January 21st.

"The statement " The military teaches us honor, courage, commitment and discipline. Repealing DADT will fulfill those lessons. is a lie."

Bill... I disagree with you. The military does teach those values. Servicemen and women have no control whatsoever over the commands given to them from their superiors, Congress or the President.

I have many family members who have served honorably and faithfully in the U.S. Military, with integrity and dignity. Your comment is an affront to their service.

My cousin, two years younger than me, faced nightmarish conditions while serving in Iraq. At only 21 years old, he's now back home, a veteran of a war he didn't choose to participate in. I can only thank God he made it back alive.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | January 12, 2009 4:23 PM

There is no middle ground here Matt and I couldn't disagree more.

I'm a strong supporter of the antiwar activities of GI's and vets. Like them I recognize that the US military is a death machine in the hands of the corporate misleaders who run this country. Their only goal is acquire control over the oil fields of Southwest Asia.

The only real 'honor' in the military is getting yourself and your friends home alive. But the mission of the US military in Iraq is murder, pure and simple. The military does not protect us, they kill for Texaco.

Your comment is an affront to the dead in Iraq - 4225 dead and over 15,000 seriously wounded GIs. And to the approximately 1.2 million civilians murdered by the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They died and continue to die to make the rich richer and words like honor do not apply to their murders. The only way to honor their deaths is by unceasing opposition to the war and the US military death machine. There is no justification for any those deaths. The US military is not protecting us, on the contrary it puts US civilians in danger as it’s murderous campaigns enrage most of the world.

Matt, if you want to find out about antiwar vets and active duty GIs and their fight to honor the dead by ending the war link here and here I hope you and your cousin help organize and participate in the next big antiwar demonstration at the Pentagon on March 21st. Who knows how many lives you'll save. That would be the honorable thing to do.

The honor of antiwar GIs is intact but all GI’s are victims in this war without honor.

Bill, I never said that I didn't think the war in Iraq was wrong or that it shouldn't end.

But you've crossed the line between discussing hotly debated political and military ISSUES to completely degrading, demeaning and insulting U.S. servicemembers' sacrifices -- including the ones who made it out alive and the ones who died.

It's because of people like my cousin, grandfather and in every generation of my entire family going back to when they first stepped foot on North American soil in 1755 that you have the right to spew the ignorance and bigotry you do.

You disgust me.

Ok, I really don't see where the line (assuming it existed) was crossed.

Im not trying to be a trouble maker but really Bill's views aren't that far outside the mainstream conversation that is occurring.

Maybe was a bit to venomous but I really don't see it.

Could someone rationally and reasonably explain to me what just happened?

It depends of what part of the military service you fall on. My history and family history puts me on one side, so I carry with it a distinct viewpoint, and do not like it when people put down my family. Bill was putting down my family, regardless of how he wants to spin it.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | January 12, 2009 8:54 PM

"You disgust me." Warhawks disgust me. I'm always happy to upset flag wavers who think that what the US is doing in Iraq is not mass murder, but some how honorable. But I have to warn you. Just as we did in Nam a combination of insurgents and the US civilian and GI antiwar movements are going to kick your asses out of Iraq. Then you be really disgusted. And defeated. Again.

Mindless paytriotism is always the first line of defense for the military brass when the time comes to kill and steal in the name of of the looter rich.

It disgusts real soliders. Like those in the Iraq Veterans against the war. And like USMC Commandant Major General SD Butler, twice awarded both the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Medal of Honor.

He said

"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."
Am I correct in assuming that you will not be supporting the antiwar march at the Pentatgon on March 21st?

Matt - you did well with your response. Thanks :) I was taught those virtues and tried to live them out to the best of my ability.

You can get pissed at all the politicians you want, but when you say lies about those of us who served, your lies have crossed the line.

I come from a long line of proud militay people, including my grandfather, all my uncles, my brother, my ex wife and our oldest son. My father served in 3 branches of the service and in 3 wars. When you say crap like this about the military, you're saying crap about my family tree.

I expect an apology, for me, my family and the others on this blog who have served proudly. Your comments are in the catagory of hate and bigotry, so don't expect any kindness from me.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | January 12, 2009 5:18 PM

so don't expect any kindness from me

Monica, this is what I’ve come to expect from you.

“So, you loss the right to get married in California. It's an important right to fight for, especially since California HAS ALL THE OTHER DAMN RIGHTS MANY OF US DON'T. Gee. There is a point when my sympathy is taxed to the limit. LGBT people are still getting FIRED from their jobs here in Georgia and many other states for just being who we are. Please. Forgive me if I don't shed a tear for your "loss.”

And little pearls like this…

And To all who think they understand my point of view, you don't. I've been in the advocacy "business" for over a decade, long enough to see gay and lesbians turn their backs on my trans brothers and sisters more times then I can count. Marriage equality has always been the knife that has always been thrust in our backs, in place of fighting for hate crimes legislation and employment protection.

Or this gem…

There are more rights for LGBT people in California than in any state of the union. No other state has banned the panic defense. No other state has laws that protect transgender people from health insurance discrimination. These are things on top of all the other things the few other states have… I'm glad to see I wasn't the only person seeing how self-centered and uncaring about the rest of the country LGBT Californians can be sometimes.

So when you put Anchors Aweigh on the stereo, jack up the decibel level, wrap yourself in a flag and bluster about how proud you were to serve on subs and help hold the sword of Damocles over the head of millions of innocent civilians I find myself unsurprised.

Legal note: If Monica holds her breath until I apologize for poking holes in militarist fantasies I am not responsible for any medical problems that may ensue, but I do strongly warn her that such an action could be harmful to her health.

You owe us an apology. If I actually said what I thought of your nasty, hateful, bigoted remarks, Father Tony would delete the comment.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | January 12, 2009 9:05 PM

No. You owe us an apology for how ever many years of unproductive work that endangered world peace.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is one of the most unequivocal cases of denial in US Hissstory. To paraphrase, "We have to pretend you are heterosexual to feel safe, but please for-the-love-of-God don't tell us the truth."

Boys... You can't handle the truth!

Does it REALLY come down to a few "sissies" being terrified if another man sees their weenie? And THESE are supposed to be "real men"? I think we have a new definition for "faggot".

All I can say is "Hey, cut it out with the personal stuff, y'all." You know who you are. Disagree about the military all you want, but keep it civil.

Thanks, Alex. I served four years in the the military, and although I was well-treated, I never felt as if I fit in.

I don't blame folks who are anti-military, but I do think that people who serve do so honorably. Its worth remembering that politicians, and not service members, are the ones who create and shape wars. Politicians, and the people who elect them, are ultimately the ones with blood on their hands.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 13, 2009 6:54 AM

Paul, you are a brave and fine American. Thank you for you service.

My partner was in the Air Force for thirteen years and from the many conversations I have had with him about his experiences I agree with you that discipline, honor, country and service was/is the rule.

When full honesty can be included I will cheer!

The undisciplined, unapologetic, undemocratic, grudge holding individual who shades the truth of your service does not diminish you. His opinions are his own. They are his opinions and judge them as just that.

Soldiers do not get to choose their missions. They serve and run toward the danger that American citizens get to run from. Again, thank you for your service.


Thanks I appreciate your words of encouragement. Tell your partner I said thanks for his service as well to our great country. We will all cheer on the moment that the pen hits the paper to repeal DADT. There will be challenges I am sure but I am confident that we will overcome and our future generations will look back and appreciate this struggle that we are in.

Moving Onward, Moving Upward!