The question stood out, prominently, from among hundreds of others on the military recruitment form: Are you a homosexual? Yes or No.
Adriane Reesey hesitated. Four words. An impossible question.
“If I answer this correctly, I’ll never have a shot to leave this town,” said Reesey, recalling how she felt almost 31 years ago at a military recruitment station in her hometown of Johnstown, Pa.
Robert Guida also remembers the question. He completed the questionnaire in 1964, during his last year at the Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing for Men.
“I’m just going to put `no’ because I know I can get through this. I know it,” he recalled.
Reesey, 47, and Guida, 62, both of Fort Lauderdale, enlisted in the Army before “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the 1993 law that banned openly gay men and lesbians from serving in the military.
They are among the almost 60 members of the local chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights. The gay veterans group has renewed its drive to repeal the law, propelled by support from some officials in Washington.
In February, U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee, re-introduced legislation to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Dubbed the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, Meehan’s proposal has gained support from 125 bipartisan co-sponsors, including five U.S. representatives from South Florida.
The Senate is expected to introduce a similar bill in the coming months, according to Steve Ralls, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national advocacy group in favor of repealing the law signed by President Clinton.
Earlier this year, several lawmakers and gay-rights groups criticized Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after he called homosexual acts “immoral.”
“People have a wide range of opinions on this sensitive subject,” Pace said in a statement after his remarks to the Chicago Tribune sparked an uproar. “The important thing to remember is that we have a policy in effect, and the Department of Defense has a statutory responsibility to implement that policy.”
As the military searches for more soldiers to fight in Iraq, there has been a decline in the number of openly gay and lesbian service members who have been discharged, Ralls said. In 2006, the military dismissed 612 gay service members, down from 1,273 in 2001.
“It’s an acknowledgement that gay men and lesbians are being welcomed by the command and that sexual orientation has no bearing on job performance,” Ralls said.
Guida served in the Army’s Nurse Corps; Reesey in the Military Police.
Military officials eventually investigated Guida and Reesey for suspected homosexual acts. Guida’s commander refused to cooperate and the investigation into his conduct was dropped. He worked his way up the ranks, never openly revealing his sexual orientation. He eventually became a colonel, ending his 23-year career at the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office.
“I served with many, many, many gay people in the military,” Guida said. “Their service is as good, if not better, than a lot of the straight people.”
Reesey, a community involvement specialist with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, landed a position with the military police after basic training. She worked at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
But after a few years, she was given an honorable discharge after military authorities found letters she had exchanged with an ex-girlfriend.
“At the sally port, they ripped off my patch and said I was no longer deserving of wearing the United States Disciplinary Barracks patch and drummed me out,” she said.
Gay veterans work to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell”