Tuesday, 11 October 2011

National Coming Out Day

In the USA, today is National Coming Out Day (it’s tomorrow in the UK). Coming Out Day was founded in 1988 by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary in California. Due to the homophobic influence of Section 28 it was not celebrated in the UK until 2008.

I’ve chosen to celebrate it today because of the potential “mass outing” possible in America now that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) rule was repealed on 20th September. This was the rule that gave 14,000 US service personnel a forced discharge for no other reason than admitting to being gay or lesbian, and kept thousands of others in the closet. Perhaps the first significant name in the campaign to have the ban on gays and lesbian lifted is Sgt. Leonard Matlovich (1943-1988). The words on his headstone sums up the ridiculous ban in a nutshell: “They gave me a medal [the Purple Heart] for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

The UK has not had the same “problem”. There has no recognised ban on gays or lesbians in Her/His Majesty’s forces. In fact, there have been a lot of lgbt service personnel who were open about their sexuality, even though it was illegal. One that springs to mind immediately is Capt. Myles Hildyard of the Sherwood Rangers who often took his partner to regimental dances, and no-one batted an eyelid. Even today there are openly lgbt service personnel. One of them, James Wharton, even made the front cover of “Soldier”, the army’s own magazine, in 2009.

A more recent incident in the DADT fiasco in the US is shown in the case of another decorated hero of Afghanistan Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach of the USAF. He was accused of raping a female colleague and faced discharge is found guilty. A third party outed Fehrenbach to the USAF and the rape charge was dropped after he admitted he was gay. Then the USAF began discharge proceedings because of it. Thankfully he negotiated the dropping of the discharge but was forced into a “desk job”.

Victor Fehrenbach and the US Navy’s Daniel Choi were at the forefront of the campaign to repeal DADT, with Choi even chaining himself to the railings of the White House to highlight the campaign. They are both pictured here in a photograph taken for “Instinct” magazine. But will the discharged lgbt personnel get their jobs back? I doubt it somehow.

So, perhaps now there’ll be hundreds of US personnel willing to come out. If not today, then another time when they feel more comfortable. Perhaps, also, the closeted US army sergeant who represented the USA at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics will reveal himself to the wider world. I’m sure the lgbt worldwide community will welcome him and all the others with open arms.

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