I almost joined the United States Air Force three times in my life.
During the end of my junior year and the beginning of my senior year of high school, I faced the decision of how I wanted to spend my time in college. I had narrowed the decision down to either accept a basketball scholarship to play at Austin Peay State University or attend the University of TN in order to join their Air Force ROTC. After much thought, I decided to play basketball.
After graduating college, the whole Air Force idea presented itself once again. I cannot fully explain it but serving in the Armed Forces intrigued me. Where I grew up in TN, it is an honor and privilege to serve one’s country, and I wanted to do my part. Once again, after much prayer and thinking, I chose to forgo the Air Force and try to use my education degree to find a teaching job. However, I still saw myself as joining at a later time in my life.
The third and final ‘almost’ joining happened as I entered my first year of seminary. I found out that there was an Air Force base nearby and that I could join the Reserves and still attend my school. I could join as an officer and train to be a chaplain. Woo Hoo!!!! To say that I was excited about this discovery would be an understatement. So, I took the necessary steps to begin the process. Since it was my first semester of graduate school, I decided to prepare myself before joining in the next semester. My preparations included learning the Air Force’s history, following their physical exercise plan, and preparing myself mentally for the commitment I knew I would be making. Things were looking up, and I was excited.
But I didn’t join.
It’s not that I chickened out or anything like that. I actually wanted to join, but I realized that it wasn’t a possibility for me. As I shared with a fellow seminarian my plans, he told me that he was once a member of the Air Force. He told me that he absolutely loved every minute of it. Confused, I asked him why he was no longer a part of it if he enjoyed it. His response changed the course that I was on at that time. Someone had found out that he experienced same-gender attractions, which led to his discharge under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). This man was not in a relationship; in fact, he was a part of an ex gay group.
I was completely shocked! Sure, I knew openly gay people could be discharged, but I hadn’t considered that someone who was ‘fighting’ his desires and attending a Christian ministry to do so would be kicked out. He wasn’t flaunting this information about himself either. Someone happened to suspect, and the rest is history.
At that time in my life, I, too, attended ex-gay conferences because I wanted help for my same-gender desires. So, when he told me this, I realized that his story could very well become my story. I realized that my dream of becoming a military chaplain was dead. Because I experienced a gay orientation, the military didn’t see me worthy of serving my country.
Heartbroken, I thought about this realization for some time. Although I had experienced discrimination before, this was the first time I understood injustice and just what it felt like. For years prior to this moment, I had supported conservative traditional family organizations with my time and finances. I supported them in their fight against the threatening ‘gay agenda.’ I didn’t think there was anything wrong with DADT; instead, I had bought into the rhetoric that its end would be detrimental to the defense of our country.
Days after realizing my dream had ended, I received a newsletter from one of those organizations. The whole issue focused on how homosexuals were trying to end our country with their agenda to end DADT. For the first time, my eyes were opened to the bigotry.
I stopped drinking the kool-aid, and an activist emerged.