A tale of two West Point cadets: One gay, one trans

I was at the OutServe-SLDN annual dinner Saturday night here in DC, and it was an almost surreal evening.

OutServe is a relatively new organization of active-duty gay and trans servicemembers, and SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) is the premiere, and oldest, “gays in the military” group fighting for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell all these years, and providing legal counsel to servicemembers who were caught in that odious policy.

Recently, OutServe and SLDN merged.

Much like with our recent and sudden unexpected success on the marriage battle, there was something almost unbelievable to the evening.  A bit of a “this can’t be happening” feeling struck a number of us, looking around and seeing out and awarded members of all the branches of the military, many holding-hands with their same-sex dates in the open, with no fear of official repercussions.

sldn-dinner

The OutServe-SLDN dinner take place that the historic National Building Museum in Washington, DC.

For me there were two aspects of the evening that were most striking, both related to West Point. One had to do with OutServe-SLDN’s new executive director, who went to West Point, and the other a twenty-year-old current West Point cadet. 

West Point grad and OutServe-SLDN E.D. Allyson Robinson

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OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson and former Marine Sean Leahey.
(Photo by Peter Klaus)

Allyson Robinson is OutServe-SLDN’s new executive director. Allyson is a West Point graduate and former Army officer.  She’s also transgender.  I’d written about Allyson Robinson before.  She is one hell of an impressive person.  And her keynote address to those in attendance that evening was simply amazing.  Seemingly not reading from notes (she had a teleprompter she didn’t appear to be using at all), Allyson told the tale of her coming out trans to her family, including her military dad, and how they accepted her.

From Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade:

In her speech before an estimated nearly 1,000 attendees at her group’s annual dinner in D.C., Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, said she felt “completely alone” when she made her decision to transition, but found comfort from her family.

“The day I found myself seriously considering suicide was the day I knew I needed help,” Robinson said. “So I called my sister, and my sister said, ‘I’m here for you.’ And I called my mom, and my mom said, ‘I’m proud of you courage, my daughter.’ I talked to my wife Danyelle, and she said, ‘My love for you is bigger than this. I’ll be right by your side through whatever it brings and beyond.’”

But Robinson said she “wasn’t that brave” to her tell father, a command sergeant major in the Army, that she would transition in person and instead wrote a letter informing him of her decision. Robinson said her father responded by calling and saying, “I love you as much today as the day you were born.”

It’s rare to see a leader of a national organization that’s as well-spoken as Allyson.  Whether on TV, or before the dinner attendees, she commands a presence and is damn impressive.

What a lot of people may not realize is that the repeal of DADT did not help transgender people.  They’re banned from military service under different rules than those that banned gay servicemembers.  Allyson will addressing “trans in the military” among other long-term issues, like benefits for gay spouses, during her tenure.

West Point Cadet Michael Marino

The other West Point moment of the evening for me was meeting West Point Cadet Michael Marino.  Marino walked by our dinner table wearing what looked like a Civil War uniform, and since we couldn’t figure out what it was, I motioned him over and asked, only to find out that it’s the West Point formal dress uniform, that hasn’t changed much since 1816.

West Point Cadet Michael Marino

West Point Cadet Michael Marino

The striking thing about talking to Marino is not simply how “out” gay college students are today, but the fact that a gay West Point cadet is attending an out-gay event in full dress uniform. And nobody cares.

I talked to Marino for a while about West Point and what it’s like for his generation to be out, and Marino mentioned something I found both funny and telling. Marino told me he’s out at school, but not really “that out,” compared to some of his classmates. This, from a guy attending a national gay event in full-dress West Point uniform, and who has no qualms about printing his photograph and name in a national publication. That’s what qualifies as “not that out” nowadays. Woosh.

People like Marino are the reason I got involved in gay politics and activism all the way back in 1993. My first involvement was working on the-gays-in-the-military battle for Senator Kennedy, after-hours, often until midnight each night, after working a full day at my regular job as a Senate legislative aide to a Republican Senator. I’ve always had a special affinity for the military, which is odd since my family doesn’t have a particularly military background (not in this country, at least). Nonetheless, of all the indignities we faced as gay people in this country, being treated as second-class citizens by our armed forces for some reason always struck me as a particularly ignoble slap in the face.

And now we have out and proud West Point cadets looking forward to a career in military intelligence, when many in my generation and before, either lost such jobs or never even bothered trying, because they were gay.

I remember how it was always my dream to join the US Foreign Service.  The day I finally got in, and passed my written and oral exams, I turned the State Department, my life dream, down because it was 1989 and I was gay. I feared that there was no way I could pass the security clearance, let alone hold a job as a US diplomat, if they found out I was gay.  To this day I regret that choice.

The fact that kids like Michael Marino no longer have to even worry about such things – that gay West Point cadets now take dates to their winter formal, and no one blinks an eye – and that it happened in our lifetime – is pretty damn cool.

josh-seefried

OutServe-SLDN board co-chair Josh Seefried.

zoe-dunning

Former Navy commander Zoe Dunning, who fought DADT discharge proceedings, and won, in the mid-1990s, alongside Navy Captain (retired) Art Kelleher.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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19 Responses to “A tale of two West Point cadets: One gay, one trans”

  1. Gunner says:

    Thanks John, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with her about it. It’s still good to see we have made some progress in regards to LGB being able to serve openly now in our military

  2. I talked to Allyson about this, briefly – she definitely plans on making it a priority.

  3. Gunner says:

    I wasn’t trying to infer that the americablog.com swept transgender people under the rug with the repeal of DADT. I meant that more work needs to be done to make sure all the members in the LGBT community can serve in the military. I also was not inferring that gay rights be put on hold for a few decades. The problem is that most gay rights groups etc are not willing to fight for transgender members to serve, this is not to say there aren’t any fighting for equal rights for everyone but it’s a small amount. For the most part there isn’t really any education being done on trans issues besides the usual sensationalist tv shows.

    I think the US could take a hint from the UK military, which lets all members of the community serve their country. There needs to be more education about transgender issues not only outside the community but also inside too.

  4. I don’t need to flee God’s love. God made me gay, and he’s pretty proud of it. You on the other hand, might want to read a bit more about doing Satan’s work on earth, since God doesn’t hate, but Satan sure does.

  5. They weren’t swept under the rug by us. We’ve worked more than 20 years in a pitched battle to repeal DADT and the gay ban generally. The education on transgender in the military is only beginning, and is a good 20 years, if not more, behind the education effort on the gays in the military battle. With Allyson heading OutServe-SLDN, that education effort will grow exponentially. Lifting the ban was huge, and hugely important for the marriage battle and every other battle we’re fighting. It will also eventually have a huge impact on the trans in the military battle, as people realize all the same arguments are being used against trans people, while those arguments against gays serving ended up being hollow. I just don’t believe that its fair to suggest that gay rights be put on hold a few decades, that thousands more lives and careers be ruined every year, while we educate the public about trans issues. Both can happen at the same time.

  6. Larry Needs says:

    Genesis 18: 16-23, Genesis 19: 1-28 in reference to Lloyd D’s comment. In reference to John A’s comment, there is nowhere to flee from God. Ever try it?

  7. Gunner says:

    How about we make it where transgender people can serve in the military and attend military academies with the rest of the americans that want to serve. Now that lesbians,gays and bisexuals can openly serve without fear of being thrown out. Once again another instance of Transgender individuals being sweep under the rug while others get more freedoms and acceptance. Keep working for our transgender brothers and sisters that would also love the chance to serve their country in the Armed Forces.

  8. Feel free to leave any time.

  9. America is going to HELL!!!

  10. And give full back pay and benefits to all who were discharged under this odiuous law.

  11. this reminds me of my 50th hgih school re-union in MA some years ago. A gay couple came to the re-union , one in full dress uniform as a navy commander, but he had already retired – this was before DADT was tossed under the bus.

    They were the hit of the evening. Danced wit everyone etc. He was btw the friendliest guy in the high school.

    On the doma thing though, his previous partner about 10 years before had died of cancer and the IRS put him through the wringer re – estate taxes because he wasnt married.

  12. Brian Crosby says:

    The color in our skin and hair is because of melanin which is produced by the melanocytes. But it has been recently shown than the behavior of melanocytes can be modified by manipulating keratinocytes which do not have any pigment of their own.

  13. billylost says:

    it is SO cool, and wonderful

  14. BeccaM says:

    Absolutely. In this latter area, my wife and I have skin in the game.

  15. And DOMA and marriage, so they get their benefits

  16. BeccaM says:

    Definitely progress.

    Two pieces yet to go: One is for the military to stop discharging our transgendered brothers and sisters. And the other is a non-discrimination law for our LGBT servicemembers, the provisions for which sadly were removed from the DADT repeal.

  17. Ah thank you, I’ll add that!

  18. Matt says:

    The man with Zoe Dunning is Navy Captain (retired) Art Kelleher (last photo)

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