Steve Boeckels, who left the service under Don’t Ask, can still represent military academy
Steve Boeckels, the civilian recruiter volunteer for the U.S. Army’s West Point Academy who was dismissed from his position three weeks ago for being gay, has been reinstated.
“My commander called and said she had no problem with it and I was back on the job. I can’t explain it,” Boeckels said.
For the past two years, Boeckels, a pharmaceutical sales rep who is also a West Point graduate, has interviewed Academy candidates who live in the Northern California area. He also made presentations to high school students and parents groups as a West Point representative.
As first reported two week in Gay City News, Boeckels was suddenly removed from his position early in September when an article he wrote advocating for the overturn of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” appeared in the online magazine Diversity, Inc. and came to the attention of West Point’s Georgia recruiter.
DADT is the U.S. military’s policy that prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly.
According to Boeckels, the recruiter in Georgia then informed West Point’s admissions director. The decision was then made to release Boeckels because he was in violation of DADT.
As a volunteer, Boeckels was not protected by federal employments rules that prevent civilian military contractors from being discriminated against because of sexual orientation.
This was the second time DADT had affected Boeckels. As a newly graduated 1st lieutenant, Boeckels ran into an extremely homophobic environment in Fairbanks, Alaska where he was assigned as a platoon leader. The base commander regularly lectured his subordinates on the deficiencies of gay people. At the end of three-year stint there, his self-esteem admittedly obliterated, Boeckels transferred to Fort Knox, Kentucky simply to get into a place he felt safe enough to come out and seek discharge.
Despite all this, Boeckels said, he felt it was “the policy, not the people” that made the military such a harsh place for gays and lesbians. If some recourse had been available to him during his time in Fairbanks, Boeckels thinks he could have sought counseling advice without fear of outing himself.
After an honorable discharge, Boeckels still wanted to contribute in some way to the military. He saw his chance as a West Point volunteer. His time at the college had been “incredibly positive” and he wanted to encourage others to enroll.
At the same time Boeckels has also been an advocate for lifting the ban. He routinely travels to Washington, D.C. on behalf of the Service Members Legal Defense Network to lobby his senators and representative to overturn the military’s ban. SLDN is an advocacy organization that assists armed forces personnel affected by the gay ban.
According to Boeckels, the recruiter in Georgia portrayed him as mixing his roles as a recruiter and activist, and that West Point admissions fired him for a conflict of interest, something Boeckels said was not the case.
The assertion that Boeckels’ stance on DADT represented a conflict of interest as a West Point representative is disputed by SLDN.
“Many people in the military, and at West Point, have been critical of the policy and have openly spoken against it without repercussion,” said Steve Ralls, an SLDN spokesman.
Ralls specifically cited the recent op-ed by Lieutenant Colonel Allan Bishop, a West Point instructor, published in the Army Times that called for the gay ban’s end.
“We think the only reason he was terminated was because he is gay,” Ralls said.
“The bottom line is I don’t use it as a platform,” Boeckels said. “I’m simply recruiting for the Academy. I never mention the policy [DADT] or that I’m gay.”
Apparently West Point came around to Boeckels’ point of view. Shortly after his dismissal, his commander called and said he had been reinstated.
“They must have realized a couple things. First, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell doesn’t apply to me as a civilian,” Boeckels said. “And two, I’m doing something that is good.”
The academy did not return several calls by press time.