In an April 2 visit to Spectrum, the LGBTQ organization at the United States Military Academy at West Point, former State Senator Tom Duane recounted tales from his early days as an out gay elected official, while hearing coming out stories from both cadets and officers who had served during the days of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
The group was shocked when Duane told them that in his earliest days in Albany in the late ‘90s, one of his fellow senators refused to shake his hand because of his HIV-positive status.
Captain Chad Plenge, who graduated from West Point in 2011, was a cadet while Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell remained official policy. Though he served in Afghanistan later, after repeal, he came out only selectively — in a country where homosexual conduct is often tarred as “rape.” Plenge came “way out,” he said, when he was assigned to West Point stateside.
Major Meghan Starr was a West Point cadet even earlier, having graduated in 2007. Her need to conceal her sexuality, she said, was a source of guilt, especially given the USMA’s honor code prohibition on lying.
Senior cadet Jarod Watson came of age on the other side of the divide. Having come out as a high school senior, he arrived at West Point knowing about Spectrum and ready to help his fellow gay and lesbian plebes adjust to life in a military culture. That kind of support is probably welcome — to cadets like Kaz Lewis, who described having a family that is “all ordained” and “on the fence” about her sexuality, Isaiah Perusek, who was outed at prep school and later asked flat-out if he were gay during basic training, and to others who told Duane they were “not really out” but did have Pride Flags in their rooms.