West Point Jettisons Gay Volunteer

Steve Boeckels, retired 1st lieutenant, bounced from recruiting role after Don’t Ask essay

Steve Boeckels, a civilian volunteer for the West Point admissions office in Northern California, has been dismissed from his position under circumstances strongly suggesting that the reason is because he is gay.

Boeckels, a former U.S. Army lieutenant and now a pharmaceutical sales representative from San Francisco, had been a local admissions coordinator for the U.S. Army’s military academy since 2002. His duties included interviewing academy candidates, as well as speaking before high-school students and parents groups.

But as a volunteer, Boeckels apparently ran afoul of the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy after he wrote an article for the online magazine Diversity, Inc. critical of DADT.

After graduating from West Point as a 1st lieutenant, Boeckels was stationed in Wainwright, Alaska from 1997 to 2000.

“I joined the Army thinking I’d be in until retirement, but I encountered an incredibly homophobic atmosphere at Wainwright,” Boeckels said in a recent interview. “I basically had no clue about my sexuality until after I graduated and by then I was stuck.”

Boeckels said the environment in Alaska was so hostile that after three years there his self- esteem was shattered and he knew he had to leave the service before he had a nervous breakdown. He transferred to Fort Knox, Kentucky simply to get himself into a place he felt safe enough to come out and seek discharge.

The professional attitude Boeckels encountered among his superiors at Fort Knox convinced him that the homophobia he encountered in Alaska was not intrinsic to the military, and that gay and heterosexual soldiers could function together.

So, despite the way in which his career ended, his respect for the military was undimmed. That, along with his years at West Point, which he terms an “incredibly positive experience,” led him to decide that he still wanted to encourage people to join.

But since leaving the army, Boeckels has also been an advocate of lifting the ban. He routinely travels to Washington, D.C. on behalf of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to lobby Congress to overturn the military’s gay ban. SLDN is an advocacy organization that assists armed forces personnel affected by the gay ban.

According to Boeckels, the article in Diversity, Inc. came to the attention of a West Point recruiter in Georgia who informed the West Point admissions director. The director then ordered Boeckel’s boss in California to dismiss him.

Boeckels said he wasn’t told the exact reasons for his dismissal, only that he would soon be receiving a letter detailing the circumstances.

SLDN disputes the assertion that Boeckels’ stance on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell represents a conflict of interest as a West Point representative.

“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, SLDN spokesman. Ralls specifically cited the recent op-ed by Lt. Col. 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.

As a volunteer, Boeckels does not receive the same protections that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation among federal employees. Civilians within the Department of Defense cannot be terminated because they are gay and work alongside military personnel.

When contacted about Boeckels, Lieutenant Colonel Kent Casella, an Academy spokesman, said it was inappropriate for him to discuss individual personnel matters.

“To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Boeckels is still a civilian recruiter for West Point,” Casella said.

Boeckels said he would still be involved in selecting candidates for West Point Academy. He has been retained by California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer to help her select her nominees to the school.

“I’m doing the same thing, just at a higher level,” Boeckels said.

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