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Navy lieutenant breaks silence to fight DADT
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Navy lieutenant breaks silence to fight DADT

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Everett Earl Morrow, a Gay former submariner who left the U.S. Navy in 2008 because of the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) policy, has had enough.

'The time has come to speak out against this immoral, outdated policy,' said Morrow, who recently participated in an off-camera interview for Out of Annapolis, a forthcoming documentary about LGBT alumni of the United States Naval Academy.

"DADT is a policy of discrimination which Gay and Lesbian servicemembers must suffer through if they want to serve their country," Morrow told SGN during a phone interview from New York City. "The premise of the policy is maintaining military readiness and unit cohesion, which couldn't be further from reality. As someone who has served on a submarine in an all-male environment, my sexuality didn't jeopardize our preparedness for battle or our overall solidarity. My crew was confident in my competence to get the job done. The only effect the policy did have, however, was that I couldn't be open or honest enough to facilitate a true camaraderie with my shipmates."

The Gay military ban DADT requires the Defense Department to separate from the armed services members who engage in or attempt to engage in homosexual acts; state they are homosexual or Bisexual; or marry or attempt to marry a person of the same biological sex. Nearly 14,000 otherwise qualified men and women have been discharged from the military under DADT, and many thousands more, like Morrow, have chosen to not re-enlist because of the policy. Enforcing and implementing the policy has cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

It is estimated that 65,000 Gay and Lesbian people currently serve in the military.

Morrow says Army National Guard Lieutenant Dan Choi's courageous coming out last year inspired him to break his silence. Choi, an Iraq war veteran and Arabic linguist who has been recommended for discharge under the military's DADT policy, came out on the nationally televised MSNBC Rachael Maddow Show. Almost overnight, Choi's bombshell confession thrust him into the mainstream media where he has used his position to become the poster boy for a DADT repeal, speaking at LGBT equality rallies around the country and recently returning to weekend drill exercises with his New York National Guard unit.

"As someone who has dutifully and willingly served my country, I can no longer stand quietly by as Gay and Lesbian servicemen and women continue to be at risk of losing their jobs because of their sexuality," said Morrow.

Last month, President Obama pledged to end the discriminatory ban on Gays in the military during his State of the Union address. For Morrow, the president's pledge has come too late; he left military service in 2008 for fear of losing his career to DADT. Still, Morrow told SGN that a repeal is indeed necessary - and inevitable, for that matter. The American public rightly believes that now - with the country engaged in two wars - is the time to repeal DADT and make military service contingent on skills and abilities, and not factors immaterial to the job at hand.

"How can a nation that prides itself on freedom and justice for all uphold such contradictory policies?" said Morrow. "Gays and Lesbians can't marry in most states, domestic partners are still denied many of the benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy, and we can't serve openly in the military."

"Tell me, exactly, what rights do we have?" he asks.

FROM MIDSHIPMAN TO GAY NAVY LIEUTENANT
Morrow's journey from a suburban Guilford, Connecticut high school jock to closeted Gay Naval officer is easy to trace, partly because it is the story of many a Gay boy who dreams of adventure on the high seas. With the promise of career, travel, and service to country beckoning him, Morrow says he filled out applications to all of the major service academies. The United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland answered.

Growing up in a relatively small town where everyone knows everyone, Morrow says, "I was not out at the time. I knew full well I was Gay. But at 17 years old, we don't have a full appreciation for what we are getting ourselves into." While it may be true that Uncle Sam is looking for "a few good men," Morrow would soon learn that what Uncle Sam was really looking for were a few good straight men. "I remained in the closet through high school and the naval academy," he said.

In 2003, Morrow was commissioned as a Navy officer and entered the submarine community where he spent the duration of his naval career. As a junior officer, Morrow spent a number of years aboard the Los Angeles class submarine USS Memphis (SSN-691), where he eventually qualified as a nuclear engineer in 2007. For all intents and purposes, he was the perfect sailor.

"My military career went great, as long as you put DADT aside," he told SGN. "I excelled and did well overall. I was an above-average contributor to the team, and I received several awards. I really enjoyed my time in the service."

Morrow says he doesn't buy into the blanket argument that repealing DADT will make heterosexual servicemembers uncomfortable. In fact, he said that during his tour of duty he observed the open-mindedness of several of his fellow servicemembers with regards to homosexuality.

Currently, the U.S. service chiefs are in deep debate with Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates over whether or not a repeal would hurt the already stressed armed forces. Gates wants to move on a repeal slowly and has ordered a lengthy assessment on how to lift the ban without affecting troops and their families. Officials expect the study to be complete be the end of the year, but warn that it could be several more years before the repeal is fully implemented.

Testimony by the service chiefs is considered crucial to the debate. As the top uniformed officials in each service, the chief is in charge of recruitment and preparing troops for deployments. If the policy on Gays is overturned, they would have to decided how to implement the changes. As it stands, a majority of the service chiefs are against lifting the ban.

"I do have serious concerns about the impact of a repeal of the law on a force that is fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for eight and a half years," Army Chief of Staff General George Casey told Congress on February 24. "We just don't know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness."

Servicemembers like Morrow and Choi, who've served under DADT, say that the fears of a mass exodus of straight troops in the event of a repeal are unfounded. In fact, they say that all you need do is look at foreign militaries who successfully lifted their anti-Gay service bans with little to no consequences.

A comprehensive new study on foreign militaries that have made transitions to allowing openly Gay service members concludes that a speedy implementation of the change is not disruptive. The finding is in direct opposition to the stated views of Pentagon leaders, who say repealing a ban on openly Gay men and women in the U.S. armed forces should take a year or more.

The study, "Gays in Foreign Militaries 2010: A Global Primer," was released on February 24 by the Palm Center, a research group at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The 151-page study, which updates existing studies on Gay service members in Britain, Canada, Australia, South Africa and other countries, offers the first broad look at the issue in foreign militaries since Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, called for an end to DADT earlier this month.

The report concludes that in foreign militaries, openly Gay servicemembers did not undermine morale, cause large resignations, or mass "coming out." The report found that "there were no instance of increased harassment" as a result of lifting bans in any of the countries studied.

In addition, the report says that none of the countries studied installed separate facilities for Gay troops, and benefits for Gay partners were generally in accordance with a country's existing benefits for Gay and Lesbian couples.

On implementation, the study said that most countries adopted the new policy swiftly, within a matter of months, and with what it termed "little disruption" accepted Gays and Lesbians into their armed forces.

Morrow told SGN that DADT is a policy that may not affect heterosexual servicemembers, but undoubtedly has a large influence on Gays and Lesbians serving, primarily because of the lies and stress that go along with being in the closet. Even with a successful career and the seemingly perfect heterosexual life, Morrow could not take the deception any longer. While still on active duty, he met his current partner, came out to family and friends, and left military service, breaking free of the policy's confines and becoming an outspoken advocate for repeal.

COMING OUT OF THE CLOSET AND THE UNIFORM
"Three years ago, I came out. It was more stressful on me, I think. I just didn't know what to expect. I wanted my friends and family to know the real me, the full me - not just a part of me," Morrow said. "I haven't had any negative response from my family, friends, or former military coworkers."

Morrow says the decision to come out and leave military service was in direct relation with DADT. "My partner Michael and I had been dating for months and nobody knew about my relationship. It just became too stressful keeping my story straight about where I went that weekend and who I was seeing. It all begins to take its toll," he said.

Morrow said he met his partner, Michael Knipp, in Baltimore, Maryland when he was on leave from military service. He was able to go to Gay bars and be around the community without having to keep looking over his shoulder, like he had to do at his duty station. Morrow and Knipp hit it off and began a long-distance relationship. Eventually, dating grew into love, and the two became inseparable. Still, Morrow says the stress of "being found out" was always present.

"When Michael would come visit me in Groton, Connecticut, we couldn't hold hands, embrace or show any type of public display of affection," he recalled. "Michael was great. He understood and recognized that I had to fulfill my military obligation and didn't want to see me kicked out under DADT. So, we just did what we could to make it work."

When it came time for Morrow to decide whether he wanted to stay in the Navy or get out, he says his newfound love was more important to him than living a lie.

"Although DADT wasn't the only reason I left, it certainly was the number one contributor," he told SGN. "As much as I liked the job, I couldn't go on living a double life."

Morrow isn't alone; poll after poll indicate that Americans are fed up with Gay and Lesbian servicemembers being forced to lie in order to keep their careers intact.

A new poll from the Center of American Progress (CAP) shows that a majority of American voters support a repeal of DADT. The poll is the most extensive of a number of recent surveys tracking public opinions on this issue, and undeniably shows that the American public has become increasingly supportive of open service.

CAP's poll, fielded by Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research, finds that 54% of those surveyed support repealing the current ban on open service, with just 35% opposed to repeal. These numbers demonstrate a massive change in public opinion on this issue since 1994, when polls showed that majorities of Americans opposed Gays and Lesbians serving in the military. The poll also shows that voters value skills over sexual orientation, a DADT repeal is not a politically polarizing issue, voters do not want to defer to the military on DADT, and that voters are becoming more accepting of Gays and Lesbians overall.

The Palm Center recently released eight key recommendations to the Pentagon Working Group on Gays in the military. These recommendations are intended as a first step in providing full support to the Working Group. The key recommendations include consulting existing literature as a roadmap, assessing the impact on unit cohesion properly, consulting troops for relevant information about implementing the change rather than asking their permission to reform, sending study teams to Britain, Israel, Australia, and Canada, using an appropriate standard for assessing the likely impact of change, consulting research on the timing of implementation, noting that leadership and consistency are more important than second-order effects, and correcting for biases introduced by DADT.

Sentiment has changed among the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), a 63,000-member professional association for all uniformed services of the United States. The organization voted on February 24 to rescind its previous call for complete exclusion of Gays and Lesbians serving in the U.S. military. The association also rejected by a two-thirds vote a proposal to endorse the current DADT law. Previously, ROA had urged Congress "to exclude homosexuals from induction, enlistment, commissioning, and continued service in the Armed Forces of the United States." This was U.S. government policy before DADT went into law in 1993.

For Morrow, DADT is flawed in many ways, but specifically because its implementation is subjective. In order for a repeal to work, he said, it would ultimately come down to leadership.

"The leadership has to be on-board with it," he said. "I served under a Navy Captain who was a bigot more than anything else. From my own impression, if any of our crew had been openly Gay, he would have kicked them out. He made it very clear that he did not approve of homosexuality. Yet in other commands, this is certainly not the case. You even hear stories of sailors dating each other - so it varies drastically."

"I certainly think that we've established a good start with Mullen calling for a repeal," he said, "but leadership will have to change or a repeal will get left behind."

FROM NAVAL OFFICER TO ACTIVIST
These days, Morrow, 28, lives his life as an openly Gay civilian with his partner Michael in Manhattan, New York. Morrow is on "Inactive Reserve Status," meaning he could be recalled to duty if need be. Although he says a recall would be highly unlikely, it is not an impossibility.

"I am completely out at my current job," he told SGN. "My co-workers are fully accepting, and I feel like a positive contributor to the work team. My life is 100 times less stressful, and my relationship with Michael is much better as a result."

Although Morrow is convinced he made the right decision, he says his mind drifts back to those who are still serving in the military and being forced to live a double life. "There was a shift in my mind, and I become motivated about speaking out about DADT," he said. "When the president said he would repeal the policy and I watched the recent Senate hearings regarding DADT, I promised myself I would do whatever I could to help put a face on the issue. DADT affects real people. Gays and Lesbians serving in the military aren't just a number."

Morrow says he became offended when he heard the things that those who oppose a repeal were saying about servicemembers. "A breakdown in unit cohesion and military readiness couldn't be farther from the truth," he said. "That cohesion isn't just built on the battlefield. It happens at events outside the military environment. It's those traditional ceremonies and unit get-togethers where people really get to know each other. For me, DADT acted as a catapult for stopping unit cohesion because, as a Gay sailor, I could not fully partake."

Morrow says he had to isolate himself, couldn't invite Michael to events, and people never really had the opportunity to really get to know him. "DADT breaks down unit cohesion," he said, "and I am offended that anyone would think that my being Gay made my unit less ready for war."

"Gay servicemembers need to speak up and put a face on this. I am ready to do my part," he told SGN.

Morrow said it is hard to break down stereotypes without putting a face on them. "If you ask some straight people about LGBT people, they may not know what to say," he said. "But if you ask those same people, 'What do you think about Earl?' they will say they like him, and hopefully that helps them make the connection."

Morrow says that most stereotypes don't hold true when they are put to the test.

When DADT is repealed, he says that anti-Gay violence is "unlikely."

"I don't propose that there aren't bigots in the military," he explained. "But the military doesn't tolerate racism or sexism. When those prejudices rear their ugly head, there are rules in place to properly deal with them. That is how it will be for anti-Gay slurs, threats, and violence."

"I am open and available to speak when and where I can about repealing DADT," he told SGN. "I feel like ultimately, when this issue is over, it wouldn't be because just one of us tried to overturn it. This is a group effort and we have to keep going while we have the momentum. The realization needs to be made that this is the path that we should take."

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