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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 43
DADT is repealed, Gay veteran first to reenlist
Section One
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DADT is repealed, Gay veteran first to reenlist

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Lee Reinhart, 38, is about to join the military for a third time. Only now, with DADT out of the picture, he won't be forced to lie about his sexual orientation to serve his country. So, in all actuality, Reinhart, as a Gay man, is about to join the military - wholly - for the first time.

Reinhart was kicked out of the Coast Guard in 2002 for violating the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy three years after completing a four-year enlistment in the Navy without ever being confronted about his sexual orientation.

Now, nearly 10 years later, Reinhart is scheduled to reenlist in the U.S. Navy Reserve on October 31. U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat who voted to repeal DADT, will administer the oath to Reinhart during a ceremony at the Center on Halsted, a community center for LGBT people in Chicago's Boystown district.

The U.S. Department of Defense doesn't track the number of people who have re-enlisted in the military after being discharged under DADT, but both Reinhart's Navy Reserve recruiter and the head of the Chicago chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights said he is the first person they know of to do so.

Reinhart, who spent years pressuring federal lawmakers to repeal the policy after he was forced out of the Coast Guard, said the decision to re-enlist was an easy one. He was motivated, he said, by the 'desire to be able to give back to my country and serve my country, and the honor and pride that comes with that.'

'I just feel I have a place there,' Reinhart said of the military. 'I'm glad I took the path that I did.'

Michael Landry, a chief warrant officer in the Navy who served with Reinhart on the guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens in the late 1990s, said he's attending Reinhart's re-enlistment ceremony out of respect for Reinhart's perseverance.

'There are some people in this world who talk about doing a lot of good, and Lee is one those people who went out and actually made something happen,' Landry said. 'He worked tirelessly after getting out of the military to get DADT repealed. He did a lot of good for a lot of other people, and I want to be there for him.'

During his first tour on the Cowpens, Reinhart generally kept his secret to himself, coming out to only a few close friends. But the pressure of hiding his identity became too intense, and just before his second six-month deployment, Reinhart told a high-ranking officer that he was Gay. He expected to be kicked off the ship immediately.

Instead, the officer told Reinhart to get back to work, and to let him know if anyone gave him trouble.

'I never had a negative experience the rest of my time in the Navy,' Reinhart said. 'I tell people that I was on the right ship at the right time. And that says a lot for the crew of that ship.'

Reinhart finished his commitment in the Navy in 1999, but he decided to join the Coast Guard a few months after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Just four months after joining, however, he was discharged after word spread that he had gone to a Gay bar in Oregon while his ship was in port there.

Military lawyers told him he could stay in the military if he denied being Gay, but Reinhart said he didn't want to lie about his identity.

'That's not what the military teaches,' he said. 'That's not the core of the military, and that was a problem with the policy.'

Now, after years spent meeting with legislators, collecting signatures, and making speeches in an effort to allow Gay people to serve openly, Reinhart is finally getting another chance to do so himself.

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