Military service member, Army Captain Stephen Hill, spoke candidly with the Associated Press (AP) last week about his video question about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in a 2011 Republican Debate (for which he was booed by the audience) and the supportive reaction of his military superiors. As an army captain and a married gay man, Hill was naturally concerned about the possible reinstitution of that discriminatory law, should a Republican candidate take office in 2012. This concern motivated Hill to pose this question at the 2011 Republican Presidential Debate:
"In 2010, when I was deployed to Iraq, I had to lie about who I was because I'm a gay soldier and I didn't want to lose my job. My question is, under one of your presidencies, do you intend to circumvent the progress that's been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?"
The question, which was met with disapproval from some audience members, preceded a rash of ‘booing’ from the crowd. An American soldier was publicly scorned for posing a valid question to a Presidential hopeful. The crowd’s reaction, which went undiminished by former Sen. Rick Santorum at the onset of the incident, caused a widespread media reaction in late September.
The recent AP piece commented on the relevance of Hill’s question:
“Now that ‘don't ask, don't tell’ has been lifted, he [Hill] needed to know if the military would take the next step and recognize his marriage, or if a new president would try to force soldiers like him back into the closet.”
Fortunately, Hill’s experience wasn’t all negative. After his commander learned of Hill’s question, the crowd’s subsequent reaction, and Santorum’s answer, she offered support. She informed him that she had no problem with his question or contribution to the debate. Even after conferencing with military officials up the chain of command, Hill’s superior relayed a positive message of support on behalf of the military: “What the military's most concerned with is that you are OK, because it's a lot of pressure on you and we want to make sure if there is anything we can do to help.” This institutionalized support is encouraging as the military progresses as an open and inclusive environment for LGBT service members.
Yet, the struggle for equality in the military persists. Hill and his husband, Josh Snyder, still don’t share the same benefits as straight military couples. Same-sex military couples across the nation have banded together to challenge the government for access to equal benefits. Hill expressed concern to the AP:
"A special privilege is not hiding pictures in my house or God forbid, taking mortar fire again and not knowing if Josh will be recognized. I'm fighting every day to protect everyone's rights as human beings, and it seems counterintuitive for me to be fighting for those rights and not have them."
As we move forward to ensure the same protections and benefits are afforded to LGBT couples in the military, it’s important to positively recognize Hill’s commander and the military for this inclusive reaction to a fellow soldier. Superiors like Hill’s commander permit a supportive environment for all gay soldiers to serve openly on the heels of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’s’ repeal. Only by having responsible commanders will LGBT soldiers enjoy true acceptance in our nation’s military.