Out of the Closet and Into a Uniform

The New York Times
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November 19, 2012

FOR their club’s big debut this semester, the cadets at the United States Air Force Academy hammered out talking points, printed fliers and hung their logo, a rainbow-colored globe, in their booth in Arnold Hall. Then they held their breath.

On the day known as Blue Rush, when incoming freshmen learn about extracurricular activities, Lydia Hill and Brandon Reams were making history, introducing their fellow cadets to Spectrum, the academy’s first club for gay, lesbian and bisexual students and their straight friends and supporters.

“My biggest fear was that nobody would show up at our table,” said Ms. Hill, a sophomore and a co-president of the new club. “I was afraid that people would pass us by.”

Some cadets averted their eyes. Others stopped for a moment and quickly moved on. But by the end of the afternoon, 30 people had signed up. Ms. Hill, 19, who had wondered whether she would ever be fully accepted as a lesbian determined to build a career as an officer in the Air Force, was thrilled.

“I was overwhelmed,” she said. “Having that many people sign up, it was, like, wow.”

A year after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” gay students and alumni say they are still savoring the new sense of openness and acceptance at the nation’s military academies. Once forced to hide their sexual orientation or risk expulsion, like their counterparts in the armed forces, many now enjoy a visibility that was once unimaginable.