It was an unprecedented event at the Roseville Recruiting office of the Minnesota National Guard. Three young people showed up to enlist Tuesday morning.
“Haven and I,” Jacob Reitan told assembled reporters and news cameras, “are 24 years old. We are young, fit, capable people. We both graduated in the top 10 percent of our class from some of the nation’s best universities.”
So, why the media fuss? Jacob, Haven Herrin and their friend, Ezekiel Montgomery are all homosexual. They planned their enlistments as a protest to the 13-year-old “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, barring openly gay personnel in the U.S. Military. It is believed to be the first time “out” young persons have tried to join here.
“To my knowledge,” Major Kevin Olson of the Guard insisted, “it hasn't happened before in the Minnesota National Guard.” As for tossing out revealed enlisted men and women, “Over the last two years, there's been a total of four discharges for homosexual conduct in the Minnesota National Guard.”
With that history, it might seem that the trio of eager protesters might have encountered some hostility Tuesday morning. The opposite was the case. The Guardsmen set up a podium to facilitate a news conference by the would-be enlistees and offered muted praise of their own.
“We appreciate and are honored,” Major Olson told the three and their friends, “by patriotic, young people who choose to enlist in the National Guard.” However, Olson added, “The Minnesota National Guard is required to abide by all federal statutes and Department of Defense regulations.”
The Guardsmen handed out copies of Army Regulation 600-200: the “Homosexual conduct policy”. It reads in part: “Homosexual conduct” can be a “statement by a person…such as ‘I am a homosexual’, ‘I am gay’, ‘I am a lesbian’…and the like.”
Each of the would-be enlistees clearly attested to their sexual orientation while pointing to traditions of military service in their families. Jacob Reitan wore a Navy bracelet from his grandfather. Ezekiel Montgomery explained that two of his brothers are currently in uniform.
“My brother who's in the Army has already done two tours in Iraq and I want the opportunity to stand beside them.”
President Clinton entered office promising to end sexual orientation discrimination in the armed forces, much as President Truman had ended racial discrimination in the military in 1950. Facing overwhelming opposition from powerful men in congress, Clinton compromised with the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which prohibited discharges from the military unless the person engaged in homosexual activity.
The order effectively forced active duty gays into a “closet” within the military. Since 1993, an estimated 10,000 active duty service men and women have had their military careers ended simply by being open about their sexual orientation. After hitting a peak of 1,227 in 2001, such discharges fell dramatically in 2002 (885) and 2003 (770) and 2004 (653), but climbed to 726 in 2005.
Jacob Reitan’s mother, Randi, told reporters she deplored the continuing use of “don’t ask-don’t tell”.
“I just can’t imagine what it’s like for these servicemen and women to have to live day after day in the closet and if they don’t, they lose their careers.” As for her own son, “Jake has to be out. He has to be who he is and we’re proud of who he is.”
Openly lesbian Haven Herrin echoed the feelings of Jacob’s mother about the de-facto closet inside the services. “They are forced to lie in order to serve their country. I, too, am here today to try to serve my country, but I will not live a lie in order to do so.”
The trio had planned to use a non-violent protest in the effort to join an organization whose mission often involves violence, but they postponed their planned sit-in. Since their arrests in April during a protest at West Point Military Academy precluded Haven’s and Jacob’s completing their applications, only Ezekiel’s application could be sent up immediately.
“It's our hope,” Jacob intoned, hugging his two friends, “that you (the media) will follow the process of these three young Minnesotans who are seeking to serve their country.”
Their success would require eliminating “don’t ask-don’t tell” and banning any discrimination in the U.S. Military based on sexual orientation. There is no doubt their applications will be denied. They say they intend to appeal and “not take ‘no’ for an answer.”
By Allen Costantini , KARE 11 News
(Copyright 2006 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)