Q&A with Jason Knight, the out gay sailor who was recalled to active duty
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network‘s blog The Frontlines has partnered with Pam’s House Blend to bring you a Q&A with Petty Officer Second Class Jason Knight. He was discharged under the discriminatory Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, and made headlines recently because he received recall orders to serve in Kuwait — and Knight had no intention of going back into the closet.
There’s a lot of curiosity about how it all happened, and to find out what Knight’s perspective is on the current status of acceptance of gays in the military in the ranks, so here’s a slew of Qs & As, not only from me, but Blenders and SLDN readers as well.
Pam Spaulding: First, I want to thank you for your service to this country, and for stepping out and breaking the silence that others still have to serve in.
Petty Officer Knight, when Sen. John McCain recently wrote a letter to SLDN to elaborate on his continued support for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, he said the legislation passed in 1993 “unambiguously maintains that open homosexuality within the military services presents an intolerable risk to morale, cohesion and discipline.”
On the other hand, a December 2006 Zogby poll that found 73% of returning Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans are comfortable serving with gay and lesbian servicemembers, up 13% since 1993. In fact, 23% have served with someone openly gay in their unit. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John M. Shalikashvili wrote a NYT op-ed that called for a re-examination and repeal of DADT.
Who’s right, Senator McCain and his unnamed generals (aside from Colin Powell and Peter Pace) who want to keep gays and lesbians in the closet (or want them out), or the large number of boots on the ground who don’t have a problem with gay colleagues? How does either of the above square with your experience with enlisted personnel and officers in the Navy?
Jason Knight: Hi Pam! Thanks again for giving me this opportunity.
Well Pam, I am sure you can see that his comments are based on his own bias and discrimination. As with Mr. Pace, I respect his opinion but it has no basis or validity. The numbers in the polls just go to show that the spokespeople that are supposed to be speaking on our behalves have a vision clouded with their own views. There wasn’t a time when I felt that me being homosexual had any effect on the unit, unit cohesiveness, or caused any problems. Look at the number of people booted under the DADT that are in the linguist field, a field that REQUIRES a security clearance. If gays and lesbians posed such a threat to national security, then how did they get the clearance in the first place? They said the same thing before they allowed women and blacks in the military.
PS: You remarked in the Stars and Stripes interview that it was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace’s remarks about homosexuality being immoral that was the tipping point for you in terms of speaking out. What do you think the impact of his remarks has been on gay and lesbian service members?
JK: As I stated above, his remarks were his own opinion. That’s how this whole thing started, I just sent a letter to the editor, never expecting to be heard… I know that there are so many gays and lesbians dying to speak out, but have to yell through gritted teeth for fear of being discharged. This is where I feel I have a great opportunity to speak out since I was already ‘out’. And I plan to do it, until I can’t breathe anymore.
PS: What was the environment like for you, as a closeted gay man back in 2004, when you decided to fully come out? What were the circumstances of your honorable discharge in 2005 under DADT?
JK: Wow, it was really difficult. I had struggled for so long with my own sexuality and got married thinking that it would go away, only to find out on the wedding night that I had been lying to myself and lost a true friend. In the aftermath, as a closeted gay male, it was so hard. Not because I was afraid of what people would do, but just the fact that I was forced to live a lie, to hide who I was. And I hadn’t changed, nothing changed except I finally was honest with myself. Once the legal paperwork was started I was nearing my 4 year mark and would have to reenlist or get out, and rather than draw the process out, they just booted me.
PS: What kind of homophobic comments have you been exposed to while serving (either time)?
JK: I honestly can’t recall ANY time that I have been exposed to homophobic comments, besides the jokes and rants with my friends, but that was never malicious.
PS: What, in your opinion, lies at the heart of the bigotry — fear, anger, questions of masculinity? Does it really come down to a ludicrous, juvenile fear of the “soap bar dropping in the shower” at this point when bombs are going off?
JK: Fear is definitely the largest underlying factor of bigotry. People fear what they don’t understand.
PS: One question on everyone’s minds is whether your recall to active duty was a paperwork snafu or a matter of needing a trained, qualified person back in the ranks regardless of a DADT-related discharge and hoped it would fly under the public radar. Do you have any details about this you can share?
JK: It was definitely a clerical error. Like I stated above, they had a two week window to process me out and took the easier of two routes.
PS: And so what happened to that $13K sign-on bonus that the Navy wanted back after discharging you? After you were recalled, did anyone in the bureaucracy say you’d get it back?
JK: Oh the bonus…..yes so it was recouped, no paperwork-it had gone “missing”. There is nothing on my DD214-the discharge paperwork-that states I had a break in contract or anything which should be on there if they recouped money. So someone didn’t do their job. I have been trying to track down my record and have not had any luck, they stripped my account before I left, took my past two tax returns and garnished my wages in Kuwait. Good times.
PS: Have you spoken to your representatives in Congress about your story, and do you have plans to testify on behalf of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, the passage of which would end DADT?
JK: Oh yes, after I got out, I sent about 10-12 letters to congressmen, still have them too, but didn’t get any response for help.
Blenders and readers of SLDN’s blog The Frontlines had a lot of questions of their own, you can read Jason Knight’s responses to them after the flip.Questions from Blenders (you can find more in this thread):
From JohnAGJ: 1. What is your actual rating? When you were discharged under DADT, what was your RE classification? Were you placed in the IRR? Is that how you were recalled to service?
2. An article Pam linked here had some laudatory comments about you from a Bill Driver, a “leading petty officer”. Assuming this means he is a First Class and not just the media’s ignorance, have you had any negative pressure from from your superiors either senior NCOs (Chiefs, etc.) or from “butter bars” on up?
3. If you have a boyfriend, has this had any impact on him?
4. Have you been approached by any fellow sailors or other military personnel who are closeted with support?
5. I don’t know what the climate is like in the Navy now, but in the early 90s it wasn’t too uncommon to hear about incidents where suspected or known homosexuals were tossed off the fantail. I’m just wondering if your command has taken any steps to ensure your safety?
6. Finally in one article I’ve seen, you are quoted as saying that you hope to pursue your career in the Navy now that you’ve been recalled. Have you spoken with anyone who can help make this a reality so that when the current conflict ends and the needs of the Navy changes, you aren’t just discharged once again.
Thanks, PO. Also, may I say BRAVO ZULU, Shipmate!!!
A: 1. I am a CTI2-Cryptologic Technician Interpretive-fancy word for Linguist. Hebrew. The discharge: they had begun the legal stuff for the DADT but since I was nearing my 4 year mark, they took the easier route I guess. So I lucked out with an Honorable, and an RE-! code. So I was placed into the IRR and eventually called back.
2. Yes, Bill is a really good friend and one of my best friends. As for negative pressure? I haven’t had any as of yet, but I am not holding my breath.
3. I actually know alot of people that I keep in contact with that, because of their rank or fear of reprise, are not out, but showing great support in hopes that maybe one day they can serve openly.
4. Oh I skipped one…no I am single.
5. I think the Navy has come very far since those days. I have not heard, thank God, of any stories like that, and have never felt the need to ensure my own safety.
6. Yes, I was actively pursuing opportunities like NROTC, which I am still a candidate for, and going back to active duty. However, I really do not think that I will be able to do it now. Now that the story is out, the Navy does not want to make it seem like they are condoning homosexuality. So I can see them sending me a revised DD214 May 28th barring me from reenlistment. Thanks so much, hope that answered them all.
SuburbanHomo: I am wondering what, if anything, you are doing differently now that you are out and back on active duty?
A: Suburbanhomo, I am honestly not doing anything differently. I am happy and pround, and hey, if they throw me through the ringer again, its nothing new. No, no one special, just two great roommates-my friend Brandy, also discharged, and her girlfriend. Thanks
KS: What could Peter Pace learn from you?
A: Mr. Pace can learn that the real morality issue here is the policy itself. It’s discriminatory and from this you can see that it doesn’t work. Thanks.
PTA: Jason, will your return be the foot in the door to get all the others who have been discharged under the DADT policy? If they are going to allow you to serve openly, wouldn’t that be hypocritical of them for not allowing the others?
A: You know, I really am not sure. I think they made a mistake here and its going to bite them in the ass. I can only hope that it will just prove that its not needed and it gets repealed. Thanks.
Chadster: Why didn’t you refuse to go back and make a test case out of your situation? Either way, the LBGT community wins. 1) If you lost, and had to go back, EVERYBODY kicked out due to DADT who wanted to go back could go back. 2) If you won, and didn’t have to go back, you could have volunteered to go back, and made Peter Pace eat crow. Or if you won, NOT go back… and please don’t tell me you wanted to go back because “we’re at war.” When Congress declares war, I’ll believe we’re at war. I got that silly notion from a little thing called the Constitution.
A: That’s a big question that everyone is asking. Why didn’t I refuse to go back? Well, for one, I got the orders and they said “Involuntarily Recalled”. However, it wasn’t until I had actually gotten to Kuwait that I found that was just formality, and that it was voluntary. But, all in all, I think I would have gone regardless. There is a sense of pride in defending your nation, whether I agree with the war or not, I still love the Navy and would fight side by side with my fellow servicemembers. Thanks.
Over SLDN’s blog The Frontlines, Knight took several questions as well.
Paul W. Dodd Chaplain (Colonel), U.S. Army (Ret.): Dear Jason,
Congratulations! You are a true inspiration and bring renewed hope to the thousands of brave and patriotic lgbt service members in America’s military, and the million or so of us who are retirees and vets! And, your life changing story could not have come at a better time in our long struggle for justice and equality. I’m reminded of Mordecai’s probing question to Esther, when he asked, “…And who knows but that you have come to (this) position for such a time as this?”
Jason, I have one question for you — a question I often ask our lgbt service members. What about the chaplain? Is your chaplain supportive, trusting, available and understanding? Having spent 31 years in uniform as an Army Chaplain, I am intensely concerned that our chaplains serve all of their service members with the dignity and honor they so rightly deserve. Sadly, I have heard of far too many instances where that has not been the case. I sincerely hope your experience has been positive.
Know that you will remain in my thoughts and prayers as you continue your heroic and historic journey.
A: Wow, what a great question. I myself have not spoken to a chaplain, however I know they are supportive to the troops. However, I know the issue of religion and homosexuality comes up and I know of a few cases where servicemembers confided in the chaplain, but were reported to their command. It’s a shame, especially someone who is struggling with thier own sexuality and in need of counsel. That is just another reason why the ban should be lifted. Thanks, and thank you for your service.
John Selig, Dallas TX: Did you consider refusing to rejoin the military since they kicked you out until they did away with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”
A: It is one thing for Conservative bigots to kick gays out but if we refused to serve they would have a nervous breakdown. I did consider it. But I love the Navy and the military, its just unfortunately under bad policy. I want to defend my nation, as every American has the right to. So I went willingly and out of the closet. Thanks John.
Lisa, USA Veteran In San Diego: What would you say to a young, out gay man considering joining the military?
Would you consider meeting with DOD Secretary Gates and discussing why DADT is even worse then Apartied and Segregation since it not only separates, but makes people live a lie and being in the Navy is all about honor and courage. He seem very intellectual and perhaps he will listen. Maybe he is sensitive to others? I just believe that the tide is turning and this man is our only hope to get through to everyone else.
A: Lisa, unfortunately, there is no way that the DOD will allow an openly gay person in, like myself-some cases slip by. But I plan to do everything I can possibly do to help get rid of the ban. It’s only a matter of time. 🙂 Thanks Lisa.
Zoe Dunning, CDR, SC, USNR: Jason,
First off, THANK YOU for your service. And thank you for the courage to make your story public and help shed a light on the hypocricy of the policy.
I have two questions for you:
1. What was your immediate, gut reaction when you received the notification that you were being recalled? I imagine it was something along the lines of “you’ve got to be kidding me!”
2. Since your story has gone public, what has been the reaction of your current and former shipmates? I hope it has been supportive, but I suspect not in all cases.
Your story is an important one – keep telling it!
Q: HAHAHA! Me and my roommate said that very thing in unison. It was shocking! I couldn’t believe it and when I decided to go, she said “After all they did to you? Are you crazy?” I don’t know, maybe I have that need to serve, need to feel that I can make some kind of difference. Missing the camaraderie, the Navy itself, as I am sure you feel. It is crazy! There has been so much support from so many people. Even people I have never met before have contacted me. If there is negative out there, it sure hasn’t come to me yet. But it’s not anything I can’t face when it comes. Thanks so much. Hoorah Navy!
Jen Mionske: Thank you and Congratulations to you not only for your patriotism and love of you country, but for being selfless enough and brave enough to not only join the military, but to be the face of the GLBT military community. Whether you chose it or not, your story is going to be extremely important to many GLBT servicemembers.
I wonder what your advice would be to GLBT servicemembers who are currently overseas? How would you advice them as far as their openness?
Good luck to you!
A: Hey Jen,
It’s very tough to judge the situation. You really need to ask yourself if you will be willing to accept the consequences should word get out further than you plan. My best advice would be to first tell your friend, someone you feel closest to and trust. You would not believe how liberating it feels to tell someone, even if it is just one person. I hope that helps. Thanks Jen for your kind words.
Andrew Shelton, Boonville, IN: First, I want to say thank you for putting a face on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” It has needed a persons face for a long time. I am sure you do not feel like a Hero, just doing what you feel is right. Yet, you are a Hero to so many people. My question for you is Do you have any plans after your year of active duty, if not renewed, to go public with a fight against the policy in which you were dismissed? Once again Thank You for standing up for your beliefs! You have been given a great setting to enact change.
A: Wow Andrew,
You hit the nail on the head. I really don’t feel much like a hero at all. I sent a letter in, not even thinking it would be published and boom! It’s everywhere. Yes it is overwhelming, but I realize that this has been put on me and yes, I do feel obligated to do all I can for the GLBT community, and that I will. I am sure the Navy will not want me back, so yes I plan on doing as much volunteer work as I can. Maybe, even if small, I can help to make a difference. Thanks so much for your support Andrew.
Thanks guys! Wow this was great, and Andrew’s comments really hit me. Look forward to more.