Op-ed: One Pivotal Year for a Soldier Seeking Equality
BY Advocate Contributors
December 22 2011 5:00 AM ET
When I was deployed with the Army to Iraq just before the
holidays last year, I was full of uncertainty. Any time service members get
deployed, they give up a lot. For me, one of the first sacrifices I had to make
was spending Christmas without my family. But just a few days before Christmas
last year, I picked up a newspaper and read that President Obama had signed the
repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” For a soldier worried about how I would be able
to live in Iraq for a year and hide who I was 24/7, it was the best Christmas
present I could have received.
It would be another nine months before the repeal took effect,
but knowing that it was on the way, I came home for a two-week R&R in May 2011
and married my best friend and partner, Joshua. We traveled from our home in
Columbus, Ohio to Washington, D.C. in order to be married at the grave of
Leonard Matlovich, who had been the first to publicly fight his discharge from
the armed forces for being gay. He was a pioneer for gay rights, and, for us,
it was an appropriate way to honor his legacy and celebrate our lifelong
commitment to one another.
When my time at home was up, I went back to my post in Iraq,
anxiously awaiting the date of the repeal. We kept hearing that the reason it
was taking so long was the military needed to ensure it didn’t affect the
morale of the troops who were deployed. That’s when I fully realized how
invisible we were as gay and lesbian patriots, protecting the rights of
Americans that we couldn’t even ourselves enjoy. There I was, deployed to help
secure freedom for the Iraqi people and bring a safe end to the conflict. “What
about my morale?” I remember thinking.
But finally, certification as outlined by the repeal law, was
made by the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
We suddenly had a date: September 20. I have been in the military for more than
20 years, and it was a day I had thought about for a long time. I had always
hoped to one day be able to serve the country I love openly, to not be forced
to hide pictures of my spouse or make up false names and false stories about
what I did last weekend.
But as the date came closer and my anticipation grew, I also
started hearing some Republican presidential candidates say they would work to
reverse the repeal. I could see my own freedom in my grip — the same freedom
for which I have fought for 20 years — but it was being threatened by
politicians who I don’t believe understand why repeal is so important in the
So, when the opportunity came in September to ask the candidates
a question via YouTube during a debate sponsored by Google and Fox News, I used
it to ask them about repeal. That moment got a lot of national attention
because a number of audience members booed after they heard the question.
What you probably don’t know is that there was a second part to
my question, and it was about whether these candidates would support repealing
laws, including the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, that prevent my husband
Josh and me from receiving the same benefits as all other military families.
This includes health care, housing, and survivors’ benefits.
But after I heard their answers on the repeal of DADT, I knew
where they stood on benefits. They didn’t even have to answer it. I also knew
that if Josh and I could not count entirely on the political process to ensure
fairness and equality for our new family, we would also have to turn to the
So, while I was still deployed to Iraq, Josh and I joined seven
other couples in a federal lawsuit brought on our behalf by Servicemembers
Legal Defense Network and co-counseled by the law firm Charbourne & Parke.
That suit seeks the same recognition, support, and benefits for all military
families, regardless of sexual orientation. We don’t know where it will end up,
but if we can play a small part in helping to pave the way for other families
like ours, we feel obligated to do so.
Just a few weeks ago, I returned home to Ohio from my
deployment, and I have had some time to reflect on this past year — from the president
signing repeal legislation, to marrying the love of my life, to being able to
serve openly as a gay man in the U.S. Army for the first time.
And indeed, the year has brought with it many lessons. It has
taught me that sometimes we have to fight for what we believe in, even if it
means taking risks. It has reminded me that my family and I deserve the same
treatment, respect, and rights as all other military families. And it has
reinforced for me why I joined the military in the first place — to be a
When repeal of DADT came on that day in September, I got up and
went to breakfast. I went through my workday just as I have for the past 20
years. But for the first time, I did not have to worry that someone could take
away the job I love and the career I have earned just because I choose to be
honest about who I am. I was the same soldier as on the day before, and that is
the soldier I will continue to be until I retire — a soldier committed to the
mission of keeping America safe and secure, for my family and for yours.
CAPT. STEPHEN HILL is an Army reservist with more than 20 years of
service who recently returned from active duty deployment in Iraq. He is
married to Joshua Snyder, and they reside in Columbus, Ohio, where Hill is the
director of the Columbus Public Health WIC Program for Franklin County. Hill
recently drew national interest when he submitted a video via YouTube that was
used during the Fox News/Google Republican Presidential Debate in September to
question the candidates about the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He and his
husband are plaintiffs in the case, McLaughlin
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