By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com December 12 2013 1:55 PM ET
In another sign of changes wrought by the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the U.S. Coast Guard Academy has seen its first same-sex engagement announcement.
Traditionally, engagements are announced to the entire student body at lunchtime by friends of the betrothed cadet. One day last week, BuzzFeed reports, the announcement was “Over the weekend, Cadet First Class Kaitlin Ward got down on one knee and proposed to her longtime girlfriend, Lauren Bloch. This is the first announcement of its type.” A round of cheers followed.
Bloch is also a cadet at the academy, located in New London, Conn., and that’s where she and Ward met. Ward, 22, is from Saline, Mich., and Bloch, also 22, is from Littleton, Colo. They were initially platonic friends, then began dating in September 2011, the month DADT repeal took effect.
“We started out as friends, then became best friends as we developed more of a connection over time, and it just kind of just happened,” Ward told BuzzFeed. This was Ward’s first same-sex romance. “I realized that this was who I was, I couldn’t fight my feelings, I couldn’t suppress myself, and our relationship kind of bloomed from there,” she said.
The end of DADT brought a much-welcomed feeling of freedom, Bloch said. “It was really nice knowing that there wasn’t always somebody who could be watching you or out to get you,” she told BuzzFeed. “I could be open with my feelings however I wanted to. I could go on dates on weekends and be out in public with my girlfriend, knowing that I didn’t have to watch every one of my moves.”
The academy fostered an accepting atmosphere, the women said. Its Spectrum Diversity Council, established in December 2011, was the first gay-straight alliance at a U.S. service academy. Both women have been involved in the group, and Ward is now its president.
They plan to marry in 2015.