Five Women Who Made WAVES

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com September 16 2011 3:00 AM ET

 With the demise of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” it’s worth remembering that the military was kicking out LGBT troops long before the 1993 policy. Its predecessor, banning gays and lesbians whether closeted or out, resulted in witch hunts like one that ended the careers of five Navy women in 1965 — a case documented in a new book.

“One day you’re being considered for Officer Candidate School, then the next day they’re thinking of getting rid of you,” says J. Lee Watton, who details her experiences in Out of Step, which is coming out in October.

The women were recruits to the Navy’s WAVES — Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service — stationed at the U.S. Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Md. “We were 18-, 19-, 20-year old kids,” says Watton. “We were just discovering ourselves.” One thing she discovered was her attraction to women. Watton, her girlfriend, and three close comrades considered themselves something of a family. “The Family” was, ironically, the code name of the investigation that resulted in their ouster from the service. “It all happened a lot out of not thinking anyone would notice,” Watton says.

Watton went on to a career in journalism and eventually wrote her story, receiving encouragement from Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, who won reinstatement to the National Guard after her discharge in the pre-DADT days and wrote the book's preface.

Cammermeyer thinks the story will carry an important history lesson. “What many people don’t appreciate is how long this prejudice, this archaic system, has gone on in the military,” she says. Its timing is appropriate, she adds, with the end of DADT, “a long-overdue policy to get rid of.”