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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Discharged Airman Wanted Out

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Discharged Airman Wanted Out

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Last fall, a 28-year-old airman stationed at a base in Tucson walked into his commander's office, admitted that he was gay, and asked that he be discharged as quickly as possible under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The case of Airman 1st Class Albert Pisani, a munitions systems specialist at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, was recently confirmed by Defense officials as the only discharge under DADT since late October, when the Pentagon limited authority for discharges to just five senior officials.

Pisani confirmed to The Advocate in an interview this week that he indeed pressed for his discharge under the policy, as officials have maintained.

Earlier this month, Pentagon and Air Force representatives did not reveal Pisani's identity but acknowledged his separation under DADT after Metro Weeklyreported news June 2 of the discharge -- one that had been approved by Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley.

"It was my choice. I wanted to get out. ... I was done with what was going on at the time," Pisani said.

Reached by phone, Pisani declined to discuss specifics on both his decision to out himself and his aggressive follow-up to ensure his discharge. But he said he was subjected to antigay comments and suspected his job performance was being unfairly scrutinized because of his sexual orientation. Pisani also expressed misgivings about the terms of "don't ask, don't tell" repeal and how it may affect gay service members' ability to serve openly in the future, and his worries align with the concerns of many repeal advocates.

Although President Barack Obama signed repeal into law in December, DADT remains in effect pending certification by the president, secretary of Defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and certification must be followed by a 60-day waiting period. Outgoing Defense secretary Robert Gates said earlier this week that repeal could be certified before he leaves office June 30, which gay service member groups have strongly advocated.

In late September, Pisani, who had served a tour of duty in Afghanistan's Kandahar province in late 2009 to early 2010, said he walked into the office of his first sergeant at Davis-Monthan and disclosed his sexual orientation, wanting to leave. (His end of enlistment date had been scheduled for January 2012.) But the admission was made during a tumultuous, beginning-of-the-end period of the DADT policy, when a federal judge had ruled it unconstitutional, the Defense Department had moved to severely curtail discharge authority, and lawmakers were fighting over legislative repeal of the 1993 law.

As a result, his discharge proceedings appeared to Pisani to be on hold. So he wrote an email to Air Force secretary Donley about the situation.

"I normally wouldn't be writing you directly and understand there will be consequences; however this has to do with my life, career, and future," Pisani wrote. "I am a USAF enlisted member and I have come out to my leadership about being gay back in September. ... My decision to come out was completely voluntary on my part.

"With everything going on in Congress and not knowing what was going to happen, I decided to get out," Pisani continued in the email to Donley. "I want to move on with my life. It is awkward to come into work, with all the rumors going around in my section. I can say, it has been harder to not only be gay, but gay in the military."

After sending the email, Pisani said, "I didn't hear anything back. But the discharge paperwork started again, and I wondered if it was just a coincidence."

Air Force spokesman Maj. Joel Harper told reporters earlier this month the same account of Pisani's desire to be discharged. "After the separation action was initiated, the individual was informed of the current status of the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell,' and he reaffirmed to [Secretary Donley] that he desired his separation action be expeditiously processed," Harper said.

Following his admission, news spread among Pisani's colleagues that he was going through discharge proceedings. Supervisors told those who asked about the situation that Pisani was being discharged because he was a conscientious objector, he said. "But when people asked me, I'd say, 'No, I'm getting out because I'm gay.' The majority were OK with it," Pisani said. "If I hadn't had that support it would have been a lot harder, because it was really stressful."

But Pisani said that, during a conversation about DADT repeal with a supervisor, one particular comment had rattled him: "If [gays] get in the military, there may be more friendly fire down range," the supervisor had said, according to Pisani.

"I was thinking to myself, Why would you even say that, especially if you knew why I was getting out?" Pisani said. "Are you serious?"

Defense officials confirmed that Donley approved Pisani's discharge April 29 after consultation with Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department's general counsel; and Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. On May 4, Pisani said he became aware that his discharge had been completed. He left Davis-Monthan two days later.

Whatever the full details of his personal situation may be, Pisani expressed deep concern during the interview about certain stipulations on DADT repeal -- namely the absence of sexual orientation as a protected trait in the Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) program, which bars discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, sex, and religion, among other characteristics.

"There's no special policy needed to address the things that we're talking about here with regard to taking care of people and treating them with dignity," Undersecretary Stanley said of the MEO in a January press conference. "That's so fundamentally basic. So the remedies you have are the remedies that already exist. There's no need to create new remedies."

Under current policy, gay service members who may experience harassment on the basis of sexual orientation would have to report the problem up the chain of command, or alternatively to the inspector general's office on base. Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez added Thursday via email that, "When criminal, complaints of harassment may be referred to law enforcement for investigation."

Pisani did not follow this existing protocol and considers the current remedies inadequate. "It's definitely a flaw," he said of the lack of protection under the MEO program. What if those within the chain of command are the source of the harassment itself? he asked. "This needs to be changed before gay service members can feel safe."

Congressional opponents of DADT repeal -- who have company among many GOP presidential candidates, with five of the seven at Monday's CNN debate declaring they opposed ending the policy -- have attempted to put up further barriers to equality for gay and lesbian service members. Some observers are watching in particular whether an amendment passed in the House National Defense Authorization Act last month that bans same-sex weddings at military facilities will find any support in the Senate -- or a lack of strong leadership in opposition. In a statement of policy, President Obama has opposed the amendment, authored by Rep. Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican, which also bars military chaplains from performing such weddings in their official capacities.

Upon repeal certification of "don't ask, don't tell," Lainez wrote in a statement to The Advocate Thursday, "The services will no longer separate service members under DADT. Members who have an approved separation date forecasted after repeal, based solely on DADT, will have that separation cancelled. The services will cease all pending investigations, separations, discharges, or administrative proceedings commenced solely under DADT."

Now 29, Pisani has moved to Boston from Tucson following his discharge. He is currently looking for work in the information technology field and is living with his family along with his partner, who is also a former service member.

"I'm afraid of what may happen. I mean, repeal is great: You can't get kicked out for being gay," Pisani said. "But it doesn't mean, I think, that serving openly is necessarily a good idea right now."
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