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GAY AND GRAY: Involuntary Retirement

Posted Aug 26 2010 5:31am

JanAdams75x75 Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams ( bio ) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here , and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here .]

category_bug_gayandgray.gif There's a lot of involuntary retirement happening in this awful economy. I'm sure some readers here are finding themselves out of work sooner than they anticipated or hoped. Ageism has always pushed older people out of work before we wished. Long time readers know Ronni started this blog when staring at this reality.

What I want to offer here is the story of a different kind of involuntary retirement that sometimes happens to gays and lesbians, in particular those trying to serve their country. The Service Members Legal Defense Network has published this letter from the spouse of a retired U.S. Navy officer as her contribution to the ongoing discussion of repeal of the Pentagon's "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" policy (DADT) which effectively prevents open and honest service by LGBT people in the military.

The author wants it publicized, so I am simply sharing Lynne Kennedy's letter to military authorities who are currently assessing the potential impact of repeal. [Emphasis is mine.] - Jan Adams

In 1990 - while working as a reference librarian at the Library of Congress - I met Joan Darrah, an active duty naval officer. I already knew about the ban on open service, but I soon woke up to the harsh reality that loved ones of gay and lesbian family members are forced to serve in silence, too.

Over the years, Joan had adjusted to living two lives - in the closet at work and out after hours. For me, it was a bit of an adjustment as I had been fortunate to work for an employer who valued my skills and expertise and realized that my being a lesbian in no way detracted from my ability to do a great job.

I knew that Joan could be deployed at any moment. She may be away from home for two or three years. I realized that being with an active duty military officer was even more constricting than I could have possibly imagined and I worried constantly about Joan’s well being. Yet, through it all, I knew our relationship was worth the compromises. I knew we had to make it work for Joan to continue to serve our country.

Joan and Lynne

There were so many things that we had to be careful about. For example, Joan had asked that I not call her at work unless it was truly an emergency. When we were out in public, if Joan saw someone from work, I learned to “disappear” until Joan’s co-worker moved on. We didn’t dare go to nice restaurants on Valentine’s Day or even Saturday nights. We could not show any familiarity while out in public. I went to parties at colleagues' homes alone lest a guest I didn't know learn that Joan was in the Navy.

The events of September 11, 2001, caused us both to appreciate more fully the true impact of DADT on our lives and the reality of our mutual sacrifices. At 8:30AM that morning, Joan went to a meeting in the Pentagon. At 9:30AM she left that meeting. At 9:37AM, the plane flew into the Pentagon and destroyed the exact space that Joan had left less than eight minutes earlier, killing seven of her colleagues.

In the days and weeks that followed, Joan went to several funerals and memorial services for her co-workers who had been killed. Most people attended these services with their spouses whose support was critical at this difficult time, yet Joan was forced to go alone, even though I really wanted to be with her to provide support.

"As the numbness began to wear off, it hit me how incredibly alone I would have been had Joan been killed. The military is known for how it pulls together and helps people; we talk of the "military family," which is a way of saying we always look after each other, especially in times of need. But, none of that support would have been available for me, because under DADT, I didn’t exist.

In fact, I would have been one of the last people to know had Joan been killed because nowhere in her paperwork or emergency contact information had Joan dared to list my name.

Whenever I hear Joan recount the events of that day, I relive it and realize all over again how devastated I would have been had she been killed. I also think of the partners of service members injured or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are unable to get any support from the military and they must be careful about the amount of support they offer to their closeted service member loved ones.

The events of September 11th caused us to stop and reassess exactly what was most important in our lives. During that process, we realized that this discriminatory law was causing us to make a much bigger sacrifice than either of us had ever admitted.

Eight months later, in June 2002, Joan retired from the U.S. Navy, and I retired from the Library of Congress. If it wasn’t for DADT, we might both still be serving in our respective positions.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Sensory Summers

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