Who Am I?

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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

IT HAS BEEN A LONG STRANGE JOURNEY





Let's go back to five years ago.

At this time I was approaching my discharge date from active duty as a member of the United States Navy. It was a difficult decision to make, but I decided that I wanted to do something different with my life. I had my education benefits through the GI Bill and Hazelwood exemption so I wanted to go to school.

I also knew that I was getting out as the Presidential election was ramping up. I knew this was going to be a big deal because whoever was elected was going to be the next President of the United States because the then-incumbent President, George W. Bush, was term limited.

There was a lot of attention with the upcoming presidential election. President Bush's popularity dropped like a rock during his second term due to his proposals for immigration reform was hijacked by the far-right members of his party, the backlash by seniors in his efforts to privatize Social Security, the discovery of warrantless wiretaps by his NSA, support for the Iraq War was dwindling, and the big one that turned off voters: the mishandling of the recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina.

In November 2006, voters gave the Democrats control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in 12 years. I knew this was a big deal because of what happened in the Virginia race for US Senate. Though I admit I was not paying attention to politics as much as I do now because at the time I was paying attention to this undrafted quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys who was elevated to starter during the midpoint of the season and took the team to its second playoff appearance since the departure of The Triplets after the 2002 season.


So... 2008... I am counting down to the days to my freedom date discharge date from active duty and I become a civilian.

In late April/early May 2008, I come across this documentary that aired on the local PBS station in Hampton Roads, VA. It was titled Carrier and followed the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) on their 2005 deployment to the Persian Gulf. I had those similar experiences shown in the documentary as a member of the Carl Vinson's deployment to the Persian Gulf as part of her World Cruise in 2005.

Most of the series concentrated on what happens among the air wing and the pilots and the action that happens on the flight deck. Not surprising; that's how life is on a carrier. Everyone pays attention to what is going on the flight deck and topside; there is a lot of action that goes on below decks, especially down in the engine room and power plant spaces.

The second part of the series was titled "Super Secrets" where they took a look at what happens in other parts of the ship. The documentary (VERY) briefly showed what I did in the Navy as a nuclear propulsion plant operator (12:06-15:40). I suspect the reasons why they couldn't go down to the propulsion plant spaces because, first, it's confidential material. Second, the film crew would have needed radiation monitoring devices, a thermoluminescent dosimeter (TLD, there was ANOTHER name for it...). They aren't that big. When I was in it was as big as a thumb and you clipped on your belt (in the video clip you can see the Reactor Officer wearing one on the left side of his coverall uniform). Before I got out, I heard they were replacing it with something that looked like a pager. And third.... it gets hot down there. The best way I can describe the heat down in the propulsion plant is this: July-August time frame in Texas when you first get into your car before starting it. And that is in the ventilation.

They interviewed some sailors about life aboard a carrier. Everything they mentioned... you develop some form of interpersonal relationship with the people you serve with.


They had to hide their faces because prior to the official repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in September 2011 because those sailors would face discharge from the armed forces for openly disclosing their sexual orientation.

In that montage leading up to those interviews... Yes, I did utter the phrase: "Man, this is so goddamned gay." I can provide the excuse that I was young (less than 25) and didn't know any better, but it doesn't change the fact that it was the wrong thing to say back them. I apologize for it. Let my actions speak for itself when it comes to correcting that wrong.

I was touched by their interviews. Some of them wore the same uniform that I did underway (most of the times coveralls, but sometimes utilities). Maybe there was a M Division Nuke in that interview.

Fast forward from there to a couple of months later, it is now late July 2008. I am packing my things into my car to head back to Texas to start a new chapter in my life. I come across this episode of The Daily Show during its daytime replay while I am moving stuff into my car. Here is Jon Stewart's take on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" hearings in the US House and the ridiculousness of the opposition.


I found some more videos to watch of that hearing. The person who was asking the questions and tearing Elaine Donnely a new one was Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy. He was the first Iraq Veteran elected to Congress in 2007 and he did not hold back.

Then there was there were these two testimonies:



Again, I was touched by the fact that these two individuals were brave enough to share their stories. Again, they wore the uniform a lot longer than I did. I felt I had a duty to do what I could to repeal this policy.

Most importantly, I owed it to my family members who are gay. In a letter I authored to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Morning News, and Who's Playing blog, I mentioned that I have one on my father's side and one on my mother's side. They stood by me while I was in the military. Now it was my turn to pay it back.

Fast forward once again to Election Night 2008: Obama had won the election by a convincing electoral margin. When I got home from a watch party, I checked the polling results from the Proposition 8 vote in California. I saw that Prop 8 passed by a slim margin. Honestly, I was shocked. If you told me in 2008 to pick five states that would affirm same-sex marriages, California would occupy slots 1-4. I know a lot of people were mad and screaming, but my reaction was.... "You know, I DID not see that coming."

Later I found out the reason why it passed was because of a lot of backing by the Mormon church in the documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition.

Since then I have seen this country progress very rapidly on LGBT Issues. Prop 8 faced a legal challenge and began its process through the courts. The two attorneys arguing for the petitioners were on the opposite sides of Bush v. Gore (2000). This country repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." I remember watching the repeal ceremony on television feeling a sense of accomplishment. I also knew there were many other fights to take on and it was going to be a lot more difficult given what was going to be the makeup of the next Congress. Then came Election Night 2012 when there were ballot measures in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington on the topic of same-sex marriage. Maine, Maryland, and Washington became the first states to affirm same-sex marriage at the ballot which broke a 0-31 streak in the states. Minnesota rejected a measure that would super-secret ban same-sex marriage in their state. Six months later, Minnesota became the most recent state to legalize marriage equality.

When I heard that the Supreme Court was going to take on Prop 8, I knew this was going to be a good chance that MAYBE we can end this debate and proceed towards other pressing matters. There was also the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) case which has a good shot at the federal government recognizing same-sex marriage when it comes to purposes of government employee benefits.

Based on what I have been reading and listening to the oral arguments, we're probably heading towards a split decision meaning the Court will rule in favor of overturning DOMA, but probably issue a narrow ruling in Prop 8 that is limited to California. Lambda Legal has this infographic showing the possible outcomes of the two cases. I'd like to believe that this court is aware of public opinion on this issue. More than 55% of Americans believe that it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married. 54 Senators (a super majority of the Senate Democrats and 3 Republicans) have expressed support for equal marriage.

Honestly I don't know how this court will rule on the people that I care about and the countless number of friends I have made in this process. As former NFL head coach Jim Mora once said: "You think you know, but you don't know."

But I think retired Navy Commander and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" advocate Zoe Dunning put it best in her column for the San Francisco Bay Times: "Maybe good, maybe bad."

All I know is this: This part of the journey will conclude.

Whatever happens with the Supreme Court tomorrow, we will begin a new journey.

I am looking forward to it.


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