April 15, 2012
Naval Academy LGBT Alumni Honor Class of 2012
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Ninety-four U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) alumni, midshipmen and their guests gathered here Saturday to recognize alumni and midshipmen accomplishments over the last year, commemorating seven months since repeal of the law commonly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
Thirty-one midshipmen of all four classes and their guests attended, along with 34 members of USNA Out – the LGBT organization of U.S. Naval Academy alumni. Sixteen of the midshipmen are seniors, who will graduate on May 29 and be the first class at Annapolis to graduate under the new policy that now allows gay, lesbian and bisexual military members to serve without fear of discharge. The new policy became effective in September 2011, a few weeks after classes resumed for the year at the academy.
Senior LGBT midshipmen who are USNA Out members organized the annual event, a tradition which began in 2009. Naval Academy faculty and staff members and representatives of the Naval Academy Alumni Association also attended at the invitation of the midshipmen. During the event, the midshipmen met with LGBT USNA alumni from classes spanning six decades, including active duty and retired officers. The dinner was hosted at the residence of an USNA Out member who resides in the Annapolis area.
Throughout the event, alumni offered their insights about the exciting careers the senior midshipmen will soon commence and also encouraged all of the midshipmen to do their best in preparing to serve as officers in the Navy and Marine Corps. Following the traditional cutting of the cake by the most senior and most junior members present (Classes of 1961 and 2015), a USNA Chaplain gave the keynote address reminding the graduating class to apply their Naval Academy training when they enter the Fleet and of their unique responsibilities as leaders in the Navy. An alumnus then presented each senior with Navy ensign insignia to wear following commissioning. The insignia will symbolically remind recent graduates serving the nation that the LGBT alumni stand behind them with pride. The evening closed with a singing of the Naval Academy alma mater “Navy Blue and Gold,” led by past and present members of the Naval Academy Glee Club in attendance.
As part of the dinner, USNA Out Chairman of the Board Brian Bender, of New York (USNA Class of 1993), announced to those in attendance a group unrestricted donation of $2,500 from USNA Out to the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation. “As part of USNA Out’s discussion about our goals for 2012, our board of directors sought to identify how we as LGBT alumni could give back to the academy,” said Bender. “When we surveyed our members, they strongly supported an unrestricted gift to the Naval Academy Foundation.” Bender served for six years as a submarine officer after graduating from USNA. He has been a USNA Out member since its founding in 2003 and its chairman of the board since 2009.
Since 2005, individual USNA Out members have donated more than $100,000 in private contributions directly to the USNA Foundation. According to Bender, “Even before DADT’s repeal, many USNA Out members individually supported our alma mater because we believed in its special mission to provide leaders for the Naval Service and the nation. Their donations and those like USNA Out’s help fund school programs that provide a margin of excellence beyond what the government provides. And with the repeal of DADT, I anticipate more LGBT alumni will rejuvenate their relationships with USNA, their classmates and other alumni. For the vast majority of alumni, USNA played a significant role in our lives. This donation is our organization’s way to give back - supporting the Brigade of Midshipmen, USNA’s talented faculty and this national institution.”
“This year we saw a significant increase in midshipmen interest and participation, particularly from the graduating class,” said USNA Out Executive Director retired Cdr. Steve Hall, of San Francisco (USNA Class of 1975). Hall added, “This year we saw twice as many seniors compared to last year’s event. We directly attribute this to the repeal of DADT. According to the feedback we have received from our midshipmen members, gay and lesbian midshipmen feel more comfortable and no longer must separate their personal identity from their professional identity. They now can singularly focus on being good junior officers in the fleet like all of their classmates. We think that’s good for USNA, the Navy and Marine Corps, and the country on many levels.” Hall served on active duty for 20 years and commanded two nuclear powered attack submarines during his Navy career.
USNA Out officials report that DADT repeal appears to be going without incident for alumni on active duty and for midshipmen at the academy. According to Bender, “The overwhelming feedback from our alumni out in the fleet is that repeal has been implemented without problems and in those instances where gay and lesbian alumni have told shipmates, there hasn’t been a problem. I think that’s what we expected. Sailors and Marines judge our alumni based on their performance, not their orientation.”
Hall added, “Likewise, our midshipmen report that the DADT repeal has gone smoothly at USNA as well. Many midshipmen have shared with me stories wherein they or someone they knew came out to classmates and to members of their companies. I am not aware that any have faced negative responses. In fact, some received very positive reactions from their heterosexual friends who were supportive of their decision. While I think some of the gay and lesbian mids were initially hesitant to see how DADT repeal would go, they also remind me through their words and actions that for many of this current generation, they and their heterosexual classmates are comfortable with this issue. For most of them, it’s simply not an issue.”
USNA Out is an independent organization established in August 2003 following discussions by various groups of LGBT alumni about how they could become more involved as alumni of the Naval Academy. The group organized as a 501(c)(3) in late 2009.
USNA Out currently has 285 members, including 73 active duty alumni serving in the fleet. USNA Out currently counts more than 40 midshipmen identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual at the Naval Academy, with 34 members who are official members of USNA Out. Bender added, “We know there are more gay, lesbian and bisexual midshipmen simply based on the demographics of the Naval Academy, which draws students from the population of the U.S at-large. However, identifying as LGBT is a personal decision based on many factors, some of which are unrelated to USNA or the repeal of DADT. Regardless, we as LGBT alumni have and will continue to be there to support them. The repeal of DADT makes that easier.”