Achieving national status in gymnastics while growing up in Oregon, Jeff Petrie was recruited by many colleges during his senior year at South Eugene High School. At the urging of his grandfather, who had served as a Navy officer in WWII, Petrie chose to attend the Naval Academy. As a midshipman, he competed on the men’s varsity gymnastics team and was elected by his teammates to be Team Captain senior year. Petrie graduated in May 1989 with a B.S. in Economics.
As a newly-commissioned Ensign, Petrie’s first billet was Assistant Varsity Gymnastics Coach at Navy, a temporary position he held until December 1989. In January of 1990 he moved to Coronado, California, to attend Surface Warfare Officers School before reporting aboard USS KIRK (FF 1087) in Long Beach.
As a junior officer in charge of OC Division, he led 30 enlisted men in exercises ranging from submarine tracking and torpedo launchings to naval gunfire support for which he served as the Gunnery Officer. He had a natural knack for standing bridge watches and was the first of eight ensigns onboard to qualify as Officer of the Deck. While deployed to the Persian Gulf he took over the role of First Lieutenant, managing Deck Division and overseeing topside evolutions including flight operations, underway replenishments of fuel, cargo, and weapons, and the exterior maintenance of the ship. Petrie enjoyed being at sea and got along well with the other junior officers despite his always making excuses for not joining in the social activities of the officers’ mess. In those situations he would find himself forced to lie to his shipmates when responding to mundane conversational questions about where he spent the weekend and with whom; the book he was reading; or his favorite restaurant or television program. It hurt him to lie to people who trusted him completely.
No measure of success could make up for the Navy’s requirement that gay servicemembers secretly do whatever they have to do to hide the truth of their identity. With no hope for change on the horizon, Lieutenant Petrie resigned his commission and left the Navy on his 26th birthday.
As a gay man and civilian, Petrie shuffled through several challenging years. In 2000 he took a position working in the Membership Department of the Legion of Honor art museum in San Francisco. Living in the Bay Area helped inspire him to lead a “coming out” of civilian GLBT Naval Academy alumni in 2003, when he led the first-ever out GLBT alumni group of any United States service academy, called USNA Out. Since that time, GLBT alumni from the Air Force Academy and West Point have followed suit and started out groups of their own.
Petrie served as the 2010 Chairman of the Board for the Service Academy Gay and Lesbian Alumni Network while concurrently serving as a board member for USNA Out. In his day job, Petrie is now in his 12th year of art museum membership fundraising, employed by The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. He also serves on the Advisory Committee for the national American Museum Membership Network, and as Co-Chair of the Eastern Museum Membership Directors Group. Petrie lives in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of the nation’s capital, where the legalization of gay marriage has him pondering the idea of finding a good husband.