With contributions from Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi.
Following the September 2011 repeal of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy governing the service of gay and lesbian members, cadets at the United States Coast Guard Academy established the first gay-straight alliance at a U.S. military service academy on Dec. 1, 2011.
The Spectrum Diversity Council, led by two cadet leaders from each year group, held its inaugural meeting yesterday. The meeting was an opportunity not only for cadets to gather in support of each other but also to hear from local leaders from the community. Mayor Daryl Finizio and Reverend Carolyn Patierno, both openly gay community leaders in New London, shared their own perspectives on the importance of tolerance and acceptance as both leaders and followers in any community – whether it is a city, a congregation or a military unit.
“Spectrum is a group that will allow the Coast Guard Academy and its cadets to broaden their experience and expose them to situations that will help develop them as leaders of character,” said Coast Guard Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz. “As ensigns and future service leaders, these cadets will face a rapidly changing world that demands a more inclusive perspective.”
Following the meeting, Coast Guard Compass sat down with two of Spectrum’s leaders and its co-presidents, Cadets 1st Class Chip Hall and Kelli Normoyle to discuss the goals of the group and how the repeal of DADT has impacted academy life and the Coast Guard.
“I think, first and foremost, it [Spectrum] is about creating awareness,” said Hall. “For a while, we had sort of an underground group of gay and lesbian cadets just kind of banding together and being friends and being supportive networks for each other and it was invisible at the academy. I remember someone saying they didn’t even know there were gay people at the academy. It blew my mind there could be such different perspectives. So, I’m hoping Spectrum will open people’s minds that there are gay and lesbian people serving around you.”
Ending a system where any Coast Guard man or woman had to serve in fear of repercussion for their sexual orientation was a driving factor for Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp‘s support of the repeal of DADT.
“Allowing gay and lesbian Americans to serve in the Coast Guard openly will remove a significant barrier to those who are capably serving, but who have been forced to hide or even lie about their sexual orientation,” said Papp when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in December 2010. “Forcing these Coast Guardsmen to compromise our core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty to continue to serve is a choice they should not have to make.”
Being put in that difficult position almost prevented Normoyle from attending the Coast Guard Academy.
“I actually didn’t come to the academy right out of high school because I knew ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a policy,” said Normoyle. “I didn’t know how to reconcile having to hide a part of myself but also do something that I wanted to do so badly – which was come to the Coast Guard Academy. So, I didn’t. I finally decided that I’d rather be part of changing it than watching it happen and I am so happy and so grateful to all of the people who made it happen. It’s really an incredible feeling to just be able to be yourself and it be a non-issue.”
When asked how she thinks the repeal of DADT will impact future officers the academy will graduate or leaders across the service, Normoyle saw the repeal as an opportunity for the service to continue to build upon a solid foundation.
“I think the Coast Guard’s pretty forward on just having people that are accepting and want people to be able to feel comfortable and feel honest about who they are,” said Normoyle. “I think if it does cause a change, maybe people will be more open to some conversations that might have been awkward before but I think, in general, the Coast Guard’s pretty great with how the leadership handles things like this.”