Subtle acts reshape military society amid repeal

By JULIE WATSON - Associated Press | AP – 3 hrs ago
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Night-long celebrations will mark the final countdown to the historic end of the U.S. military's ban on openly gay troops, and even more partying will take place once it is lifted Tuesday. But in many ways change is already here.
Countless subtle acts over the past months have been reshaping the military's staunchly traditional society in preparation for the U.S. armed forces' biggest policy shift in decades. Supporters of repeal compare it to the racial de-segregation of troops more than 60 years ago.
For some gay service members, the fear of discovery and reprisals dissipated months ago when a federal court halted all investigations and discharge proceedings under "don't ask, don't tell," while military leaders prepared the armed services for its end.
Several have come out to their peers and commanders.
A few have since placed photographs of their same-sex partners on their desks and attended military barbecues and softball games with their significant others. In San Diego, about 200 active-duty personnel — both gay and heterosexual — made up the nation's first military contingency to participate in a Gay Pride march this summer, carrying banners identifying their branches of service. An Army soldier had tears, saying she was touched by the thousands cheering them on, after hiding her identity for so long.
"We're Gay. Get Over it," stated the cover page of the Marine Corps Times distributed to bases worldwide a week ahead of Tuesday's repeal.
The headline offended some but for many troops it echoed their sentiment that repeal is a non-issue for a military that operates by following orders and is busy at war. That sentiment is backed by Pentagon officials who say they have found no evidence the repeal so far has disrupted forces or harmed unit cohesion as predicted by opponents.
Air Force Capt. Diane Cox, whose gay son served in the Navy, said she got into heated debates with service members vowing not to take showers and share rooms with gays before Congress voted to repeal the law, but after the military held sensitivity trainings to explain the new rules "everybody just shut up."
Jokes are still told about gay people but the harsh remarks have stopped, she said.
"It's a new Air Force. I'm really surprised how everything settled down as much as it has," said the emergency room nurse at Travis Air Force base, near Fairfield in northern California. "Some of the best, most honorable people have had the military pin medals of honor on them for combat and then they've gotten kicked out over this. It's shameful. I'm glad it's done."
Many no doubt will continue to keep their personal lives private. But gay service members say their jobs already feel easier. They no longer use code words or change pronouns in their conversations to protect their careers. The Associated Press interviewed more than a dozen people who are currently in the military or left within recent months about the changes taking place.
Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, 42, said the differences may be subtle but the impact is profound. Fehrenbach came out on national TV in 2009 after the Air Force started discharge proceedings, which were later stalled by the repeal process. He reported for duty two days later and was congratulated by colleagues.
"I realized this was the first time I wouldn't have to lie. There was a great sense of relief, a great sense of pride that I had never felt before," said Fehrenbach, who retires from service Oct. 1. "They're going to feel that on Tuesday — every service member who has not come out yet. Even if they choose to keep their private life private, they're going to have the feeling that a burden has been lifted."
The United States on Tuesday will join 29 others nations, including Israel, Canada, Germany and Sweden, that allow gay individuals to serve openly in their militaries.
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