When K.D. joined the military in 1988 at 17, she had no way of knowing the personal turmoil she would eventually face as a result of her choice.

"I wanted to see the world," she said of her enlistment in the Navy. Originally from Lawrence County, she sought to escape the small-town lifestyle and find something better.

K.D. (not her real name) still remembers the question about homosexuality.

"At the time I was shocked," she said. "But it didn't really mean anything to me because I wasn't aware of my sexuality yet."

At the time of her enlistment, the military denied entry to anyone who engaged in same-sex acts. However, in 1993 President Clinton signed into law the don't-ask-don't-tell policy, which prohibited only openly gay people from serving in the military.

Don't-ask-don't-tell, grounded in the belief that open homosexuality is damaging to unit morale and cohesion, stipulates that gay men and lesbians must serve in silence and refrain from homosexual activity. It also states that recruiters and commanders may not ask about sexual orientation in the absence of compelling evidence that homosexual acts have occurred.

A 2004 report by the Urban Institute concluded that at least 60,000 gay men and women were serving in the armed forces, including the Reserves and the National Guard.

According to the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, since 1993, at least 11,000 have been discharged from the military for being openly gay, among them 800 in crucial jobs.


Years of trying to fit the societal norm by dating men led K.D. to the realization that she was a lesbian. After five years in the Navy, her world changed when she met the woman who would become her girlfriend.

"Up until that point I hadn't really thought about gays in the military," she said. "But from then on, everyday was a struggle."

Though she never saw anyone physically harmed, K.D. heard comments.

"Some of the gay men were more flamboyant, and the other men didn't like that," she said. "It was difficult to hear what they really thought about gay people."

K.D. never felt scared. She said it's easier for lesbian women than it is for gay men in the Navy.

"Men are more homophobic towards men than women are toward lesbian women," she said.

For over a year K.D. and her girlfriend hid their relationship.

"There were definitely rumors," she said. "But we denied everything for fear of getting caught. I wasn't scared physically, but I was terrified of hurting my career if someone found out."

After six-and-a-half years in the Navy, K.D. left, citing don't-ask-don't-tell as the main reason.

"I couldn't be who I really was on the inside," she said. "It put a horrible strain on me and our relationship."

K.D. lived in the St. Louis area with her girlfriend after leaving the military. However, after seven years together, the two parted ways.

In December 2002 K.D. re-enlisted in the Navy reserves.

"Everything I ever loved about the Navy to begin with was still there," she said. "Once my girlfriend was out of the picture, I saw no reason not to go back."


Now, with an E5 ranking, K.D. said even though she chose to re-enlist, the policy still bothers her. In her ideal society, she said sexual orientation wouldn't matter.

"It doesn't matter who you choose to love," she said. "I can tell you there are gay people, men and women, in the military — always have been and there always will be."

Despite her experience with don't-ask-don't-tell, K.D. said she doesn't regret her decision to go back.

"I have nothing bad to say about the military because if I did, I wouldn't have come back after being gone for 10 years," she said. "If I had to do it all over again, I would."

K.D. recently moved to Bloomington to be near her family, and she works for a local radio show. She admits that if she weren't in the military she'd probably speak out. But for now that would mean risking her reputation with the Navy.

K.D. is open to her family and a few military friends, saying they were surprisingly more accepting than she'd anticipated.

"I still have to be very careful about who I tell and where I go," she said. "I can't wait for the day when it won't matter anymore. But unfortunately there is still bigotry and ignorance everywhere, not just in the military."

Lynndi Lockenour can be reached at llockeno@indiana.edu.