United We Stand: An intimate interview between partners on DADT

Editor’s note: SDGLN is putting human faces to key issues of our times. Today, how the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has impacted one American couple.

Through the years I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing an array of pop and gay culture’s most intriguing personalities.

I remember distinctly the scheduled 20-minute conversation with rocker-turned-actor Henry Rollins that extended into an hour’s worth of entertaining chat; exchanging e-mails on multiple occasions with superstar Cyndi Lauper to discuss her inspiring True Colors Tour; the verifiable laughfest with comedienne Margaret Cho whenever she had a new show to promote; and the no-holds-barred Q&A with Billy Bean, a former Major League Baseball player and still one of few athletes from the four main American sports to ever publicly come out.

Yes, I’ve interviewed some of the most interesting people alive – but none of them compare to this interview with my own fiancé.

Lt. Everett Earl Morrow and I met in 2006. He was visiting Baltimore, my home at the time, on weekend leave from the Navy.

Our romance was a whirlwind. What I meant to finish the first night it started – because of my own insecurities about long-distance dating – has turned into a three-and-a-half year love affair with no end in sight.

But just because we’re still together, well, that doesn’t mean our relationship hasn’t experienced its fair share of ups and downs.

One of the most outstanding and complicating issues of our life together is that I lead a rather public life. I’m a writer, a social networker and sometimes socialite who likes to see and be seen. Lt. Morrow, on the other hand, is quiet, reserved and generally uninterested in rocking the proverbial boat.

Until now.

Refusing to rest on his laurels regarding the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Lt. Morrow has made the brave choice to speak out and share his story – despite the consequences.

In this intimate, revealing interview between partners – one a journalist, the other a Naval officer – Lt. Morrow discusses his days as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, juggling his sexuality with his commitment to our country, making the tough decision to choose personal fulfillment over professional gain, and the discriminating DADT policy that ultimately ended his military career.

Mikey Rox: When you were accepted into the Naval Academy as a teenager, were you afraid that your sexuality would be problematic?

Lt. Everett Earl Morrow: No more than growing up in a small suburban town. I wasn’t openly gay to my family and friends when I entered the Naval Academy, and being aware of DADT at the time I didn’t have any plans for that to change. Ultimately, I was afraid of what “coming out” would mean for my education, career and future. I wanted nothing more than to be honest with everyone, but at 17 years old I just didn’t know how to reconcile the two lifestyles and therefore stayed in the closet. I did this despite the personal toll that is was taking and would continue to take.

MR: How did you handle your sexuality during that time and throughout your military career? Did you pursue your interest in guys and in what capacity?

Lt. EEM: I handled it like many others did; I didn’t say or do anything that would call into question my sexuality. Even though I had no doubt that I was gay, I couldn’t risk raising the doubt in others that I was. At first, out of fear, I didn’t pursue any homosexual interests. The risk was just too big to chance it. I lived in the dormitory while at the Naval Academy, which afforded little privacy – plus, I didn’t have a car for two years and otherwise was just afraid of being caught. This is part of that personal toll that I paid as result of DADT. I would have liked nothing more than to have both a professional and personal life during those four years. It wasn’t until I reported to my first command almost two years after graduation that I even thought of doing anything. Even then I made sure I was on liberty or leave and far out of town.

MR: Did you come out to any of your class- or shipmates while you were an active duty officer?

Lt. EEM: No, not while I was on active duty. Finishing my active-duty obligation was too important to take the risk on what someone else might do. I felt like my service was not only important to the mission at hand but as much to my future. It was a professional milestone that I began and had to finish. So the tradeoff was to make a personal sacrifice to accommodate DADT, which, looking back, I shouldn’t have had to do. I’ve since come out to some of my fellow shipmates, none of which have responded negatively.

MR: Were you ever suspected to be gay by your shipmates? Did you experience or witness any outward homophobia?

Lt. EEM: There were never any suspicions outside of jest. I was fiercely defensive of my personal life while at work so any suspicions would have only been based on a lack of knowledge to what I did with my time outside of work and why I never had a girlfriend. Essentially I had isolated myself in that sense, which didn’t help to make me a fully integrated member of the team like others were.

MR: When we first started dating, you knew that I was a journalist who published articles – including some rather controversial opinion pieces on gay issues, including the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy – in LGBT and mainstream publications across the country. Were you ever worried that your romantic involvement with me would somehow be discovered because of my work within the press?

Lt. EEM: At first, but only because I hadn’t built the trust and confidence in you and your profession that I needed to be completely comfortable with our relationship as it related to being in the military. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the articles you write and the way in which you do write them are of the highest integrity. I came to trust that you would never divulge my identity unless I said it was OK.

MR: How did you reconcile the potential outcome?

Lt. EEM: Given the nature of our relationship, in that we were dating long distance at first, I just didn’t think it was likely that I’d be caught. Had we lived closer or together I’m sure it would have been harder, which would have played a big part in my decision to leave active duty.

MR: Just before you chose to end active-duty service in the Navy, your superiors offered you a salary increase and a new assignment in Annapolis. That presented a problem because, at the time, I was living in Baltimore, which meant that we would be closer together, setting up a new set of obstacles. Why did you decline that position?

Lt. EEM: I would have loved to accept that position, but I realized that I loved you more and it just wouldn’t have worked for us to be that close together, especially because I expected that we’d move in together. This is exactly the inherent flaw in DADT, which is that it forces gays and lesbians in the military to choose between their professional and personal lives. As a result, many of us choose the latter, realizing that we can be just as successful and have a positive influence in the civilian world without having to put up with such a policy. Looking back, even though I would have loved the job and been great at it, I don’t regret my decision at all as I’m confident that I’m better off for it and that it’s the Navy’s loss.

MR: You recently participated in an off-camera interview for the upcoming documentary film “Out of Annapolis.” What did you discuss in the interview, and why did you choose to do it off-camera?

Lt. EEM: I discussed with the director, Steve Clark Hall, what it was like for me as gay man aboard a submarine. I shared with him that I don’t think our sailors would have the problem with openly homosexual crew members as some would lead you to believe. The reason I did the interview off-camera is primarily because that’s what the director required for those of us that wanted to participate but are still in either the regular or reserve Navy.

MR: Are you afraid of the consequences of DADT now that you’ve publicly taken a stand against the policy?

Lt. EEM: Not anymore. I used to be, but in light of recent events I just can’t stand by and not do whatever I can to help all gays and lesbians gain the right to be able to serve openly, which is something that I would have liked for myself.

MR: As someone who entered military service knowing the consequences, do you think it’s fair for the institution to discharge you based on the provisions of DADT?

Lt. EEM: I don’t think that it’s fair at all for the military to discharge anyone based on their sexual orientation. The measure of a sailor, soldier, Marine, etc., should be based on the quality of their performance, not their sexuality. I, like many others, were deemed more than competent and proved to be real assets to our units. I just can’t understand why we have a policy that forces us out involuntarily or to make the decision to leave, like I did.

MR: Do you think a repeal will happen? What political and social obstacles do you think a bill to repeal the policy will encounter?

Lt. EEM: I’m confident that Congress will ultimately do the right thing. I see the major obstacles as all political. Unfortunately, there are still several of our legislators that just don’t get it. They refuse to recognize the reality of the fact that this won’t have the impact they fear. I’ve heard comments of the repeal having an effect on unit cohesion and military readiness. I think that couldn’t be farther from the truth as the current policy is what breaks these things down. Socially, I agree with Adm. Mullen’s comment “that the great young men and women of our military can and would accommodate such a change.”

MR: How do you feel when members of Congress and other leaders of this country speak out against allowing gays and lesbians to serve their country openly? Do you ever feel that your commitment to the United States – and your protection of its freedom – is undermined and unappreciated?

Lt. EEM: I feel both undermined and unappreciated in the sense that it’s only good enough for them that I serve as long as I keep quiet about my sexuality. If they truly understood or cared, they would appreciate me for more than just my service, like who I am as a person. It’s even more distressing for me when individuals like Sen. John McCain, who served so valiantly, say these things.

MR: How do you think a repeal of the policy will be handled by the rank-and-file? Do you foresee increased instances of hate crimes and homophobia, or will the transition be made without incident?

Lt. EEM: I think that many people are underestimating our rank-and-file. Part of being in the military is being flexible and accommodating. All of us do this every day and I don’t think a repeal of DADT would be any different.

MR: If DADT is repealed, would you consider a return to active-duty service?

Lt. EEM: No. The Navy lost out on me two years ago when my military career was irreconcilable with my personal life because of this discriminatory policy. At that point I pursued other civilian opportunities and have found everything I was looking for. I’ve developed a new loyalty to my profession that balances with my love for you. No one I work with now would ever question that. That’s all any of us want, and even with a repeal of DADT I’m past going back. I love my country, value my service and would do it again if time were rolled back; however, I’ve moved on.

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and the principal of Paper Rox Scissors, a media and marketing company in New York City.