Trey Watts looked out his office window on a recent blustery, December day. A string of multicolored pennant streamers flapped in the breeze at the used car dealership in north Oklahoma City where he has worked for 11 years.
On his desktop computer, Watts checked for breaking news concerning the upcoming vote in Congress to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the controversial federal military policy enacted in 1993 preventing openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people from serving in the military.
A former Marine, Watts served for four years in the 1990s, most of that time under DADT. He lied about his sexuality to honorably serve his country.
“It made me feel like it was wrong to be gay. It made me feel like I was going to have to hide this for the rest of my life and end up being one of those guys who gets caught at a park at Hefner Lake,” Watts said. “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ creates those types of scenarios. It’s fear mongering. It’s like you’re keeping those people scared so they don’t come out, and I don’t understand why.”
The repeal of DADT
President Obama listed the repeal of DADT as a top priority after his election in 2008. In late 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to a defense spending bill that would have repealed DADT, but the measure stalled in the U.S. Senate.
The House then passed a standalone bill with identical language on Dec. 15, 2010, by a vote of 250-175. The bill then went before the Senate, whose members voted 65-31 to repeal DADT on Dec. 18, 2010.
Oklahoma’s two senators and five representatives voted against the bill.
“I am very disappointed with this vote to repeal DADT,” Sen. Jim Inhofe said in a statement. “For the past 17 years, DADT has proven to work providing good order and discipline to our nation’s military. To repeal a policy that has been successful to our military’s troop unity and effectiveness is frankly absurd and thoughtless of congressional Democrats. As the old adage goes, why fix something that isn’t broken?” Inhofe cited a Department of Defense report released on Nov. 30, 2010, in his statement, saying that 30 percent of service members surveyed believed repealing DADT would have a negative impact. According to the Department of Defense report he cited, 69 percent of service members surveyed said they believed they had worked with someone who is gay. Of those, 92 percent said their experience was very good, good or neither good nor poor.
However, the U.S. Marine Corps was the most outspoken service branch against repealing DADT. About 45 percent of Marines who responded said they believed the repeal could have a negative effect on unit effectiveness and cohesion, according to the Department of Defense news release.
“To appease the far left, we will negatively impact up to 60 percent of our combat forces for what is estimated to be less than 2 percent of the military population,” Inhofe said.
Obama signed the bill into law on Dec. 22, 2010, in a ceremony attended by 500 at the Department of Interior in Washington.
One Marine’s story
Watts joined the Marines after graduating from Del City High School in 1992, just after his 19th birthday.
He drove a friend to a recruitment office one day and left having committed himself to a four-year enlistment. Although DADT was not official policy at the time, the recruiting officer asked Watts if he was a “Clinton Marine,” which he said was a euphemism for being homosexual.
“I lied,” Watts said. “I wasn’t out to anybody at that time anyway. I’ve known I was gay since I was 12.”
After he was sworn in, no one inquired about his sexuality. Watts said he never had a sexual or romantic relationship with another service member while serving.
“When you go to your unit, unless you’re flamboyant, no one is going to ask you,“ he said. “It’s kind of like going to high school. If you get fingered as (gay), then they’ll probably pick on you, but if you don’t, then they won’t.”
Watts was honorably discharged in 1996.
“I actually contemplated reenlisting, but I knew in my head that I wouldn’t be able to live my life the way I wanted to at that time,” he said.
Watts said he has been an outspoken advocate against DADT.
Recently, he joined a Facebook group dedicated to repealing the law. And last Halloween, he wore most of his dress blue Marine uniform to a gay bar as a costume, only to be harassed by active military gay soldiers who said it wasn’t appropriate.
I lied. I wasn’t out to anybody at that time anyway. I’ve known I was gay since I was 12.
“I think your sexuality should have nothing to do with your will to serve your country,” he said.
Will anything change? Watts said repealing DADT won’t change much for current gay soldiers. Many will choose to remain in the closet to preserve their working relationships.
“Just because this law changes doesn’t mean you’re going to see drag queens running around with machine guns,” he said.
For current soldiers, the argument against DADT is pointless, Watts said. “The gay guy (serving) is the same person he was before,” he said.
The real beneficiaries will be the next generation of gay soldiers, who are coming out earlier and already being more graciously accepted by society, he said.
By repealing DADT, the first in a line of gay rights dominoes could be set to fall, including military benefits for gay partners and legal gay marriage at the state level, Watts said.
“How can you let an openly gay person serve in the military, and they get shot and killed in Iraq, and their lover of 20 years is sitting at home with no benefits?”