Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Army Veteran speaks out on coming out


April 15, 2015
By Alexandria Zamecnik

U.S. Army Veteran Rob Smith said the moment he found his true path to pride was when he was arrested outside of the White House for protesting against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’

Smith, a now openly gay black man, served in the army for five years  under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’  (DADT) policy. DADT, now repealed, was an official policy that prevented gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. During his time serving, Smith was not allowed to reveal his sexuality.

After Smith chose not to reenlist in the army, he decided to pursue activism to fight the discriminatory policy responsible for discharging so many veterans.  Under DADT, more than 10,000 soldiers were discharged, according to the Department of Defense. These numbers often change due to inaccurate reporting’s or veterans who do not disclose their reasoning.

“Standing up and fighting against that discrimination is what set me on my true path to pride,” Smith said.

This activism included getting arrested on Nov. 15, 2011 outside the gates of the White House for civil disobedience. His disobedience in the form of repeated chants, “I am somebody. I deserve full equality.” Two months later President Barack Obama would repeal the policy that got him arrested.

The policy that struck Smith’s mind like a jackhammer had finally lost its power source, but what really struck him was the sea of lawmakers angry at the president for repealing the discriminatory policy.

As the bill was being signed, Smith said he looked upon the Chief Joint of Staff, and saw their stone cold faces and he was reminded of all the legislated homophobia that he faced. He saw the people sitting there as the enemies of the LGBT community.

“It made me think of every time I had been just a little bit afraid to hold my boyfriend’s hand walking down the streets of New York,” Smith said. “… It made me feel and remember every time when I almost committed suicide when the pain and isolation became too much for me to handle, when I wasn’t too far from the same age as a lot of people in this room.”

Smith, who said he served during the ‘caveman years’ of the military, said he gradually saw positive changes in the army while he was there and only expects to see more.

“I truly believe the military is a microcosm of American society,” Smith said.  “I also think that it will progress as society does. The military has racism, sexism and homophobia, but so does America.”

Although Smith fights against the injustices that happened in the military, his reasoning is not meant to bash.

“I will always be proud of the time I spent in the military, I just wish I could of done it while being open,” Smith said. “Serving in the military for five years changed my life in so many fundamental ways. It has really allowed me to build my far beyond if I had just stuck around my hometown.”

In fact, Smith said he had allies while he was in the Army. At his first gay club he ever went to in Colorado Springs, members from his unit were in the club and he didn’t even know it.

“I was right there slobbering some guy in the corner,” Smith said. “It was messy. I was 19; it was messy. So anyway, I am thinking I better go back to base and pack my bags but they were really cool about it. They didn’t try to get me discharged or anything like that.”

After coming out, members from his former unit took the time to reach out to Smith when they saw what he was doing.

“A lot of soldiers in my former unit friended me via Facebook, and they showed support,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter if you are gay, straight, black or white, it comes down to when we were overseas. Those were people, that in one way shape or form, I will have a bond with them that I will never have anyone else again.”

Even though DADT was Smith’s call to activism, he said his work is not nearly over.

“I think for me, a career in activism would mean 25 more years of protesting and getting arrested at the White house and always finding a cause to fight for,” Smith said.  “I truly believe in LGBT rights, but I believe in the power of writing and journalism. I think the media is one of them most powerful tools the LGBT people have to get our stories out, to get our concerns heard and to call positions to task.”

Along with his future endeavors to write a book about the struggles young, gay men face, Smith takes time to visit college campuses and tell his story. On April 8, Smith visited UW-Whitewater to tell his story and encourage LGBT students to find their path to pride like he found his, during Pride Week hosted by the PB Poorman Pride Center and IMPACT.

Richard Harris, Coordinator of Student Veterans and Military Services applauded Smith for his courage that he faced in times of adversity.

“Rob said, ‘I’m a gay man and I’m going to live my life the way I want to,’ and that’s real courage,” Harris said. “That courage that he is showing is only equaled by the courage he used on the battlefield.”

The battlefield wasn’t Smith’s only journey.

“Our journey to true pride is not just a mile long,” Smith said. “Our journey to true pride is long and hard and arduous and its got a lot of bumps along the way because life, real life, is not an episode of Glee.”

His three-point plan to finding pride includes powerful messages of self-worth, community impact and finding and using your voice.

“As LGBT people, I guarantee you when you get out to the real world you’re going to find enough adversity,” Smith said. “You’re going to find enough people looking to tear you down, to not want to do it to each other.”

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Founded 1901
Army Veteran speaks out on coming out