Local News

Veteran: Letting gays serve openly preserves 'integrity'

Posted December 19, 2010 2:06 p.m. EST
Updated December 19, 2010 11:19 p.m. EST

— A former Marine captain living in Raleigh says that doing away the military's ban on openly homosexual troops is a major civil rights victory.

"This is similar to when they lifted the policy on discriminating with blacks in the armed forces," Joe Soto, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, said.

Eight Republicans, including North Carolina's Sen. Richard Burr, joined the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate to vote Saturday to overturn the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

President Barack Obama's signature on the bill will allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

"It doesn't mean they are going to come screaming out of the closet," Soto said. "What it really means is that when you make the commitment to sacrifice for your country, you don't have to sacrifice you integrity to do it."

As a gay man, Soto struggled in his military career in the years before the DADT policy made it legal for homosexuals to serve, albeit at the cost of hiding their sexuality.

"If anyone found out, you were immediately kicked out, and they could ask" about your sexual orientation, he said. "This was back when it was illegal to be gay and in the service."

For Soto, the breaking point came when he had to sign discharge papers for a woman being court-martialed for being a lesbian.

"When that happened, they handcuffed her and took her away. And that was a moment in my life that I will never forget," he said. "It was at that moment when I realized I couldn't do it anymore and resigned my commission."

Soto went on to help found an online support group for other gay and lesbian Naval Academy Graduates. The group became the focus of a documentary, "Out in Annapolis."

He believes that no longer making gay and lesbian troops hide will make the military stronger.

"They don't have to be worried someone is going to discover who they really are," he said. "When you are fighting with someone alongside of you, you don't want them to have that burden on their shoulders."

Overturning DADT means that military policy and law is catching up with changes in the larger American culture, Soto said.

"I think we're going to look back and say, 'What took Congress so long to do this?'" he said.