MICHELLE CASSIDY/THE HOYA For Hopkins, hiding his sexuality as a member of the military could only last so long.
MICHELLE CASSIDY/THE HOYA
For Hopkins, hiding his sexuality as a member of the military could only last so long.

Jonathan Hopkins was a casualty of war, though not the kind he had been trained to fight.

As a West Point cadet, Hopkins, now a graduate student at Georgetown, had been schooled in the intricacies of international relations. As an infantry officer, he had been drilled in effective combat techniques. He could lead a platoon of soldiers, plan an airborne assault and execute a textbook invasion. He was well prepared for a war that used guns and ammunition.

What he wasn’t trained for though was a war of deception. As it turned out, that was the defining war he would have to fight. As a gay soldier during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy years, Hopkins risked dismissal from a military that deemed homosexuality a risk to the armed forces’ cohesion.

In August 2010, that policy finally claimed Hopkins after nine years of service.

A HISTORIC WITCH HUNT

The U.S. military has traditionally had a tumultuous relationship with homosexuality.

In 1778, General George Washington issued the Army’s first gay discharge to Lieutenant Frederick Enslin, who was accused of sodomy. According to Washington’s General Orders on March 14, 1778, Enslin was “drummed out of camp by all the drummers and fifers in the Army never to return.”

In 1916 during the thick of World War I, the Articles of War officially banned homosexuality in the ranks, but the prohibition was not strongly enforced until World War II. As young men were filtered through the draft board in the 1940s, psychologists searched draftees for effeminate features or characteristics and often diagnosed suspected gay soldiers with mental disorders.

By 1950, the Uniform Codes of Military Justice had proscribed “unnatural carnal copulation,” including homosexual contact. The penalty for disobedience was set at dishonorable discharge and confinement, but punishment was left to the discretion of officers who could choose not to enforce the policy.

Under the Reagan administration, all of that changed. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger bolstered laws prohibiting homosexuality, effectively mandating that gay soldiers be discharged. Military spies were often posted outside gay clubs to catch gay soldiers.

When the Clinton administration first introduced “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 1993, it was celebrated as a step forward in gay relations with the military. Within 10 years, it was being attacked as a formidable barrier in the way of progress.

A DIFFERENT REALITY

When Jonathan Hopkins arrived at West Point in 1997, he had an inkling that he might be gay.

“There was some degree of realization in high school, but then denial,” he told The Hoya.

“Basically I looked at it like ‘Well maybe I have these feelings, but if you want to be successful, then you’re straight, and I want to be successful, so I’m straight.'”

As he continued through his four years, though, the notion that he might be gay began to develop into a concrete realization. Under DADT, he was afraid to tell any of his classmates.

“Senior year I wrote in some journal on my palm pilot that I could put a password on, and I would write ‘Maybe I am,'” he said. “I wouldn’t even write the pronoun ‘I’ and ‘gay’ in the same sentence.”

By the time he graduated, Hopkins knew fully that he was gay, but he told only a few of his closest friends outside of the military. He knew that the fact would jeopardize his career, so he refrained from telling even his family.

Out in the military world, he attempted to separate his sexuality from his work.

“I tried to keep this compartmentalized life where you have people who are gay that you try to build a relationship with, and then the rest of your life. Totally separate,” he said.

Even when he was deployed in Vicenza, Italy, he was too nervous to maintain a relationship with someone in the same city or even the same country. He dated a few men back in his home state of Washington, but that was the biggest risk he would take. Ultimately, he realized that such long-distance relationships would never work.

In 2003, he was deployed to Iraq to take part in the initial invasion, where he led an airborne platoon into Kirkuk. After nine months, he redeployed shortly to Vicenza and then to Afghanistan to plan air assaults and prepare briefs for visiting generals.

His next deployment took him to Fairbanks, Alaska, where he grew accustomed to traveling six hours to Anchorage in order to try to meet other gay men. Again, he was unsuccessful.

“A GAME OF SURVIVAL”

When Colin Powell introduced the idea of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, it looked like a major relaxation from previous policies, which had often actively pursued gay soldiers.

While the military was still wary of the implications of homosexuality on a unit, officials agreed that the policy would work as long as gay men and women kept their sexual lives private and separate.

The policy was hardly meant to make gay soldiers feel welcome. According to section A 15 of the code, homosexuality still posed a major risk to the services.

“The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability,” the code read.

Had the code been implemented loosely, it seemed it would have a chance to work. Instead, it was laden with provisions allowing soldiers to implicate other soldiers, even anonymously. If anything, the code seemed to draw more attention to homosexuality, not loosen the restrictions.

“Your time in the Army, it’s really just a game of survival. It’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and you don’t have to tell, but somebody else can figure out and they can tell,” Hopkins recalled.

Despite his years of covering it up, though, he couldn’t hide the fact that he was gay forever. In 2009, while Hopkins was again on deployment in Iraq, his superior officer called him into his office.

“He said, ‘I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you are up for an early promotion to Major. The bad news is that you are under investigation,'” Hopkins said.

The officer suggested that someone could just have a vendetta, but Hopkins refused to deny the charge. It was the beginning of a 14-month process that would end in Hopkins’ discharge.

“I wasn’t going to lie to him. You’re already lying the whole time,” Hopkins said. “People ask ‘What’d you do this weekend?’ ‘Oh, I went to Anchorage and went shopping.’ ‘Why aren’t you married? Everyone in the Army is married.’ ‘I just haven’t met the right one yet.'”

CHANGING TIMES

LGBTQ organizations eventually began to rail against the same policy that they had originally supported. In 2008, over 100 retired military generals signed a petition advocating the reformation of the policy. Many accused the policy of fostering a community of lies and deceit that undermined the strong moral values the military sought to uphold.

The issue came to a head in 2010, the same year that Jonathan Hopkins was discharged. The Pentagon ran an extensive study into the potential costs of allowing openly gay soldiers to serve in the military. The resulting paper, spearheaded by Army General Carter Ham, found that any negative impacts would be miniscule and short-lived.

“We conclude that, while a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” will likely, in the short term, bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting and can be adequately addressed by the recommendations we offer,” Gen. Ham said.

In December 2010, Congress finally voted to repeal DADT as long as President Obama and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed that the policy would not harm military readiness. On July 22, 2011, the president signed the bill into law.

THE POST-DADT WORLD

Jonathan Hopkins is as happy as he has ever been. A second-year graduate student in Georgetown’s security studies program, he now has his first serious boyfriend and a part time job with Caerus Associates, a strategic design consulting firm. He is proud to have made it through the discharge process, which he considers the most formidable challenge he has ever faced.

“It was so bad sometimes that I thought I wouldn’t make it,” he said.

Despite the early demise of his previous career, he says that he doesn’t hold anything against the military.

“The military is really just a big group of people, most of whom I like. I still love the Army.”

His sentiment is reflected by hundreds of other former service members dismissed under DADT. According to a Sept. 4 article in The New York Times, hundreds of gay veterans who were drummed out under the previous policy have already contacted their recruiters again.

“It’s a hunger,” former Army member Bleu Copas told The New York Times. “It doesn’t necessarily make sense. It’s the idea of faith, like an obligation to family.”

On Sept. 20, those veterans will be able to fulfill that obligation again. On that day, the 60-day waiting period for the full repeal will expire, and DADT will be off the books forever.

According to Hopkins, that transition will be a major non-event. The support, he says, is overwhelmingly present for gay soldiers, and superior officers are concerned not with sexual orientation, but with how well the job is done. He would know — after all, he served for 14 months as an openly gay soldier before the Army processed his discharge.

“The transition is going to be like Y2K,” he told The Hoya. “Everyone freaked out, they crushed the grocery stores for toilet paper, and in the end, nothing happened. It’s going to be the same way.”

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