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Bleu Copas

Up close and personal
by Denny Meyer

Sgt. Bleu Copas was recently honorably discharged from the United States Army, after three and a half years of service, because he was discovered to be a homosexual.  He was an Arabic linguist.  Despite being critically needed, the Don't Ask Don't Tell law required that he be separated from the service, no ifs ands or buts.  Mr. Copas has been an ordinary all around American patriotic hero.  He had been in college, working on a post graduate degree when, after 911, he patriotically volunteered because he "felt the call to serve" as an obligation to his country.  Because of his background in music and churchgoing, he sang with the 82nd Airborne All American Choir.  He came from a rural religious Tennessee family, didn't drink and didn't smoke. In college, he had been in ROTC.  In other words, he was the ideal well rounded educated intelligent patriotic all-American young man wanted and needed by the modern American military.  Except, of course, for the way he happens to love.  Left handed people with sea-blue eyes are OK, but being gay isn't?  (I knew I forgot to mention something when I signed up).  His honorable service as a highly intelligent crypto linguist came to an abrupt end for a ridiculous reason of incomprehensible bigotry, in America!

Gay Military Signal:  Did you know that you were gay when you joined?

Bleu Copas:  I was 26 when I joined.  I knew it would be a challenge and a sacrifice.  I would just have to shelve it (being gay).  But, it was never my only defining characteristic; I don't like limiting myself.  My job (as a crypto linguist) had the highest age of enlistees; it was a college group, an older open minded intelligent crowd.  None were bothered if they found out; there was no hostility from co-workers at all.  So, the policy is wrong; there is no reason at all to have to serve dishonestly.  At DLI (the Defense Language Institute) My work ethic and standards spoke for me; I was looked on favorably and respected.  I did not need to deny it; I went to gay clubs and straight guys went with me; there was nothing to hide.  I did not broadcast it and did watch myself.  In military intelligence many understand that being gay is personal and does not affect one's ability to to the job.  Our military is becoming more comfortable with it as long as we don't throw it in their face; even though heterosexuality is thrown at us.  If I had been flamboyantly nelly, perhaps I would not have been perceived as well.   I'm not a macho guy, I was into music and community theatre. Yet, I consider myself well rounded, at DLI I spent time on Saturdays at a sports bar with the guys watching college football.

GMS: How did you feel, as a gay person, going into the military?

BC: It was patriotism.  I don't think I doubted myself.  It was already a lifetime habit of hiding this one facet from everyone.  I never had any trouble in ROTC.  I considered myself a good soldier and a leader and thought of myself as non expendable.  I was not doing this for myself so much as for my country.  I did also do it to satisfy my family; yes, to make them proud of me.  This played a huge part in my joining.  I thought that if they knew that I was gay they would not think so much of me. So, yes, it was to gain approval.  I don't regret it.  I'd go back in if I could; at least philosophically.

GMS:  What actually happened?

BC: People close to me had found out and my command suspected.  E-mails came in from an informant containing personal e-mails and my online profile.  The command hoped it was false and wanted to sweep it under the rug.  They hoped I would deny everything during an inquiry questioning session.  It was not in my interest to deny it; I could have been brought up on charges of perjury. I did not admit it at any time; I declined to answer incriminating questions.  The inquiring officer saw this as dishonesty, unfortunately.  That hurt because my moral standards are high, I have integrity and loyalty; and all that was tarnished by the presumption that I was being dishonest simply by not answering as was my right.

GMS: How did this feel?

BC:  The time of finding out which one was gay, in the choir of 25 or 30 guys, was a moment of despair for them and for me.  The inquiry went on for seven or eight months and tore me emotionally with stress and depression.  It felt like it did not matter how hard I worked, nor how much I kept at it.  It felt like my contribution was being discredited as invalid or second rate.  My commander liked me, he did not touch my clearance during this entire time.  (This is another sign of how senseless the policy is, of course).

GMS: Could you tell us a bit about your background?

BC: I grew up in Tennessee, in an average size city of sixty thousand, in the South.  There were lots of churches.  Ours was a strict religious household; we had no TV, there was no alcohol, no decoration.  We were poor but my dad provided for us.  As my sister and I grew up, things loosened up a bit.  I went to Christian school for five years and then to public school.  I knew I was different, so there were some problems with self-esteem, church guilts that I carried with me for a long time; being gay was the worst thing in the world.  In college things were better because I saw that people did not care.  Yet, I kept the faith with my family, kept my secret, did not drink or smoke and got good grades.  Family remained for me as my sense of belonging; I feared that if I told them, then I would have nothing to belong to.

GMS:  How has this affected your relationship with your family, now that the news is out?

BC: I told them before it happened, while I was home on leave; when my father asked.  If he was brave enough to ask, I felt he should know.  It broke his heart and he fears God will punish me; but we are still close; it took him a while to accept it.  It is still awkward; the family has hit a wall, we don't talk about it. My sister has been supportive and the family loves me but it is as if it was contingent on my not throwing it in their face; I could not discuss a boyfriend nor bring one home.  I don't go to church with the family; I go to a welcoming church on my own.

GMS: How do you feel now about the whole experience?

BC: I feel shitty.  Its as if I'd wasted my time, as if my contribution was invalidated; as if all that I have done did not matter anymore.  Its all very insulting.  I feel as if I have lost a bit of my heart, as if something has been taken away and I don't know if I will ever get it back.   Its very frustrating realizing that once they find out that you are gay, they don't allow themselves to see past it because, for them, its too foreign.  I feel good that we, as a gay culture, do accept others and let people be who they are.  Its really too bad that others can't do that.  Its a shame that the military wastes resources (by discharging gay people) and has to call up those who are already inactive to meet needs.  They are putting out two gay people per day.  Its hypocritical; I held my part of the bargain (of Don't Ask Don't Tell, by serving in silence).  The Army didn't; they should not 'ask;' I should still be in serving my country.  The policy has no credibility.  Now, when I see a recruiting commercial, I think its embarrassing that our military is so backward and socially inept.   In our technological society, the military is spinning its wheels.

GMS:  Has this experience changed your life?

BC:  That's a complete understatement.  With all the media attention, I'm out to the world now.  I'm comfortable telling my story; I consider it a privilege and it humbles me that I am representing others who are still serving in silence.

GMS:  What are your plans now?

BC: In the Army, I had job security; now I have none and it takes a while to accept that.  But I realize that I do have something to contribute.  I am completing counseling studies.  I want to use my experience and do humanitarian work, use my language skills, travel, and try to make a difference.