Introduction by Denny Meyer
Leslie Pope, a
Navy Avionics Petty Officer, had a uniquely unusual
experience during her four years in service to her
nation; she was treated with integrity and respect
for who she was by her peers and
superiors. During her tour of duty aboard the
aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, there was ongoing
training in respectful behavior. Personnel
were carefully counseled by senior NCOs to be
considerate of others and to moderate behavior that
could disturb the professional working
environment. All this, aboard a ship in a war
zone in the Persian Gulf. When she came out, she received
nothing but support and understanding from peers and
superiors. What this
demonstrates is that all patriotic volunteers
can serve their country when a commander is
committed to the affirmation of every sailor's
dignity in the fullness of his or her
humanity, free of harassment and discrimination,
regardless of race, sexual orientation, ethnicity,
religion, and other identities that mark the rich
diversity of Americans serving their nation. It
seems clear the the most recent Captain of the
Kennedy should be commended for having created an
environment in which all sailors had the secure
freedom to work to the best of their ability.
interview, she told me that she grew up in a
religious Missouri home where homosexuality was a
taboo, despite the family's acceptance of a gay
uncle. It was her first years in service to
her country, she said, that gave her the maturity to
come out to herself; as has been the case for so
many others. "I grew up a lot in the Navy; I got self
discipline and became motivated and learned to pace
myself; I have no fear of challenge."
In a bit of intentional humor about herself, she
said that she realized she was gay after she wrecked
her pick-up truck while 'checking out a girl.'
(I don't know, maybe that's more Southern than
anything else; -editor).
where she served one tour in the Persian Gulf, she
worked in avionics on aircraft fire control
radar. She left the Navy at the end of her
enlistment for the usual reasons: She had gained the
experience she had wanted, had served her country,
and realized that being gay in the service would be
stressful in future assignments, to say the
least. For her brave and honorable service to
her country, Petty Officer Pope
earned a Sea Service Ribbon,
a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary medal,
a Global War on Terrorism Service medal, a National
Defense Service medal, and Aviation worker specialist
wings. In her own words, she tells her story:
Where should I even begin to
describe the past four years of my life in the
United States Navy? Were they horrible? No.
Were they the best years of my life? Maybe
not, but so far; they could be the most
I entered military service
in 2002 just after I finished high school. I
didn't have any money for college and was chomping
at the bit to get out of my small, Midwestern
hometown. At that time I didn't know I was a
lesbian. I only knew that I was different
somehow and I needed to find out why.
Strange that I decided to join the navy, huh?
In the fall of 2005 and not
so long ago, I finally came out of my denial and
also "came out." It was a large
step and the men I worked with (I was the only
woman in my workcenter) on the ship were among the
people who learned of this. The guys I
worked with everyday were (and still are) some of
my closest friends. We lived together,
fought together, and played together. Our
relationships were very close and I couldn't bear
avoiding them or avoiding them or sneaking around.
I made a decision to tell them my big secret.
That was and is still a big mistake in the
Soon, word spread like
wildfire in my workcenter that I had come out of
the closet. Within a few days my supervisors
knew. Well, not all of my supervisors found
out about my life. The wildfire seemed to
stop at my cheif. (who is an E-7 in the navy).
If anyone else above him found out about me, I
never knew. It is safe to assume no officers
learned of this. To my surprise, no one
seemed to care. My co-workers were curious
and some came to me for personal advice.
After a while the conversation about my personal
life was of course limited but occasionally I
would be asked about how my girlfriend was doing
and told at the end of every work week to be
careful on the road...since she lived two hours
away and I would visit her every weekend. My
girlfriend was a big part of my life and I believe
my shipmates realized how happy I was with her.
On days when I had to work longer hours or
couldn't leave the ship she would call me on the
ship's phone and we would talk for quite a while.
My supervisors never complained because their own
wives would call to check on them.
When my enlistment was
coming to an end, because I chose to not
re-enlist, I approached my own chief and asked for
advice about coming out to my mother. Of
course our conversation was very private but his
advice led to another large step in my life.
He told me that it would be hard, but I must trust
my mother's love and it will get better.
I know how fortunate I am
that I was out while in the military and somehow
slipped through the cracks. I was not afraid
of any consequences of being honest about myself.
When asked if I am gay I would answer,
"Yes. I am." The policy is
"Don't Ask. Don't Tell ". I
just figured that if the rules of asking can
be broken, then I will tell when asked.
My co-workers, my shipmates,
were the best anyone could ask for. They
were supportive and as understanding as possible.
My orientation didn't matter. What mattered
was that I did my job and performed in a manner
that was expected. I was an efficient sailor
and that is really all anyone cared about.
That is exactly the way our entire military should
be. I believe it will be that way one day
because our country needs us now to serve.
Freedom needs us to fight for the right to serve
openly. And humanity needs to heed my
chief's advice. It will be hard, but you
must believe it will get better.