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Bronwen Tomb

The Right Stuff
The Wrong Policy

a potential leader, unselected

by Denny Meyer

Our armed forces have always sought to identify those few individuals with the characteristics that embody leadership, capability, esprit, reliability, and potential.  Throughout our history there have been young Americans who have found the military to be where they could find themselves, find a purpose, and grow to their full potential over time.  "I knew that I wanted to be a part of the Coast Guard as soon as I found out about it and what its humanitarian mission was," Bronwen Tomb told me.  She enlisted.  And the Coast Guard found her at her first duty station; at an obscure and remote boat station on the Oregon coast, devoted to search and rescue, her potential was recognized and she was recommended to the Coast Guard Academy.  They saw in her the rare qualities of intelligence and a genuine zest for the military lifestyle. She was encouraged to apply to the Academy and was selected with high recommendation.  It was an outstanding match; she'd found the career she wanted, and the Coast Guard had found in her the type of future leader they desired.  She was accepted by the academy, she studied and advanced for two years and along the way she matured to find who she was.  It was the way it was supposed to work.  A generation ago, she would have been disqualified because she is a woman;  a generation from now she would not be disqualified because she happens to be a lesbian.

Bronwen, whose name derives from Celtic mythology about a woman warrior, had been a high school cross country and track athlete.  She loved adventure and being part of a team.  Her grandfather had served in combat in World War II, and she'd found his autobiography about his experience to be inspiring.  Like many young people, she'd wanted to have a course in life that was action oriented and contributed unambiguously to the environment and humanity.  The education that the Coast Guard Academy would give her, along with a 9 year career commitment she enthusiastically agreed to, provided her with exactly the purpose she sought.  Her intent had been to focus on that purposeful career, which would give meaning to her life; her awareness of her sexual orientation had no contradiction with her goal.  It was simply a part of who she was.  At the Academy, her energy was devoted to graduating and starting a long career in a life she loved.

The Academy, training future leaders, stressed integrity, honesty, duty, and respect as guiding ideals. She took those values seriously.  From the outset, she realized how wrong it would be to not trust classmates enough tell them about who she is.  And her peers respected her and supported her.  At formals, cadets were expected to have traditional dates and her colleagues were respectful escorts.  After nearly four successful semesters, an upperclassman took a collegial interest in her life and as with others she was honest about who she was.  He made an official report to her command which they were unable to disregard due to the official Coast Guard policy. Faced with a choice of lying by denying the denouncement or refusing to be dishonest, she chose the latter.  She was demoted out of the Academy and given an honorable discharge by reason of homosexuality.

Everyone she knew was and remains supportive of her honesty and integrity, her family, her friends, and her former military peers and superiors.  During the out processing process, she fought depression by helping lower classmen with their studies, despite her dreams having been shattered, her career cancelled.

She has been awarded a scholarship at the University of Connecticut and is currently on a Soulforce Equality Ride of several months.

Bronwen Tomb knew that those who had come before her had served in silence and had proven the ability of gay people to serve their nation admirably.  "For me to continue to deny who I am, after that generation led the way, would discredit their sacrifice; my generation needs to step up for our part and not simply repeat the same sacrifice by serving in silence."  She had been willing to serve, setting aside her personal life; now she has move on and found other ways to be purposeful.  Our armed forces have lost a potential leader.