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Profiles in Patriotism

Don’t Ask Us to Lie About Who We Are,
Don’t Tell Us We Aren’t Good Enough to Serve

by Rhonda Davis

On May 22nd of this year, 30-year-old, Jeremy Johnson, was forced to say goodbye to the Navy career he loved.  After nearly eleven years as a Mass Communication Specialist, two words on his discharge papers now proclaim the reason he is no longer fit for military service:  “homosexual admission.” 

Since he was an adolescent growing up in Georgia, Jeremy knew he was gay, but he didn’t let the threat of “don’t ask, don’t tell” stop him from joining the Navy in the winter of 1996.

“The only thing I knew about the policy is what little of it I heard on the news,” he says, “but then I remember seeing the homosexual conduct policy on paper for the first time while processing in, and I remember thinking, ‘wow, maybe this is real.  Maybe it’s not just a joke.’”

Like most young Americans, Jeremy wanted the best career opportunity possible.  He had a high aptitude for learning and knew the Navy would give him the skills needed to succeed in his chosen career field:  journalism.  By serving his country, he could gain education and experience that would serve him for the rest of his life. 

The Georgian's first assignment took him to exotic Japan where he worked in all areas of broadcasting.  He was then stationed aboard the flag ship, USS LaSalle, in Gaeta , Italy and became experienced in writing, research, public affairs, and photography. 

The sailor’s stellar military record eventually landed him a special assignment as an instructor at the Defense Information School .  This is where I had the pleasure of meeting him; Petty Officer Johnson was one of my instructors, and one of the most professional, serious, and “straight”-laced people I had ever met.  I never suspected then that beneath his business-like exterior was a sailor who had a heavy burden to bear.

“When I was in the Navy, I was able to make friends,” he says, “but there was always a distance because there was something I was hiding.  Asking people to be completely in the closet is asking them to take on a burden that distracts them from doing their job.  It adds an extra stress that we just don’t need.” 

That “extra stress” eventually led to anger.  “The anger wasn’t about not being able to have a relationship,” he explains, “the anger comes from violating the Navy’s core values in order to not violate the [“don’t ask, don’t tell”] law.  It’s a direct order to lie.  If you don’t, suspicion is roused and then everyone wonders what other secrets you’re keeping.”

While serving as Public Affairs Officer aboard the USS Frank Cable in Guam , Jeremy made the bold decision to stop keeping secrets.  After a shipmate sent him several emails in which fellow petty officers made a series of inappropriate jokes alluding to his being gay, Jeremy decided to write a letter to his Commanding Officer and unburden himself of the lies and half-truths that had haunted him for years.

“It was just the right time,” he says, “I’ve battled varying degrees of depression my entire career, and I realized that I was hearing more negative gay comments from people around me.  They may have been jokes, but no one understood the impact it had on me.” 

Now – six months and one honorable discharge later – Jeremy Johnson has reclaimed many freedoms:  the freedom to pursue a relationship with his boyfriend, Jay; the freedom to be an honest gay man; and the freedom to go to work each day without the fear of being fired for who he is.  He says, “the idea that I’m free is something I’m enjoying now; I really haven’t thought far beyond that.” 

But he also says he certainly plans to get involved in the movement to end “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  In a recent response to Senator McCain’s assertion that DADT works, Jeremy stated:  “Sen. McCain, if you believe that gay and lesbian service members should be held to a lower standard of integrity than their counterparts; if you believe that lying and emotional blackmail are American values; if you believe that standing naked next to a gay translator in a military locker room is more of a threat than the messages he deciphers from terrorists, then ‘My Friend’, you are absolutely right – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell works.”

During his Navy career, Jeremy Johnson rose to the rank of Petty Officer First Class (E6), and earned three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, a Joint Commendation Medal, a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, a National Defense Medal, a  Rifle Marksmanship (Silver E) Medal, an Air Force Unit Excellence Award, a Battle "E" Ribbon, an Overseas Service Ribbon (1 silver star), a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (2 bronze stars), and a Good Conduct medal with 2 bronze stars.  He lives in Maryland and works as a speech writer for US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington DC.

Rhonda K. Davis
Former Petty Officer 1st Class Journalist

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