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Profiles in Patriotism

Steve Clark Hall
Sub Skipper

by Denny Meyer
with Steve Clark Hall

Commander Steve Clark Hall didn't simply serve aboard a submarine, he was a sub's skipper and pretty much everyone knew that he was gay.  That wasn't a problem.  Talking with him more than ten years after he retired from his twenty year Naval career, it became clear that he was a no-nonsense leader, somewhat stern, who expected nothing less than excellence from his sailors.  It seems as though that was why he was so highly respected, rather than whether he was right or left handed, gay or straight, white or black. 

He grew up in Eureka, California, a coastal lumber and fishing town on the California North Coast founded in the Gold Rush era of the mid-1800s.  His father had been a Junior Officer aboard amphibious vessels in World War II, and his brother had entered the Naval Academy three years before he followed.  He received an appointment to Annapolis from Senator John Tunny of California, and entered the academy just 16 days after he graduated from high school in June of 1971.

At Annapolis, he was an varsity athlete on the Navy Lightweight Crew team.  His original plan was to serve out his five-year commitment, and then go on to the University of Washington, with his service benefits, to study architecture.  However, his aptitude quickly led to his highly specialized training and then assignment as the Chief Engineer of the country’s second Trident Nuclear Submarine, USS MICHIGAN, then under construction.  At age 27, the youngest Trident Engineer assigned in the era, he led the Navy crew’s acceptance of a $1.5 billion dollar defense project.  

His next assignment was as Submarine Operations Officer on the staff of the Commander, Carrier Group THREE, aboard the super-carriers USS ENTERPRISE and USS CARL VINSON.  At the end of this tour, he had then served for 12 years in a rising sterling career.  Somewhere during that time he'd realized and accepted that he was gay; but with a meaningful life of service and adventure that others could only dream about, it was a minor detail that hardly mattered.  He went onward as the Executive Officer of the USS PERMIT, his fourth consecutive sea tour, then to the only shore assignment of his career prior to his selection for command at sea.

He assumed duties as the Commanding Officer, USS GREENLING, a nuclear submarine, two weeks after Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States.  As it was expected that the new President would order the integration of gays into the military, he began to prepare his sailors for working amidst added diversity.  It was understood aboard his submarines (he later commanded the USS DRUM) that discrimination was as unacceptable as failure to excel.

Steve Clark Hall lived most of the later part of his naval career without hiding who he was while at the same time not being too blatantly overt.  Most subordinates, peers, and superiors understood that he was an outstanding officer whom they respected, who happened to be gay.  It was not something that was discussed, nor was it relevant to his ability to lead.  He could not, however, feel at ease about bringing a partner to military functions nor discussing details about his personal “family” while others freely chatted about their girlfriends, wives and families. In the militaries of nearly all of America's allies, on the other hand, gay service members live with their partners in military housing, are welcomed at functions, and their full lives are celebrated along with those of others. 

After retirement, as an Annapolis alumni, he has taken partners to reunions where he was welcomed as a peer and his partners treated with respect.  Times have changed; it was clear to him.  "During much of my career," he told me, "I never tried nor did I feel that I was ever fooling anyone about my sexual identity while on active duty. As a submariner, I was surrounded by fairly brilliant, perceptive officers and enlisted men. Yes, some of my superiors, peers and subordinates may have been totally clueless, some at least suspicious, but most were fully aware. But what was important to those with whom I served was job performance, not identity.” 

Steve Clark Hall lives in San Francisco where he is a historic preservationist, active in neighborhood quality of life and city planning issues. He is currently serving as President of the Eureka Valley Promotion Association, San Francisco’s oldest grass-roots neighborhood organization.  He is a key member of USNA Out, the association of LGBT US Naval Academy Alumni. 

During the course of his career, Steve Clark Hall earned the Meritorious Service Medal (2), The Navy Commendation Medal (3) the Navy Achievement Medal, Navy Unit Commendation (2), Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation (3), Navy “E” Ribbon, Navy Expeditionary Medal (2) National Defense Service Medal (2) Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (5) Navy Expert Rifleman Medal, and the Navy Expert Pistol Medal.

©  2008  Gay Military Signal