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Flying Out

Darin and David

by Darin Brunstad

On the 15th of October (his first National Guard Drill since the repeal of DADT), my partner stood up at his promotion ceremony and introduced me as his husband.  You could have heard a pin drop.  One airman at the back of the room started clapping slowly, but soon stopped after he realized that he was the only one doing so.  The room became quiet again, my husband swallowed hard and began the most important speech he has ever given to date.

We hadn't planned for it to work out this way, really - David had insisted that he wasn't going to come out publicly after repeal.  He was convinced that he would be scorned and the resulting disruption would undermine his leadership abilities, as well as his mission.  He was truly grateful that the threat of discharge no longer stalked him every time he stepped on base, but had decided he would just deal with it as best he could if and when anyone on base found out he was gay.

He was supposed to be promoted a month before repeal, and this promotion was especially important to him because it was to the rank he wanted to achieve before retirement.  But then his ceremony was delayed, and in the meantime DADT became history.  I let him know that I wanted to come to the post-repeal ceremony, but I also accepted that it would not be me that decided how and when he came out on base.

But then two weeks or so before the event he told me he wanted me to attend.  I could tell that he had been stewing for a few days, but I hadn't been sure why.  I told him that just being there would be enough, and that I didn't expect him to make any kind of a statement.  Let's take this slowly, I said.  I brought this up a lot as we got closer to the day, but he would just nod in a non-committed manner.

A week before his speech he came out to one one his Iraq buddies - a former supervisor, who was also his best friend on base.  They both decided that, out of respect, it was best to inform the command staff and the guys at his shop before the ceremony.  The command staff was first, and he shook as he waited past their stunned silence; but they said it wasn't an issue and agreed that a traditional formal promotion ceremony would ensue. 

Then David sat down for a heart to heart with the seven guys at his shop.  These were the ones he was most worried about - the ones he had worked side by side for so many years without them having any idea who he really was.  Again, there was a stunned silence.  He said he could see the wheels turning in each of their heads as they processed the information and started to put it all together.  Then came unqualified statements of support, followed by the raunchy jokes and ribbing typical of how guys in the military talk to each other.  David stopped holding his breath, exhaled heavily, and knew everything was going to be ok.

So, as he started his speech, 10 of the 70 or so people in the room already knew what was coming.  After my introduction he explained to everyone in the room what it had been like to serve under the burden of DADT, and how I had been standing by him as a silent partner the whole time.  He reiterated that it was a proud, new day for the Air Force.  He ended by asking everyone in the room to accompany him as they walked this new path together.  The room erupted in thunderous applause, and he got a standing ovation.

There was a formal receiving line after the ceremony, and I was overwhelmed by the hugs, handshakes and heartfelt congratulations.  Some quickly shook my hand and made no eye contact, and some skipped the line all together, but they truly seemed to be the minority.

Next I got to tour the base and David's shop.  I tried to soak in every detail I could, as I had heard about it all for so many years - never thinking I would ever get the opportunity to see the place my husband had given so much of himself to.  I felt awkward inserting myself amongst David's peers, so I stood to the side as much as possible at first.  What if they didn't like me?  What if my presence messed up the easy camaraderie that was so important to David?

But then came the time to engage, and soon we were laughing and joking.  Later that night we all ended up at a party eating pizza and drinking (lots of) beer and it was like DADT had never existed.  And since that time, I have watched with great satisfaction as David's relationships with his straight counterparts on base have grown and blossomed more than we ever could have imagined.  I wasn't so much his 'coming out', as it was finally being able to let others in.

On a side note, we eloped last week and got legally married.  We were married on a bridge that overlooks the naval shipyard where my grandfather retired.  Although we had a commitment ceremony in 1994, it wasn't legal anywhere at the time.  Once it did become legal, we couldn't partake because it was a violation of DADT.

  2011 Gay Military Signal