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The Kiss

When my ship eased into it's berth at the Naval Station in Norfolk Virginia in 1969, after a 9 month deployment at sea, a band played on the pier, and there was the usual circus of sailors kissing their wives and girlfriends.  Being a gay sailor serving in silence, none of that was for me.  I wasn't allowed to do any of that.  I just tried to be inconspicuous as I walked through the throng of happy kissers, so shipmates wouldn't notice that I was alone.  I'd get plenty of kisses from my boyfriends once I got home to New York, I knew (yes, boyfriends, plural; hell, I was twenty two and cute as a bug in my sailor suit).  But, this moment was awfully lonely.

Being able to kiss a boyfriend, in public, in uniform, was beyond my imagination in those days before Stonewall, Matlovich, and Milk.  Being caught gay, back then, meant being killed or being disgraced with a dishonorable discharge.

We've come a long way since the iconic VE Day 1945 photo of a sailor boy kissing a young woman in New York's Times Square at the close of WWII.  (A few years ago a reporter tracked down that woman, in her late 80s living in a nursing home in California, to ask about her memories of that long ago moment).

This year's iconic Sailor's Christmas Homecoming Kiss photo is of U.S. Navy 2nd Class Petty Officer Marissa Gaeta kissing her fiancée, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell.  How sweet it is!  Perhaps some sixty six years from now they will track down those two elderly women and ask them what all the fuss was about.

U.S. Navy photo
U.S. Navy Photo

The First Kiss on the pier privilege was won by Petty Officer Gaeta in a shipboard raffle, with the proceeds going to charity.  The fact that the national media were there for the otherwise obscure routine return of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) from a mere three month puddle tour in the Caribbean, tells me that they were alerted in advance by the Navy, eager to show enthusiastic compliance with the repeal of the discriminatory DADT law.  The photo and story appeared on TV news and major newspapers around the country as well as far overseas in Australia's The Age with the Yahoo link headline, "Kiss and tell....at last."

Naval officers interviewed by the media pretended that there was nothing unusual about this kiss, saying that it was "no big deal."  Right.

What does it all mean?  For the DADT repeal movement it is 'The Picture of the Year!'  For America it is a photo of progress in spite of the right wing hate mongers' cynical campaign of divisiveness.  For the world, it is a picture of peace and genuine love at the end of a year of bombs and bigotry.

For President Obama, who signed the repeal of DADT almost exactly one year to the day before the two women sailors' kiss, it was the culmination of a promise kept.  Who can forget his First Family kiss on the night of his inauguration as Beyonce meaningfully sang "At Last."  Someday soon, I hope, both those kisses will at last really be "no big deal."

-Denny Meyer, gay veteran

©  2012 Gay Military Signal