Lesbian Walks Into an Army Recruitment Office to Re-Enlist, Gets Bombarded with Homophobia

AJ is a regular co-host of The Beaver Bunch, a queer counseling/advice group on YouTube. She also takes questions from the gay masses on her personal channel, Ask AJ Anything.

AJ served in the U.S. Army for a bit right after high school, so when “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was repealed on October 12, she decided to re-enlist. See, some people are just cut out for this kind of thing – selflessly serving their country — and so when there’s even the tiniest chance of not being turned away or pointlessly discriminated against, they take full stock of their lives and volunteer themselves to be the front line of defense / offense / help / duty. There’s that saying: find a job you love and never work a day in your life. Everyone can relate to this desire to hold on to a job you love. You know you can go on without it, if you were to lose it, but nothing else really feels the same afterward.

AJ made her way down to the U.S. Army recruiting office in Long Beach, California. This is her account:

I fully understood that it was ‘safe’ to out myself to my recruitment officer, but that once I was officially enlisted, I was instantly back under the DADT policy, and I was fine with that. I went to the Army Recruiting office here in Long Beach, CA, with my DD-214 in hand (discharge paperwork they would need in order to see my military history). It’s worth noting that Long Beach is home to the third-largest gay population in California.

The office itself was tiny, which isn’t unusual, and a little more relaxed than I’d expected – almost everyone had their feet up on desks and seemed uninterested in looking up from their laptops. The only female recruiter took me back to discuss my options.

Now’s a good time to point out the obvious: I would never pass as a straight woman. One look at me and you’d know I’m either a lesbian or mistake me for a guy. I was clad in my usual attire: backwards hat and jeans and was wearing a purple shirt (it was “Spirit Day” after all).

Within a few minutes of filling out the paperwork with the female recruiter I hear a male recruiter in the background say “…did you hear about Sergeant [inaudible], but it’s okay for him to be a faggot now in the army!”. Cue uproarious laughter from the other men. No reaction from the female recruiter in front of me.

It happens again. This time a different male recruiter to another: “Hey be careful driving home on the 405 [freeway]. I hear it’s okay for gays to drive now.  Do you have your AAA up to date for this!?” I’m now visibly uncomfortable. Finally, another comment: “Oh shut up you’re so gay, but, wait, that’s OK now!” At this point, I’m sure the female recruiter has heard the banter. I ask her who is in charge and she points over towards the corner where the jokes were coming from. To me, this clearly indicated that the sergeant in charge condones this type of behavior.  I followed up with “Are the gay jokes OK in this office?”

She said, “I’ll talk to them” and I replied “No, that’s not cool. Is there anything else you need from me?” I had to walk through the group of bigots when on my way out.

I should have said something. I wanted to turn around and scream at them, but something was holding me back. I regret it now, but that’s why I’m telling you my story.

I am completely disillusioned by the incredible level of unprofessionalism that I witnessed yesterday: blatant and apparently condoned hate speech, the very week Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed.

I know this kind of behavior isn’t limited to Long Beach, but is probably taking place in tiny recruiting offices all over the country. How frustrating for GLBTQ youth who want to enlist. Your recruiter is usually your first experience with the military, and he or she should feel like a helpful mentor, not someone who will degrade you – more or less to your face – while you volunteer yourself and your life for the greater good of your country.

My story has to be told and I know I am just one voice.

“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”
Barack Obama



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Jess

Jess is a pop culture junkie living in New York City. She enjoys endless debates about The L Word, Howard Stern, new techy gadgets, DVR, exploring the labyrinth of the Lesbian Internet, memoirs, working out, sushi, making lists, artsy things, anything Lady Gaga touches, traveling, puppies, and nyc in the fall. Find her on Twitter @jessxnyc or via email.

Jess has written 1 article for us.

37 Comments

  1. AJ, I wanna say thank you for volunteering to serve our country – AGAIN, even though you know exactly how the military feels about the gays. Also, if it makes you feel any better, I feel like I would have probably reacted the same way. I would feel compelled to say something and then not and then regret it. I am, however, working to change this about myself. Anyways, you’re amazing. Just sayin’.

  2. I’m sorry to hear that you had to go through this, but thanks for sharing your story.

    My understanding is that as of today (with yesterday’s temporary stay) the Department of Defense is now only discharging people under DADT with the approval of high-ranking officers – do you know if they are continuing to allow people who are out to enlist?

  3. thank you for sharing. clearly this country has a really long way to go. that saddens me greatly–but some people are incredibly bigoted and that’s what needs to be overcome. how? i don’t even know. i used to be a conservative, republican, homophobe as a kid/adolescent but, you know, i fell in love with a girl. granted, that’s not how you turn america around, but it’s such a shame that people are so narrow minded. it’s heart-breaking really because all people really want is acceptance, and that’s why the recent rash of suicides have been so difficult to handle. anyone who wants to serve their country ought to be able to. it is such a noble and selfless act and to be rejected on the grounds of sexuality is absolutely disgusting to me. i’m from the south, i cry whenever i see a video of soldiers coming home to family, i thank god everyday that there are people brave enough to take on the job and who you love should have absolutely no factor in that. i have hope though. i have hope for this country, its people, its bigots. there’s a long way to go, but you just have to keep holding on to hope.

  4. Some people aren’t going to like this, but that’s OK. it needs to be said.

    What do expect from an organization whose sole purpose is to go around the world, subjugating people and enforcing the will of the American Empire? Why do you expect these people to treat you with dignity?

    Question the notion that the purpose of the military is to “fight for our country,” bring freedom to people in Iraq or Afghanistan, or ensure national security.

    I respect that other people have come to different conclusions about this stuff than I have, and nobody, including gay servicemembers, deserves unfair treatment, but until you start looking at the whole picture, this stuff will continue to perplex you.

    • i don’t think that the sole purpose of the US military is ‘to go around the world, subjugating people and enforcing the will of the American Empire.’ citizens have pride for their country, there are obviously disagreements at times for the reasons with which the country engages in conflict, but at the same time that should have nothing to do with who is serving. if anything, to take the absolute devil’s advocate, the soldiers would be mere ‘pawns’ for the sake of the ’empiric cause.’ which is not the realistic case. people do care. they do. there are always problems with how people view the military. the point is, regardless of whether or not people agree with the military’s decisions, that should not in any way exclude people that identify a certain way.

    • from the perspective of a military wife for 9 yrs and also a GIANT LIBERAL ATHEIST LESBIAN, i can tell you that every enlisted man and woman i met had joined the military out of a sense of honor and purpose — they felt that volunteering their efforts gave their lives meaning. and of course no one is in any position to judge someone else’s self-defined purpose.

      it’s also imperative to note that the military supports and participates in a variety of activities and efforts that have nothing to do with wars or afghanistan or iraq specifically, insomuch as any one thing can be separate from a war (which at this point, i realize, seems like ‘not much’).

      • This is neither the time nor the place to have a conversation about this in the context of alarmingly high statistics of sexual assault and rape of female soldiers by male soldiers, but I would sincerely love to have a respectful discussion with you about this sometime.

        • i am not NOT in a position, nor do i ever want to be, of defending the u.s. military and its practices. i only wanted to speak out for someone’s right to decide what profession to enter into, without having to defend their dreams to strangers.

          that’s the only point i was trying to make: that not everyone enlists so they can blow shit up.

          12:09 ETA: @ffaf – i realize now that you probs weren’t asking me to defend anything but instead maybe just wanted to discuss experiences, so i apologize for being unnecessarily defensive. i’m very willing to discuss experiences from my side of that world, yes. yes! sorry again.

          • Of course everybody has a right to decide on their profession. And a lot of the people that enlist probably do so with noble intentions. But the facts on the ground are that they are hired to “blow shit up” and do other things to promote the goals of a certain agenda. And that’s relevant because it is directly linked to how LGBT people are treated in the military. The unethical treatment they receive can be directly traced to the unethical basis of the organization as a whole.

          • not every position in the military involves blowing shit up. most don’t, actually.

            but you’re right, of course, about the unethical treatment. i mean, it could even be argued that straight people are treated unethically based on pay alone. and i have a lot of feelings re: recruitment and race / class issues.

            i was ONLY making the point that you can’t judge someone with a statement like “What do expect from an organization whose sole purpose is to go around the world, subjugating people and enforcing the will of the American Empire? Why do you expect these people to treat you with dignity?”

            i think everyone deserves the privilege of automatically expecting to be treated with dignity, no matter where they choose to work / play / live, which is the whole point of why DADT and a million other things are FLAWED beyond belief.

          • I don’t see that as a judgmental statement. Of course every sane person should expect to be treated with dignity as a matter of course. But when we aren’t treated with dignity, we can look at why. I see this whole DADT as a band-aid solution. The central problem is the military’s unethical purpose, and the symptoms of the problem are DADT and unfair treatment of its members.

  5. these past months have got me so down i don’t even know what to say anymore, any story now and i’m just sad. if i hear of someone kicking a gay puppy i wouldn’t be surprised. is this my country? like seriously? why? i don’t even…

    anyways, thank you aj for being so selfless, and for willing to subject yourself to such horrible idiots in the name of my freedom. i’m sorry that the thing you’re fighting for is the same thing thats being denied to you by our military.

  6. Is there any way for someone to create a website of queer-friendly recruiting offices? I mean, does that exist? Is it allowed? It would be kind of awesome.

    Recruits could cross-reference it with queer underground railroad so that they’d have a place to stay while they’re traveling to enlist, and bunnies and kittens and rainbows, yay!

    • Yeah, but just because they enlisted at a queer-friendly recruiting office doesn’t mean that the rest of the military, wherever they get assigned to, is going to be queer-friendly as well. If homophobia is a problem in the recruitment office, it’s likely to be a problem everywhere else in in the military.

      • Homophobia is instilled in people, not organizations.
        Saying it’s a problem in the military is like saying Outback Steakhouse has a problem with Mexicans.

        We’ll encounter it wherever we are. I personally feel more accepted where I’m stationed and who I work with on base rather than when I’m on leave back home in Texas. That’s just my experience, and I’m sure everyone has their own story to tell.

        Should DADT finally go away (like for reals-real), I’m sure there will be an expectation of recruiters to be unbiased in regards to orientation…and probably some training and paperwork to sign along with that. Hopefully the people who actually have a problem with the lifestyle will realize they have a monthly quota of recruits to fill and put their personal beliefs aside…but there’s always going to be assholes in the world.

        And for the record, I don’t “blow shit up”, if anyone was wondering… :-)

        • Yup, I was laughing a bit about the blowing shit up stuff. Most of the military people I see every day are doing boring office jobs. LOL.
          And as a straight-looking woman in a military setting, I hear all sorts of pro and anti gay comments on bases. Some days I am offended, other days I am happily surprised. I think one of the biggest problems with DADT is having to keep sexuality a secret. Although most straight military people know gay people or know of gay people, it’s not something they expect to see on a regular basis. I mean, you can’t be out at work, so your coworkers don’t know you are gay and can’t ask you questions to learn about gay people/gay issues. And if you live on base, you are rarely exposed to gay people because they can’t be out. The military and/or base life, can be really insular unless you actively seek out different people. And sadly, there are a lot of people who prefer to keep their heads in the sand.

  7. I live in this area- which recruiting office was this? This should be brought way out in the open and should not be happening. Someone’s head should roll, or at least poked even if nothing will be done to the offenders.

  8. So this is a story about a woman who has no first or last name and is referred to only as “AJ”.

    She is furious at the anti-gay comments she supposedly heard in this recruiting office. But despite her experience in the Army, and despite her knowledge that the conduct she describes is a violation of Army rules, she fails to file a formal complaint with the Army.

    Nor does she tell her story to any mainstream media outlet, even though gay re-enlistments are being heavily covered by print and electronic media. No, for some unknown reason, she only tells “Autostraddle” which publishes her account in full apparently w/o making any effort to verify it or to contact the Army or the recruiting office for comment.

    Either this story is exaggerated or false, or “AJ” is clueless and ineffectual when it comes to responding to discriminatory acts.

  9. joanna you need to shut up and quit judging people with your “clueless and ineffectual” comments. And how do you know she hasnt filed a formal complaint??? how do you know she hasnt contacted various news stations??? huhh????? whaaa??? oh yeah, you dont know. so close your mouth and thank her for telling her story. your negative comments are NOT needed here. lets keep this forum open for SUPPORT.

    by the sound of it i doubt you have ever experienced this type of discrimination or hate crime. it’s an embarassing situation for somebody to go through and even harder to admit. this isnt something that was created to get attention or whatever else you are implying by your statements. and to respond to your comment/question of a “woman who has no first or last name ” her name is AJ Stacy. AJs very well known in the LGBTQ community. google her. watch her videos. get to know her. and then i suggest you put on your big girl panties and give her an apology.

  10. And you expected what? Just do it and stand tall. It has to start somewhere so why not be the first to be famous. Hopefully. you will not be alone and more will follow but I wish you had more than the power of one to begin with.

  11. I skipped a lot of the comments. It’s just healthier that way. What can I say? I’m a Christian, libertarian, and a soldier. I think that makes us mortal enemies, and several comments… yeah, I had to bite my tongue. I know better than to argue it with that type of poster, though, so we’ll move along into the meat of my post.

    Those recruiters were jackasses. Just so’s we’re clear, the anti-military posters can go stuff themselves. That’s not how the Army operates these days. They completely failed in their duties to demonstrate to civilians what the Army’s about.
    We’re gonna ignore that about 70% of the work I’ve done for the Army falls into “Sweep, mop, and police call” details. That’s more what the Army’s about, but we can’t show civilians that ’cause then we’d never get fresh recruits.

    The current interpretation of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell tends to run into the realm of “If you don’t kiss a guy in front of me, you’re good”. It just as much exists to protect gay soldiers, ’cause if you’re going to be obvious about being gay there is going to be some jackass who makes fun of you for it. It’s the nature of the beast. You can legislate all you want, but it won’t change any time soon. Believe it or not, there’s similar strictures on straight soldiers as well. We’re not allowed to display affection to our girlfriends/wives while we’re in uniform, the only exception being reunion after deployment. While deployed, we’re not allowed to be in the same room as a person of the opposite sex with the door closed. The military just doesn’t want anybody to get some nookie. Gay military spouses, on the other hand, they get screwed (and not in the fun way) ’cause they can’t be part of the FRG or receive benefits. That more than any other part of DADT needs to be un-fucked.

    I’m an active duty soldier. I’m combat arms, currently retraining to fly model airplanes. In the combat arms fields, you need a thick skin to survive. I’ve heard way, way worse jokes, even told worse ones. Anything from the holocaust to cannibalism, and homosexuality ain’t sacrosanct. Yes, it was unprofessional. Yes, it was in bad taste. I’m not defending them, and if this story’s true then AJ ought to bring it up to higher. I hear the Inspector General exists for a reason. But if you’re going into the military, you’d better get used to hearing things that you won’t like. A good way of looking at it is “How much harm does this *really* do to me?” and if words can really hurt you… buddy, you don’t got what it takes to serve.

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