........article reprinted from www.brisbanetimes.com.au .......
August 26, 2010
Katherine Miller, who recently resigned from West Point Military Academy because she grew tired of hiding that she was gay. Photo: Robert Stolarik/New York Times
The 'don't ask, don't tell' policy has taken its toll, reports Corey Kilgannon from West Point.
CODE words, secret societies, covert meetings, fake identities: these are tools that a certain set of cadets learn at the US Military Academy at West Point.
These cadets are not spies or moles. They are gay, and they exist largely in the shadows of this institution known for producing presidents and generals, where staying closeted is essential to avoid discharge under the US military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
The resignation this month of Katherine Miller, a top cadet who blogged anonymously about her lesbianism, has turned a spotlight on the hidden gay culture at West point and revived debate on campus about "don't ask, don't tell" at a time when Washington is also focused on the issue. Ms Miller, who wrote under the name "Private Second Class Citizen" about enduring gay slurs and faking a heterosexual dating history, is transferring to Yale University next month and has become something of a media celebrity.
Interviews with gay cadets, who spoke anonymously because revealing their identities could result in expulsion, as well as conversations with Ms Miller and several gay alumni, painted a portrait of a vibrant, if tiny, gay underground at West Point. New cadets must sign a document acknowledging that revealing one's homosexuality can lead to discharge, as can demonstrating "a propensity to engage in homosexual acts".
In 1996, three female cadets resigned after West Point officials found a diary belonging to one of them that revealed their sexual orientation. In 2002, the academy discharged a cadet after his profile was discovered on a gay website. Ms Miller, whose blog began in April but apparently eluded academy officials, said she quit voluntarily by submitting a letter revealing that she is a lesbian.
Asked about gay culture at West Point, Lieutenant-Colonel Brian Tribus, the academy's director of public affairs, issued a statement saying that the school "will continue to apply the law as it is obligated to do", but also noting that cadets must take military ethics classes that include "topics about unconditional positive respect for others".
For gay cadets, repressing their sexuality is just one part of adapting to West Point, where life is regimented and lived mostly in uniform. Romance of any kind can be difficult: the 4400 cadets, who live in one complex of large barracks and eat together at huge weekday breakfasts and lunches, are allowed to date but not to kiss or hold hands while in uniform.
Trying to divine other lesbians takes "really finely tuned gaydar", said another lesbian cadet. There are code words and test phrases: "Are you family?" refers to inclusion in the lesbian sisterhood.
Inevitably, they stay silent amid slurs and slights. Even fending off advances from male cadets can create problems. "You can't say, 'Sorry guys, I'm gay,' " a senior female cadet said. "And if I say, 'I have a boyfriend,' I'm breaking the honour code." Breaching the Cadet Honour Code — "a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do" — can result in serious discipline.
A male cadet in his fourth year said he had had sexual relationships with several other men at the academy. Last year, he fell for a guy at a gay bar in Manhattan who, to the surprise of both of them, turned out to be a classmate. Back on campus, if they passed each other in company, they would simply nod hello or offer a casual back-slap.
Ms Miller, 20, a sociology major from Ohio, said she decided to leave West Point after two years because she grew tired of hiding. "It was a whirlpool of lies — I was violating the honour code every time I socialised," she said.