Gays in military fear careers will end Many went public to help fight ban

July 20, 1993|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,Staff Writer Lyle Denniston of the Washington bureau also contributed to this article.

It was soon after the president put to rest yesterday any hope that Lt. Zoe Dunning might remain in the Navy Reserve that the telephone call came.

The naval officer, whom she didn't even know, was calling to say he was sorry for the way the military has treated the 29-year-old Naval Academy graduate and lesbian.

It was the lone bright spot in a day of disappointment for the lieutenant.

Like several other service members whose futures in the military rested on the policy announced yesterday, Lieutenant Dunning said Pentagon directive would do little to change the lives of homosexual service members. Earlier this year, buoyed by the commander in chief's pledge to rescind the ban on gays in the military, she announced to the world she was a homosexual.

The new policy -- dubbed "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" -- offers them no protection to live openly as a homosexual and seems to assure that she and others will be discharged, they say.

"The people who came out [have] been left to slide through the cracks," said Lieutenant Dunning, who after serving six years of active duty transferred into the reserves to attend graduate school at Stanford University in 1991. "I'm disappointed he didn't stand his ground and do the right thing."

Lieutenant Dunning, who began her annual reserve training yesterday just hours before the new policy was announced, stood in her fatigues listening to Mr. Clinton on the radio yesterday at the Alameda, Calif., Naval Air Station.

"A lot of people say we have taken a small step forward. We have not," says Lt. Tracy W. J. Thorne, a Naval aviator who publicly announced that he was gay last year and is being processed for discharge because of it. "The president and the Department of Defense have taken a 50-year-old policy, shined it up and added a few new words to it and called it progress. It's discrimination, pure and simple."

Lieutenant Thorne, 26, is among the those whose futures are in limbo. Released from active duty in May, he has actively campaigned to lift the ban since he announced his sexual orientation on a national television broadcast last year.

"The president ran on a theme of change and hope," said Lieutenant Thorne, trained as a Top Gun-style aviator. "We haven't seen any change in the policy. . . . What does the president stand for in this country?"

Marine Sgt. Justin C. Elzie, who also announced his sexual orientation to support Mr. Clinton's pledge to lift the ban on gays in the military, called the new policy "a joke."

"I think it's going to leave a lot of gray areas on how they can pursue" gay service members, said Sergeant Elzie, a supply chief for the food service at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina.

The military has sought to discharge Lieutenant Dunning and Sergeant Elzie, who have both served their country with distinction. Their cases have been on hold, pending Mr. Clinton's decision. Lieutenant Dunning said she expected her case to end in discharge; Sergeant Elzie said he couldn't tell from the policy what his future would hold.

"Somewhere between 10 and 25" members of the military have said publicly that they are gay since Mr. Clinton's inaugural, apparently because they thought the president would end the ban or relax it significantly, said Thomas B. Stoddard, coordinator of the Campaign for Military Service, the group spearheading efforts to lift the ban.

He said that under the new policy, each of those individuals was "presumably" subject to discharge.

Sergeant Elzie knew the risks associated with telling his commander that he was gay.

"I stood up to try to move this issue forward, to break down a lot of the stereotypes, to get the truth out about gays in the military. If I'm sacrificed, . . . what's important to me is ending the discrimination," he said.

Several of the service members said they intended to continue to fight the ban in court, following the example of Navy Petty Officer Keith Meinhold. Officer Meinhold had been discharged by the Navy last year, but a federal judge ordered him reinstated last November, and the military has appealed.

Although he says he feels "betrayed" by the president's policy, Petty Officer Meinhold adds, "The battle is not over."

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