Many thanks again to Andrew Sullivan for making the trip to West Point and accepting the Courage Award. Link to his reflection is below.
Saturday’s event took place 6-9pm, at the West Point Club, on West Point grounds, and was open to the public. It was the first event of its kind ever.
The event was attended by over a hundred guests, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. The number included about thirty cadets – in uniform – and over a dozen West Point staff and faculty, most of whom wore civilian business attire. Straight and gay graduates, former staff and faculty, other veterans, and several civilian allies rounded out the crowd. The crowd was diverse, including people like Louis Tharp, the openly gay former coach of the West Point Triathlon Team; Katheryn Okonsky, a 2008 graduate, currently a Lieutenant readying for deployment to Afghanistan; Cadet Brandi-El Cook, co-captain of the Women’s Boxing Team; Major John Faunce, a Tactical Officer with his wife and a number of the cadets from his company, there to pay tribute to his old roommate Jonathan Hopkins; and Dayna Elizabeth, a transgender Army veteran recently retired after twenty years of service as a military policeman.
The invocation was given by Reserve Army Chaplain Chris Antal, minister of the Rock Tavern Unitarian Universalist Church, a church that welcomes and affirms lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Antal is also a member of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, a group that works for a pluralistic, professional military chaplaincy, and fought for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy.
Following the invocation, Cadet Mike Marino ’14 and Cadet Brianna O’Hearn ’14 sang the National Anthem. Sarah Haag, ’03, a founding Board member of Knights Out and the coordinator of the event, acted as emcee for the evening. She introduced Sue Fulton, the Executive Director of Knights Out, a member of the class of 1980 – the first class of women at West Point. Haag Intro Remarks
Fulton told how she had gotten involved with Knights Out, and a bit about the role Knights Out played in DADT repeal. Finally, she welcomed a number of the distinguished guests, including senior West Point officers; Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of SLDN; and Karl Alvarez, a member of the Board of Blue Alliance (the Air Force Academy’s LGBT Alumni group). Fulton Welcoming Remarks
At the end of Fulton’s remarks, Athena Drewes and Twila Smith, from Antal’s congregation, presented Knights Out with a check from the members of Rock Tavern UU Church.
Haag took the microphone again, this time to talk about “why we’re here,” and to introduce one Cadet Candidate and three cadets to speak. She emphasized why we have events to support visibility of LGBT people, especially in the military.
It’s important for gay and lesbian officers and cadets to live their lives with integrity and honesty, and be role models so that others understand that we are serving beside you, we are Soldiers like you, we’re in this together.
Cadet Candidate Colin Lewis, an enlisted medic currently attending the USMA Prep School, spoke first, reflecting on his fear of coming out as an enlisted person, and how the response was extremely positive. “Most people just didn’t care,” he noted. Lewis commented that his Prep School classmates were unaffected when he came out to them, and noted that some have talked to him as a resource when writing papers in support of gay marriage. He praised the leadership of the Prep School for creating a professional and supportive atmosphere for him and for others who have joined OutServe (an organization of actively-serving LGBT military members).
Cadet Corporal Andrew Fitzsimmons, Class of 2014, followed Lewis. Fitzsimmons talked about working with others at West Point to form SPECTRUM, an organization for gay and straight cadets to educate and support their peers. One of SPECTRUM’s desired projects would be to speak to local high school and middle school groups to stop bullying. The group is pending administration approval.
Cadet Sergeant Andrew Houchin, a member of the Debate Team, emphazed his gratitude to all those in the room who had fought for DADT repeal, and who had supported LGBT military members. He told some touching (and some humorous) stories about his classmates discovering he was gay. He also praised West Point for the professional way in which repeal was handled. Houchin belongs to the Class of 2013.
Cadet Captain Kaitlyn Kelly was the last cadet to speak. Kelly spoke in a heartfelt and inspirational way about how she had been invisible, then found her voice after her friend Katie Miller left West Point. She spoke to people – though she had to be anonymous – but gradually became willing to be a voice for other gay and lesbian cadets, because she felt it her duty as a leader. Kelly ended with an emotional quote from The Crucible and a resounding ovation. Full text of Kelly’s remarks.
Between speakers, the conversation was loud, raucous with the re-counting of cadet and young-lieutenant “war stories,” as straight supporters got to know gay, lesbian, and transgender veterans.
Mike Piro ’01, who served two tours in Iraq as a combat officer, introduced his West Point classmate Jonathan Hopkins. Both men are highly decorated veterans, and Mike was in turns teasing and choked up as he talked about what Hopkins went through as an officer and his discharge under DADT. Piro, who married his West Point sweetheart, is the only straight member of the Knights Out Board. Piro Speech and Intro of Hopkins.
After Piro presented Hopkins with the first-ever Courage Award, Hopkins addressed the assembly, but focused on cadets.
“Be what right looks like,” he told cadets – one of six lessons he told them would be important when they led troops.
If the Army should be a place where orientation is immaterial, embody that.
My rule of thumb now is I talked about my boyfriend in the same scenarios when anybody else would mention their girlfriend or wife.
If we expect equality in the military, we have to embody it.
I’m not saying it has to be the first thing you mention when you meet someone, nor that you should be a walking pride parade; it means nonchalantly, professionally exhibiting what right looks like–treating it like not a big deal–because that’s exactly what it is.
Hopkins closed with a reminder:
In the Army there’s nothing that anyone should ever face alone.
We are a team.
We share triumphs and travails alike.
That’s what makes us stronger.
We don’t keep secrets from each other.
We watch out for each other…
Tonight, I’m proud to see my Alma Mater and the Corps are in good hands.
I look forward to seeing what all of you do in this Army of ours.
Make a difference – do good works.
I’m honored to have the opportunity to spend this evening with all of you.
After dessert, Haag closed the evening with heartfelt thanks and noted:
We didn’t form Knights Out to be advocates; thought we ended up in the middle of it; we wanted an alumni group. As Andy Warhol once said, “They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
For me, it was my first chance to really connect with grads – from the first class of women to retired colonels, from New York City to Alaska – and introduce them to my wife, and, in July, to our baby – and not feel like I have to lie or conceal any of it.
When we were coming up with a name for this dinner, we kept talking about the word celebration because that’s what many of us are feeling this evening. That’s how you feel when you come home.
After the official event ended, many straggled – close to an hour went by, with the West Point Club forced to turn lights off to get them to leave. About half went to the Thayer Hotel, where the networking and storytelling (and a bit of drinking) went into the night. The last formal act of the evening occurred when Fulton brought forth a bottle of red wine.
She informed the assembled that this particular bottle had been saved from Knights Out’s first event ever: a reception at the 2009 San Francisco Pride Parade. Dan Choi was the Grand Marshal at that year’s event, and Knights Out boasted a marching contingent of several dozen, complete with commander, guidon, and cadence-caller.
The wine was poured, and a final toast was given:
In the words of the Cadet Prayer – to all those who chose “the harder right instead of the easier wrong,” who “never settled for a half-truth when the whole could be won,” to Duty, and Honor, and Country – to Knights Out.