Just*in Time: November 2012

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by Justin B. Terry-Smith

Photo by Don Harris © Don Harris Photographics, LLC. All rights reserved
Dear Justin,
I have a question: Can openly gay men who are positive join the Army or Air Force?
—Detox

I was in the Air Force for four years. I served honorably as an HIV-negative, semi-closeted gay man. When I say semi-closeted, I mean I didn’t tell anyone about my sexuality unless they were family or close friends. I had a really good group of friends in the military who were also gay—James, Chris, and Tyler. We all hung out and were there for each other in our darkest hours.

After serving four years I was discharged honorably from the U.S. Air Force, with awards and decorations, and I was very proud to have served my country. After leaving the Air Force I often wondered if I could go back in the military. In 2006 I was diagnosed with HIV but still had that deep question in my mind, “Could I get back into the military even if I were HIV-positive?”

If you are HIV-negative when you started your service in any military branch and you are infected with HIV, they give you an option. The option is: You can leave for medical reasons or you can stay in, but you cannot go overseas to any hazardous zones; rather, you will have to be stationed in the U.S.

When I was stationed at Dover AFB I met a Navy man who was stationed at the Pentagon. He was so handsome that I really started to like him. We dated for a while and then he decided not to see me anymore. His reason was that he didn’t want to engage in a long-distance relationship. That man was HIV-positive and we are still friends to this day. (He is not the one who infected me, just to be clear. We were very careful.) I asked him how he became HIV-positive and he told me that it was a woman overseas who had infected him. The Navy asked whether he wanted to be medically discharged or stay in. He decided to stay in and is retiring very soon.

So you see you have to be HIV-negative when you enter the military but you have the option to stay in if you are infected while still in the military. As far as trying to enter the military while being HIV-positive, that is a big negative, Detox. You cannot enter the military if you are HIV-positive. I called the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Baltimore, Maryland, and they told me that you cannot enter into the military when you are already HIV-positive.

When I joined the military I was very apprehensive about divulging my sexuality. It was very hard for me at first until I met someone. He seemed nice enough and he made his move on me when we were at a party, upstairs watching TV. I didn’t know he was gay, but he was also in the military like me. We secretly started dating and then it became a violent situation, where he would threaten me and physically, emotionally and mentally abuse me. He was in the military as well and so there was nowhere on base I could hide from him. Eventually the situation alleviated itself and nobody in my command found out about it. If they had I would’ve been interrogated on our relationship and surely would’ve been kicked out. I had a bisexual girlfriend later on that year and we kept each other’s secret until she was kicked out of the military because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” DADT was the policy that kept gays and lesbians from serving in the military openly. Since then DADT has been eradicated and now one can serve openly as a gay man or lesbian.

Serving in silence is something that nobody should have to do. Right now I serve under the Maryland Defense Force as a 1st Lieutenant, Communications Officer. The MDDF doesn’t care if you are HIV-positive or gay—it’s a volunteer service that serves to protect the borders of Maryland, alongside the National Guard and I’m proud to serve openly and proudly as an HIV-positive gay man.

This entry of Just*in Time is dedicated to the men and women who serve or who have served our country, who are HIV-positive or HIV-negative.

Justin B. Terry-Smith has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Now, with this column, Justin has found a way to give voice to the issues that people write to him about. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected]

November 2012

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