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CHIEF SHIPLEY SPEAKS OUT

 

William J. Shipley, Sr.

 

Chief Petty Officer, USCG, Ret.

I retired from the U. S. Coast Guard after serving over 20 years in this great service. This letter is not directed in any way toward the U. S. Coast Guard. It is however, but, directed at our governmentís policy of gays in the military. I think it is way beyond time to let gays serve their county. After serving in the Coast Guard in many highly visible and responsible positions such as Company Commander, Leading Petty Officer of the Ceremonial Honor Guard and as Enlisted Aide to the Atlantic Area Commander, I feel I am proof that gays can serve in the military. Yes, if you have not figured it out, I am also a "gay American". No, Iím not your "stereo typical" gay man; but, what does a gay man look like anyway?

Iím sure there will be many people surprised, but it is true. When I was 18 years old I enlisted in the Coast Guard, got married and had my first child all in the same year. I did all of this because I really thought I could "change" and be "normal" like the rest of society. After keeping this secret and having several children it became harder and harder to do. No, this was not a phase, I really was gay and there was no "changing". I then retired and became a Naval Science Instructor and helped run one of the top seven NJROTC Units in the United States. I then went to another school and opened the first NJROTC in Lincoln County in Western North Carolina. As you can see I have lived a very successful life. However, I was beyond unhappy, having to pretend to be someone I was not. I actually thought my situation was unique, I have been surprised to find out it is not. There are many people like me. Four years ago I decided that I could no longer do this, that life was not worth living if I had to continue to live this way - always wondering what if someone found out I was gay. I decided that I did not owe anyone, including society, to have to live this way.

I separated from, then divorced, my wife of 23 years. One good thing is that we managed to hold on long enough to raise our children. When I came out to my children and to people who were close to me, to my surprise, no one felt any different about me. I donít know who came up with the theory that being gay is a "life style" or that gays want to be gay. Let me just say that anyone who would choose to be gay would be an idiot. Who would choose to put up with the kind of stuff that women and other minorities had to put up with in the past? Yes, Iím sorry to upset anyone but it is discrimination. If you ask most young people serving in the military and those not serving in the military they would tell you that they "donít care". The people who have the problem are the ones my age or older.

We use the phrase in the military that allowing gays to serve would be "against good order and discipline". I really donít understand what a personís sexual orientation has to do with that. Why is it that we accept everything else in society including different religions. Do we discharge someone from the military because they say they are a certain religion or they donít believe in god. Where do we draw the line? What is against good order and discipline is when someone is not treated fairly in the military. Some people like to use the "shower issue". This issue I really donít understand. When I was in the Coast Guard I obviously had to shower with other males. In fact, being an athlete and working out I had to shower with males probably more than most. I can honestly say that I never thought about anything except taking a shower. The reason that males and females have different showers is for obvious reasons, we are biologically different. The bottom line is that we expect our military personnel to be professional and treat each other with respect. If you donít adhere to the rules then you donít need to be in the military. It is no different than a person being sexually harassed, we donít put up with this type of behavior now and should not put up with "gays" harassing anyone as well. Some would say that "you would have never been able to do hold those types of positions or even be in the military, if people had known you were gay". You are possibly right, so, who is the one who has the issue. As a young teenage boy trying to get out of the inner city of Baltimore, and escape poverty my sexual orientation was really not in the forefront of my mind at the time. In fact, at 17 years old I donít think I was really sure what my "sexual orientation was".

I remember when I was stationed at Coast Guard Headquarters and we had to attend a mandatory meeting given by a former Commandant who was the Chief of Personnel at the time. It concerned women not being accepted in the military. This Admiral stated that I donít care how many years you have in the Coast Guard, women are here to stay, if you cannot accept it then you can get out. I was sitting there thinking I wish he was saying that about gays in the military as well. When I came out to my family, friends and students I was pleasantly surprised. With actually only one exception, they all said so, it doesnít matter or I still love you. They were right it doesnít matter. It only matters what type of person you turn out to be. I think to sum up the "fear of coming out", I was given a gift inscribed with the following. "A friend knows all about you . . . And still likes you!" If I had judged friends of mine in the military by a certain characteristic I would have missed out on some great friendships. I had a great career in the military and as a Naval Science Instructor and had the pleasure of serving with some of the finest people in the world. I also had the great opportunity to make a difference with molding our future Coast Guard men and women as a Company Commander and as an Instructor. So, for those of you who donít want to serve with "gayís" in the military I guess Iím the kind of person you donít want to serve with?

Patriotic gay men and women want to serve their country, just like their straight shipmates. Donít ask, Donít tell forces them to lie about who they are and risk their entire military career in order to fulfill their duties as a loyal American." Life is too short and Iím just glad that I had the foresight and courage to make this change in my life. I feel that my family and I are much better because of this.

Most of the above text has been published in the January, publication of the Navy Times. What I did not talk about in this article, were the three reasons I decided to go public. When I told my children of which I have five. They all reacted differently. One of my sons who served in the Coast Guard had a harder time with it. I feel it was due to his concerns of how his Coast Guard friends would react. I did not tell my youngest children, who are twins until they were almost 18. I was absolutely stunned to find out my son, who is one of my twinís, was gay. I might add that this was not a pleasant surprise for me. It was hard for me to deal with, mainly, because I know how hard his life would now become. Without getting into much of the conversation the he and I had, I will just say that I support him. I would have regardless of my sexual orientation. I donít think him being gay was much of a surprise to his siblings. So, for those who have been wondering, he is the number one reason that I decided to go public.

Another reason was to show that there are many professional, successful, gay military members that have served or is still serving their country with pride and distinction. The final reason was something that I had to do for me. The toughest thing Iíve had to do in my life is go through most of it living a lie. No matter how successful I became or how hard I worked I was always wondering "would they still feel the same way about me if they knew who I really was". That is an absolute terrible way to have to live oneís life. I told a good friend of mine who is also a former Coastguardsman. Gay people actually have something on their side. If we decide to "come out" we get to see who our friends really are. Many straight people never get to know.

So, with that said, I can honestly say I finally feel inner peace. Since my article in the Navy Times I have received many calls and e-mails from former Coast Guard members giving me their support and best wishes, for that I am eternally grateful. I have said many times that only 20% of a person is their sexuality. Also, I feel it is not who you start out to be in life it is the kind of person you become. I also understand why there is so much emphasis put on a personís sexuality. For a long time even I put too much emphasis on my sexuality and not on the kind of person I was. So, I do understand this.

Finally, Iím going to do my part to help ensure that gays be allowed to serve openly in the military just like our straight shipmates do. Obviously there are too many reasons to count; I donít understand why gays are not allowed to serve their country. I donít think the regulations have changed. But, I wish someone would explain to me, why citizens from other countries are allowed to come to the United States, and before they become citizens, allowed to serve as an enlisted member of the military. But, a person who is openly gay is not allowed to enlist and serve. I know this to be a fact, because I know many people who fell into this category. This statement is not meant to offend anyone. But, it is just another example of how the "Donít ask, Donít Tell" Policy makes no sense. I donít know how as Americans we continue to allow this to happen.