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Jason Knight

No, Really, I'm Gay

By Denny Meyer

It's funny how a perfectly ordinary person can suddenly find himself famous for fifteen seconds because of a series of snafus.  On the one hand, it's all about who said what when, politics, and paperwork perils.  On the other hand, its really all about a policy of ideological bigotry banning gay service members from serving openly, and bureaucratic bumbling.  Its a bit difficult to keep the facts straight, because they're not.

Jason Knight was a perfectly ordinary churchgoing young American man who set out to make his own way in the world.  He was raised a Baptist and didn't know bupkis about being gay.  In April of 2001, he found himself in a Navy recruiting office just to find out about opportunities.  The next thing he knew, he was in boot camp where he excelled at what's done there so well that he was recruited right into the Ceremonial Guard.  It's all about spit and polish, respect and honor.  In the Ceremonial Guard he was so good that as a three-striper Seaman (E3) he already led 40 sailors in their duties.  Then, due to his high intelligence and aptitude, he was sent to the Defense Language Institute (DLI), where he studied to become a Hebrew Linguist (don't ask).  DLI has had a scandalous series of DADT discharges of linguists who were determined to be gay.  What is it about those who are exceptionally neat and tidy and linguistically intelligent, anyway?

Up to this point, neither he nor the Navy had a clue about his being gay.  While at DLI, he met and married a lovely woman.  Only then did he realize what he would have known long ago were we to be living in a more welcoming world.  The paperwork annulling his marriage came through while he was working in his specialty at Ft. Gordon, GA.  This young man was a gung-ho sailor who simply was honest when he went to his CO to change his marriage status back to single.  He'd never heard of DADT, so when asked, he simply told the commander why....; oy vey!  Suddenly he was being discharged from his beloved career due to a policy of bigotry he'd never heard of nor had any experience in dealing with.  For the Navy, it was a sadly routine procedure, under the policy, to process out a sailor who had admitted to being a homosexual.  It wasn't routine for Jason Knight, however.

It was a terrifying experience.  He suddenly had a different identity that he'd been hiding from, one that put him at risk of being beaten because it was perceived as shameful.  He'd heard horror stories; and he had to deal with his family at the same time.  It was confusing; he could not understand why America's military could not reflect the freedom it stands for.  Fortunately, he found support from those around him.  Slowly, with caring friends, he began to find his way in a new lifestyle while keeping the values of personal integrity that he'd grown up with.  He had always been independent; what he'd gained from the military was self confidence and how to structure his life.  He put all that to good use, found work, good friends, and moved forward.

Nine months later he got a letter recalling him to active duty.  Considering the size of the military  bureaucracy, the error is understandable.  It's happened to others who've been DADT discharged.  A phone call or letter explaining that you were discharged for being gay generally results in a polite apology for the mistake and "never mind."  The way the Navy worded the recall, however, indicated that it was "involuntary."  And Jason Knight really loved the Navy and wanted nothing more than to get back to work serving his nation.  This time, he understood Don't Ask Don't Tell; it was a clear rule: Don't Tell, and he didn't.  Listen, he's only 24 years old; its a self-contradictory policy to begin with; for this good boy, if the Navy wanted him back he was more than willing to forgive them for kicking him out and he was going to do his best to do it the Navy-way and not say anything this time.  The only thing that makes no sense, here, is the policy.

Then there are the peculiar paperwork and policy snafus: He was given a nice sign-up bonus upon entering the Navy, for the first time, with a four-year commitment.  Upon entering DLI two years later, apparently there was supposed to have been some paperwork extending his commitment; he says it never was mentioned nor written up nor signed.  The Navy, it seems, said otherwise and took the money back upon his first DADT discharge; but in fact he'd already served four years.  Then there was the first DADT discharge paperwork itself.  It was supposed to say something about, "due to homosexuality."  But, it didn't.  That, seemingly, was because his CO thought he was a great sailor and he'd do better out in the world without that stigma on his papers.  Who could have imagined that he'd be recalled?  But, he was, with no mention of any DADT disqualification in his records.  That was fine with Jason; he's a patriotic American who loves the Navy, loves his country and wanted to serve.  What's wrong with that?

Why did he go back?  According to Petty Officer Jason Knight, serving in the military gives one a sense of pride; you are a part of just one percent of the population serving your country.  It is not about agreeing or disagreeing about war, he noted, "it's about serving proudly alongside your shipmates."  It is about the system, the structure, the discipline, the values, and the leadership he learned, which he will be able to use for the rest of his life.  He rhapsodized about  people from all walks of life all working cohesively together on a common goal, their mission.  "Serving is incredible," he said.

So, he soon found himself in Kuwait serving in a vast sea of bustling wartime administration, working in a customs unit.  Now, on the ground over there at the unit level, there is nothing unusual about another gay soldier or sailor.  At the unit level, no one cares anymore.  All his colleagues wanted to know was whether he wanted diet or regular coke as they headed to the canteen.  He certainly saw no reason to go back into the closet after the Navy seemingly knew he was gay and recalled to active duty him anyway.  As he put it, "Coming out the second time was much easier."  It's a bit mind boggling.  He did not, he said, define himself as being gay; it was just a part of who he was; and he was a sailor first.

Then, a few months ago, he read the offensive remarks made by General Pace about homosexuals being immoral and having no place in the military.  Here he was, in the Middle East, patriotically serving even after all that had happened to him; and now his honorable service was being disrespected.  He wrote a letter to Stars & Stripes, which read:

"I spent four years in the Navy, buried fallen servicemembers as part of the Ceremonial Guard, served as a Hebrew Linguist in Navy Intelligence, and received awards for exemplary service.  However, because I was gay, the Navy discharged me and recouped my 13k sign-on bonus. Nine months later, the Navy recalled me to active duty. Did I accept despite everything that happened? Of course I did, and I would do it again. Because I love the Navy and I love my country. And despite Pace’s opinion, my shipmates support me."

By the time Stars & Stripes contacted him to do a full story about him, his unit had been deactivated and he was back home here in the United States on final leave pending normal discharge from his tour of reserve recall to active duty.  And so, the story about the "gay sailor recalled to active duty" appeared.  That's when the lights came on about his existence somewhere in the bureaucratic maze in the Pentagon.  The order was seemingly sent down the chain of command to discharge him due to DADT, again!  He still loves the Navy he said, and would go back in an instant.

Petty Officer Second Class Jason Knight
has been awarded the following medals and ribbons:

Army achievement Medal (Kuwait)
Navy Achievement Medal - Ceremonial Guard
Navy Achievement Medal - Kuwait
Navy Reserve Meritorious Service Medal
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Armed Forces Reserve Medal (with bronze M)
Navy Rifle Sharpshooter Medal
Navy Pistol Sharpshooter Medal
Navy - Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon
Ceremonial Guard Service Ribbon
Navy Good Conduct Medal

"Everything happens for a reason," he said.  He now plans to work toward the day that all can serve without discrimination.