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Ty Redhouse

A Tradition of Service

Denny Meyer

Tyson A. Redhouse grew up in a remote corner of the Navajo Reservation in northwestern New Mexico with a rich culture and a patriotic tradition of military service.  As a teenager, he learned about the WWII American Navajo Code Talkers in school and was able to go and meet them himself if he wished.  Yet, one of the inspirations to serve in his country's armed forces came from his father, who had served as a Marine in Vietnam.  In high school, Tyson had been a shy intellectual; but he was motivated to join Marine Corps Jr. ROTC where he excelled and became a Cadet Gunnery Sgt. and Platoon Leader.  During those two years, he said, he gained the confidence, self-assurance, and esprit to join the Air Force, where he advanced to Staff Sergeant during his eight years of service.  His education and intellectual prowess led him to become a highly valued intelligence analyst, a critical specialty.

He was an "all source" analyst and worked with reconnaissance aircraft on a daily basis, watching and listening to multiple intelligence disciplines and piecing together assessments. After September 11th, 2001, the work became yet more intricate, vital, and challenging.

The small elite intelligence community in which he worked was self-isolated, tending to stick with one another socially.  As an ethnic and sexual minority, he felt further isolated, he said, particularly in having to keep a secret, about himself, from his co-workers with whom hed shared the world of intelligence. Most of those he worked with tended to be close-minded with strongly voiced opinions and a stereotyped view of gay people.  He dealt with that so successfully that he was promoted and became a supervisor and became involved in training subordinates to evolve into more egalitarian co-workers.

Like Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and other minorities, the Navajo have a long proud history of courageous service despite the overt discrimination of earlier eras.  Being gay, among those, makes one a double minority with one part of one's identity hidden and the other open.  The stress of constant vigilance is unbearable.  One the one hand there is the endless low-level discrimination of carefully couched remarks based on colleagues' and superiors' ignorance and discomfort of those different from themselves.  As a Navajo, according to Tyson, he did not so much encounter discrimination as a tiresome curiosity and fascination with his ethnicity.  The honored service history of his people was well respected; but he'd rather have  been seen simply as SSgt Redhouse, a skilled analyst, without the Windtalker baggage. Beneath all that was the anger and frustration of having to remain silent while hearing uninhibited hate commentary about his hidden self.  The result was loneliness as a form of survival.

While studying in an Air Force specialty degree program, he wrote a case-study paper about a well-respected military officer who had been discharged due to the DADT policy.  The conclusion of his paper was that DADT does not work.  In Leadership School, in response to an assignment to do a sample briefing on any Air Force Instruction, he chose to present the Instruction regarding the DADT policy.  When the course later required him to debate an issue, he chose to represent the argument for repealing DADT by discussing values, economics, discrimination, and civil rights.  While these presentations were simply supposed to be the intellectual exercises of a brilliant intelligence analyst, it still took courage and self confidence to dare to broach the topic in the way he did.

Like many young Americans, since at least WWII, he left home for the first time, via the military, to find his own way in the world and make something of himself.  And, as with those who did so before him, he first recognized that he was gay while in uniform, well away from the confines of home.   Ultimately, as I and so many other gay NCOs did before him, he decided after nearly a decade of dedicated service not to reenlist yet again.  It had become impossible to continue to endure suffering the sacrifice of serving in silence, to remain stoic in the face of constant insults inspired by the official government policy of homophobia.  Like others, he took with him years of experience, training, and leadership and left without a word as to why.

But, he has now, at long last, spoken out.  On May 8th, he testified before the California Senate Judiciary Committee prior to their passing a resolution urging Congress and the President to enact the Military Readiness Enhancement Act which would call for the repeal the Don't Ask Don't Tell law and allow all Americans to choose to volunteer to serve in our armed forces, regardless of sexual orientation, openly with pride.  As he recalls, he told the Committee:

"My name is Tyson Redhouse and I am a gay veteran. I was honorably discharged from the United States Air Force after eight years of service, specifically, in the intelligence community. At the time of my separation, I was a Staff Sergeant. I was a supervisor, a mentor and one of the best military intelligence researchers and analysts in my unit. I ultimately decided not to reenlist because of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. This policy forced me to fly under the radar both on and off-duty. Under this policy, I was not allowed to take part in everyday conversations.  I could not talk about the things I cared about or the people I loved. As a supervisor, I heard anti-gay comments from both the leadership and my troops and I could not defend myself. Now, as a civilian, there's not a day that goes by that I regret leaving behind a life that I loved, not only because of the camaraderie and not only because I felt I was a part of something bigger than me. Ultimately, it was because this policy states that I am not good enough to serve my country"

Additionally, an Equality California (EQCA) press release about the testimony and resolution, said in part:

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed SJR6, authored by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, and sponsored by Equality California, urging Congress and President George W. Bush to adopt the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2007 (H.R. 1246).  The federal bill would prohibit discrimination in the military based on sexual orientation.

"The U.S. military continues to discriminate against an entire community of service members simply because they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," said EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors. "This blatantly discriminatory policy not only prohibits able and willing people from defending their country, it weakens our national defense by discharging talented and highly capable individuals."

"Qualified, patriotic service members who want to serve their country are being dismissed from the military for no other reason than their sexual orientation," said Sen. Kehoe. "As a result, these service members must live with the stigma of being forced out of the military and taxpayers are left to pay millions of dollars to replace some of our most competent and well-trained troops."

Tyson Redhouse, a gay veteran, originally from northwestern   New Mexico who now resides in northern California, who was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 2006, told the Committee members that the military's policy forced him to turn the other cheek when he heard slurs against gays and would not allow him to hold regular conversations about his life. "I decided to leave the Air Force - a life I loved - because of this policy," said Redhouse, who worked in intelligence. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell tells me that I'm not good enough to serve."