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Profiles in Patriotism

Scott West

A man of God
Not good enough to fly

Denny Meyer

Scott West grew up in the 1950s and 60s in the small mid-America town of South Pekin, IL, which had a population of 900, eight of whom were his siblings.  The family was poor and not particularly religious. And so, as Scott put it, "I was a young man in search of an identity."  His older brothers began the family's military tradition with four joining the armed forces, two in the Air Force, two in the Army.  For young Scott, the Air Force was the holy grail with its sleek planes and technological aura.  His eldest brother had entered the Air Force when Scott was still a baby; and so, for Scott, he was the hero idol whose image and identity he wanted to make his own.  "Joining the Air Force was what Wests did," he said.

Shortly after completing high school, Scott followed in his brothers' footsteps and enlisted in the United States Air Force.  It was the proudest moment of his young life; he got chills, he said, simply standing uniformed in formation at attention to the anthem.  He was a patriot of the American heartland of Fourth of July bunting and barbeques; resolute, Republican, and ready to fly off into the red white and blue yonder.  Ah, but alas, like so many at that time and from that place, he hardly had an inkling about his being gay.  That realization came later, after he'd left South Pekin and Peoria behind for the travel the Air Force afforded into the great beyond to the big city of Phoenix where the truth of who he was became the first of several epiphanies that changed the course of his life.

The Air Force's attention to technological aptitude led to his being trained to be a radiographer and X-ray technologist.  That became his lifetime occupation.  It was the realization of the American way, that a poor young man could learn a viable trade through service to his nation.  In the post-Vietnam era of his service, he did not experience combat, but he worked in hospital with those who had --fallen pilots with missing limbs and others with the physical and emotional wounds of that war.  Thus the seeds were planted in his soul for him to grow into the spiritual healer that he became later in life.

Serving at Luke Air Force Base, near Phoenix, AZ, this fine young American boy matured, proud to be serving his country, and came to realize and accept that he happened to be gay.  Even at that time, his peers that he told, arched their eyebrows only in irony that he had taken so long to understand what they had sensed all along.  He was accepted for who he had always been, a skilled technologist and good friend, and a proud patriotic airman whose heartland values were the same as that of those around him.  To place this event in his life into the context of historical time; it was only two years earlier that another American Air Force hero, Leonard Matlovitch, had publicly declared that he was gay and was promptly dishonorably discharged despite 18 years of sterling service,  a Purple Heart, and Bronze Star for his valor in Vietnam.  Meanwhile, Scott fell headlong in love, oblivious that a similar fate awaited him for who he was.

One thing led to another as they inevitably do, and his command became aware that he was a homosexual.  As things were at the time, and remain until now, they had no choice but to begin the process of discharging him for who he was.  A board was convened to determine his fate.  His coworkers and peers were formally questioned to establish the facts.  In an inquisition-like moment, a colleague was asked, "If you were to punish Airman West, what would you (have us) do?  Quite courageously, for that time, she replied, "I'd make him stay in the Air Force."  Despite that suggestion of rather lucid logic, he was given a general discharge under honorable conditions.

His mother was heartbroken; what can one say.  In her own way she dealt with the news as best as she could with Midwestern practicality, suggesting that he get married and perhaps go to Peoria on weekends. Oh dear, what would any of us do without our moms, bless them.  His father was more pragmatic, saying that he hoped he was happy, and sending one of his older brothers there to make sure he was OK and supported during the ordeal.

Despite the American military's misconceived policy of casting off its highly trained personnel who happen to be homosexual, hospitals and healthcare companies were quite happy to hire a skilled technologist; Scott had a lifetime career.  His calling to ministry came much later, after alcoholism recovery, Episcopalian epiphany, HIV seroconversion, cancer, and all the other difficult trials that life presented him with.  For Scott West, each turbulent trouble led him to further spirituality.  He emerged from those experiences with a greater understanding of his faith and strength.  In caring for those dying of AIDS, he found himself grateful, he said, that a higher power had given him that privilege.  As years passed, he became increasingly involved with his church and choir, becoming a lay counselor and skilled spiritual healer.  That eventually led to his being called to ministry by a bishop of an Independent Catholic Denomination.  He first became a chaplain at the University of Colorado Hospital.

Today, Monsignor Scott West leads Saint Luke's Church a mission of The Evangelical Catholic Church of America. His partner Sam supports him in his spiritual and secular endeavors  He continues his secular work as an MRI and CT scan technician.  It would seem that his Midwestern rearing and values have served him well.