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Profiles in Patriotism

Robaire Watson;
Designing Freedom

by Denny Meyer

In the alternate universe of StarTrek The Next Generation, the star-ship's barber has blue skin and is from a planet with a complex social structure totally different from Earth's. The Enterprise is a utopia with a diverse rainbow colored crew of varied genders all without the slightest prejudice toward one other.   The barber is a full warrior-member of the crew, trained and ready to serve in the battles for survival as the ship streaks across a hostile universe encountering creatures who want to steal the ship, steal their souls, steal their bodies, steal their minds, or assimilate them into a cyborg society literally run by the ultimate control Queen.

Robaire Watson was a US Navy Ship's barber who served aboard the USS Kansas as it traveled the seas promoting freedom during the Gulf War and Operation Southern Watch--off the coast of Somalia in 1993, traveling to Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Dubai, Jebel Ali, UAE, British Columbia, Mexico, and the Philippines during his two enlistments.  He is black and openly gay and never encountered the slightest discrimination aboard his warship.  He grew up in a primarily white small Texas town of 5000, went to school, graduated, and never encountered racism.  Apparently everyone knew he was gay, as well, according to his parent's totally unsurprised and loving reaction when he came out to them.  Is he blessed?  Is there hope for America in his experience? Or is it simply his own glowing personality that endeared anyone who ever met him?  It's likely that all three factors played into the smooth bliss of his existence.  Still, who wouldn't want to touch this man's cheek for a bit of good luck?

Robaire is the middle child of a nominally Southern Baptist Texas family. His grandfather had served in the Army in World War I.   He was in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts,  played high school football, and was into cars and music.  He said he always knew he was gay.

After high school, he earned money for college by working in the oil fields.  He studied design and fashion merchandising in Dallas at Wades School of Design, North Texas State University, and Odessa College.  He wanted to see the world, however, and like many young men he wanted to get a bit further away from home.  He joined the US Navy in 1989 and served six years through two enlistments until 1995.

What was he thinking, I asked him, joining the Navy knowing that he was gay?  He said that he decided that, "I'm going to be who I am, I'm not going to let them change me; people don't need to feel threatened by my lifestyle."  Easy to say perhaps, difficult to do.  Robaire Watson seemed to have designed his own personal freedom by sheer willpower and personality.  During the early 1990s, it also helped that there was an expectation in the military that President Clinton would issue an executive order allowing gay and lesbian patriots to serve openly.  It did not happen, but in many commands there had been a preparedness to enable those who did their jobs well to be able to serve without discrimination.  Petty Officer Watson and many others benefited from that brief bubble in time when some commands demonstrated that they could make it happen without difficulty.  When the Don't Ask Don't Tell law was passed, his shipmates told him, "Watson, we don't have to ask and we don't have to tell."

Don't get too incredulous; Mr. Watson has had difficult times, even having been homeless at one point.  He has seen how others have suffered from discrimination, and he's good and angry about it.  He wrote, "In today's society, being a military veteran, openly gay and black doesn't seem to be enough for the media. People don't want to hear your story unless you've been tortured, raped or beaten to death. It's all about creating a scandal."  He is deeply troubled by the high suicide rate among veterans, homelessness, and inadequate healthcare resources at Veterans Administration facilities.  The scandal, for him, is the lack of public awareness and concern about these issues.  Despite all the talk of "Supporting Our Troops," he knows first hand how returning veterans get no respect for their sacrifice.  

"I went to the Red Cross when I was homeless and provided them with copy of my former military ID. They told me that there wasn't anything they could do for me. My former employer told me that being in the military isn't important. I spent six years in the Navy serving two terms of duty, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Southern Watch, onboard the USS Kansas City, a dangerous oiler (floating gas station). You never know if your ship will be hit by missiles or a water mine. In a flash, it could be all over for you and your command," he wrote.

And yet, when he returned to civilian life, he was on his own.  He's a resilient guy; he eventually found his way in administration and design work.  But, he is outraged that so many profoundly physically and emotionally injured vets are simply neglected and are allowed to disappear; only getting a fleeting burst of media attention if they commit murder or are murdered.  He has seen others try to commit suicide in despair simply because they were about to be discharged from the military for being gay.

"I'm very fortunate that I was able to be openly gay and live my life accordingly during active duty," he said,  "I want other men and women who enter the armed forces who are gay to be able to live their lives just as openly as their straight counterparts and when they become veterans to be treated with dignity and respect."

"In the Navy," he told me, "I got the chance to see the world; to learn about American diversity by living and working with Americans from all walks of life; I learned to deal with those with attitude, and how to be in charge of my own space as well as guiding others; it taught me responsibility.  I'm very proud to have done my duty serving my country."

For his honorable service, Robaire Watson
was awarded the following medals and ribbons:

Southwest Asia Medal

Kuwait Liberation Medal

Saudi Desert Storm Medal

National Defense Service Ribbon
Southwest Asia Service Ribbon
USN Sea Service Deployment Ribbon
S. Arabia Lib/ Kuwait Ribbon with Palm Tree
Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon
Armed Forces Expedition Medal Ribbon
Navy E Ribbon
Combat Action Ribbon
Humanitarian Service Ribbon

  2008  Gay Military Signal