On November 15th, 2010 I chained myself to the White House fence with 12 other LGBT veterans and civilian activists in protest of the U.S. Military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. I did it because I cared, because I thought that every soldier had the right to serve without lying about who they were, and I did it because I think the fight for LGBT rights are the biggest fight of my lifetime. As a gay veteran, I couldn't bear to stand on the sidelines while others did the fighting. Less than a month later, I sat in the room as President Obama signed the DADT repeal legislation into law.
Somewhere deep inside me, I always knew I had a story to tell. Mine is the story of a poor, pudgy 17-year-old kid from a small town in Ohio who enters the U.S. Army Infantry to "man up" and to have the opportunity to go to college that nobody in his family ever had before. The story of those five years between 17-22 make up my book Closets, Combat, and Coming Out: Coming Of Age As A Gay Man In The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Army.
I experienced racism and homophobia in equal measure in the Army, battled with suicidal thoughts, discovered who I was sexually and fell in love for the first time, and deployed to Iraq shortly after the initial invasion. I decided to write the book because I'd not seen this story represented in any of the literature available about the gay experience, the black experience or the military experience. Much like my time spent in the Army, my face is the lone black one in listings of books about military history and one of very few in listings of biographies and memoirs of gay and lesbian people.
I've been afforded the incredible opportunity to be able to share my story and my work with LGBT students at college campuses across the country, and it never ceases to amaze me how universal the struggle for coming out and acceptance is.
I wrote the first post DADT repeal gay Iraq war memoir and the first Iraq war memoir ever written by an African-American soldier because this story matters. I wrote Closets, Combat and Coming Out because our service matters, and most of all, I wrote it because I want to restart the conversation about the effects of DADT.
Open service by Transgender people is still banned. The military still does not have a non-discrimination policy to protect LGB soldiers. There are still thousands of soldiers dishonorably discharged under DADT that struggle to get their discharges upgraded so that they can have access to the educational benefits and the healthcare that honorably discharged soldiers do.
I wrote Closets, Combat and Coming Out to get people talking about DADT and the rights of LGBT soldiers again, because as long as there are any LGBT soldiers who are not protected and who are denied rights and benefits because of who they are, #DADTlives.
Closets, Combat and Coming Out is available now via Blue Beacon Books from Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and wherever LGBT and progressive books are sold. For more on Rob, visit www.robsmithonline.com and on twitter @robsmithonline.