Coast Guard Veteran: Being Yourself Isn’t a Crime
As a member of the United States Coast Guard, John Fiorentine was charged with defending our country from those would seek to do us harm. However during his tenure, John says that he was unable to be his true self and live as a gay man. Only while stationed outside the U.S. did John finally begin to contemplate his feelings.
“It wasn’t until I literally went to the other side of the Earth that I was able to be myself, where I really came to terms with being gay,” he said. “I wasn’t able to speak to anyone about what I was feeling until I was overseas.”
That’s a story John shared with The Ask & Tell Project, an initiative to gather and share the stories of LGBTQ people both currently serving in the military and those who are veterans. Freedom for All Americans Education Fund is excited to team up with The Ask & Tell Project to generate stronger understanding of LGBTQ veterans and servicemembers. Watch part of his story below:
In the video John shares his surprise at immediately finding community while aboard his ship.
“There were about 50 or 60 of us stationed on that base who regularly went out and socialized, but more importantly, we protected each other — we saw each other as brothers.”
During this time, the military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was still in place. Under this rule, the military had the power to dishonorably discharge LGBTQ soldiers simply for being who they were. John says that while he was careful about disclosing his identity, he didn’t believe he was very successful.
“I didn’t hide it very well. I brought my boyfriend to work — of course I called him my friend, but if they had wanted to, they could have done an investigation and discharged me under DADT.”
Even with DADT in place, John explains being LGBTQ was the least of concerns among his supervisors and sailors.
“We already knew there were gays in the military; servicemembers didn’t really see an issue with it – it was more politicians from a different generation as well as senior leaders from a different generation.”
Although DADT was eventually repealed during the Obama administration, the harsh reality is that discrimination in employment is still prevalent for LGBTQ people. In 32 states, there are insufficient state-level non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, meaning they can be fired or refused a job, denied a mortgage or lease, or kicked out of a store or restaurant simply for being who they are.
John is firm in stating that discrimination in any instance is wrong, and while he admits he doesn’t have all the answers, he strongly believes the movement and momentum for non-discrimination created by the LGBTQ community and allies will ultimately result in success.
“Whether the rationale for discrimination is unit cohesion or religious freedom, we can neither rest on our achievements nor sacrifice the liberty we are all worthy of for the success of only some of us,” he told Freedom for All Americans. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed not because it was bad law…it was repealed because a movement demanded the repeal of a bad law. We all deserve to pursue happiness free of discrimination and must demand equality. If we don’t take care of our own, no one else will. If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.”