As part of a series of public events on veterans’ issues in the lead up to Veteran’s Day, the Veteran and Military Services Program at the University of Michigan held a panel on LGBTQ people in the military on Thursday. Speakers included Marine Sergeant Jackie Kelley, a student at Eastern Michigan University, and LSA senior Necko Fanning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army.
Anna Schnitzer, event organizer and a University librarian, asked the panelists if their sexuality was an issue during their time in the military.
Fanning spoke about the struggles he faced as a gay man in the armed forces.
“I didn’t think (being openly gay) was going to be as big of an issue as it was — it wasn’t in my training years, when I was in military intelligence it wasn’t an issue, but then I got stationed in an infantry unit … I got hate mail, especially, put under my door for a few months and then people got used to the idea, actually,” Fanning said.
Kelley, however, spoke quite differently of her experiences.
“I mean, for me, my experience was really positive,” she said. “And I know that there is some gender expectation from our society, I can definitely understand how a gay man would have a harder time in the military than a gay female. If anything, for me, I was just able to bro out with the other guys.”
Fanning spoke about the LGBTQ support group he joined at his base.
“There was no rank, no limitations, so we ended up having a lot of juniors enlisted and senior officers who were in this safe space and could talk about their experiences,” he said.
The U.S. military maintained an official ban on all LGBTQ persons in the military from the time of World War II until the passage of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 1993. The policy, signed by President Bill Clinton Clinton, prohibited LGBTQ members of the armed forces from disclosing their sexuality while also prohibiting official questioning regarding sexuality.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2011, allowing gay, bisexual and lesbian members of the military to serve openly. This has also allowed the experiences and struggles of LGBTQ servicemembers have come into focus.
Nursing freshman Adam Dobry, ROTC member, attended the event to try to improve his own awareness of issues LGBTQ people might face in the military.
“I felt like (this panel) would be a bit more interesting than a lot of the other ones, it seemed like it would be a bit more informative, especially for becoming an officer, to know how to treat certain individuals and be aware of certain things,” Dobry said.
VMSP Director Phil Larson elaborated on the purpose of the event.
“In the media and pop culture, there’s a lot of stereotyping, the military is a monolith, but it’s made of individuals,” Larson said.
After the event, Fanning told The Daily about why he joined the army and how he reflects on his time in the service.
“I knew I wanted to go to school. I grew up in Montana, on a reservation, so I was fairly poor so it was one way to pay for school,” Fanning said. “And then additionally, I came out as gay when I was 16 — before that, I didn’t really have any strong male friendships, so I was definitely looking to develop a strong brotherhood … I definitely forged a few friendships that are lifelong, for me, but ultimately, that was something that I missed.”