'Don't Ask, Don't Tell': Closeted Gay Troops Build Secret, Worldwide Support Network

Air Force master sergeant in Kabul facilitates support network for gay troops.

ByABC News
November 30, 2010, 2:15 PM

Dec. 1, 2010— -- Active-duty gay and lesbian service members are quietly building an underground support network at U.S. military outposts around the world, anticipating that "don't ask, don't tell" will be repealed.

As Congress weighs a Pentagon review of the military's policy banning openly gay service members, the network, known as "OutServe," revealed Monday that it has nearly 1,300 members across 27 chapters in 15 states, the military service academies and 10 foreign countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

While the numbers likely represent a small fraction of closeted gays and lesbians in the armed forces, they shed light for the first time on the extent to which many are organizing, predominantly through social media but also in secret in-person meetings and conference calls.

"Of all the support organizations the military brings to the table, this one can address our needs," a gay Air Force master sergeant who facilitates the OutServe chapter in Afghanistan said. "We are not able to freely communicate our specific issues with any of them in an open manner."

The serviceman, who asked to be identified only as Charles for fear of being thrown out of the military, is stationed at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. He said most of his chapter's 50 members are scattered throughout the rugged country, from small combat outposts of 100 people to larger military bases in Kandahar and Baghram.

"We communicate mainly through Facebook, I pass on current news from the states and they pass on any concerns, if any they have," he said. "The Facebook page has also become a way for our troops to find out who is where and organize some small social get-togethers."

The online group is strictly limited to active duty personnel to protect their identities.

"Meeting face-to-face and knowing there is someone else like you out there is a huge morale builder," Charles said.

J.D. Smith, pseudonym for an active-duty Air Force officer who founded the network in July, said he envisioned a counterpart to a similar British organization -- known as "Proud 2 Serve" -- that helped facilitate integration of openly gay troops into the U.K. military 10 years ago this month.

"When a repeal does occur and a commander wants to learn more or get in touch with gay and lesbian service members, we can be that resource," said Smith, who is about to deploy to Afghanistan with his unit.