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Secret Facebook Pages Aimed At ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

November 21, 2010



From The Denver Channel
By Tom Burke and John Ferrugia , CALL7 Investigators

AIR FORCE ACADEMY — He is a graduate of the Air Force Academy — an officer from a small Colorado town –- and a man on a mission to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

His Facebook network is the front line of the battle.

It is called OutServe and it has nearly 1,000 gay service members, seeking solace, advice and information about the ongoing legislative and court battle over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

Ranking officers at the Pentagon know who he is, as do some in the White House.

Yet he cannot identify himself publicly as a gay service member for fear of being discharged.

So, for the record and online he is known as “JD Smith.”

“Ever since I was in elementary school, I wanted to do something to help the country,” Smith told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia. “When I saw other people in the military, I idolized them. I wanted to be just like them.”

It is the first time he has spoken publicly about his online network, his time in the academy leadership and his work to bring an end to a policy he calls “dangerous.”

“It was constant fear. Not knowing if I was going to be able to stay in the Air Force if [his being gay] was discovered by anyone,” said Smith.

His online network, OutServe, has attracted the attention of the Obama administration and the Pentagon Working Group, the group currently studying a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“We’re not out there attacking the [Department of Defense] and we are not out there attacking our chain of command. We want to be helpful in this transition and we want to give good information so we can get this thing overturned,” explained Smith. “We are professional. We do our jobs every day.”

Related, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Controversy Continues

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That deep-seated sense of military professionalism began at the Air Force Academy where Smith was elevated to a role in the cadet leadership.

It was also where he came to realize he is gay.

“When I started to develop those feelings, that is when I really realized this is who I was and that is when I realized what ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was going to be like,” Smith told Ferrugia.

And based on his experience at the academy, Smith had good reason to be concerned. He told Ferrugia how he and other cadets were harassed by an Air Force Academy instructor who was also gay.

“Just days before graduation, there was an accurate list [of gay cadets]. We saw that list that he had and we knew that could be a serious problem.” Smith said it was clear what the instructor wanted. “He forced people to meet with him on base here. He definitely wanted to blackmail us and he was using his power of authority to get cadets over to his house.”

Fearing they would be “outed,” the cadets could not report the instructor, who is still an officer in the Air Force.

“All he had to do was turn in that list and we’re done,” Smith told Ferrugia.

As a high achieving senior in the academy leadership, JD Smith was tasked with helping to manage the cadet corps.

He explained that sometimes it was impossible.

“I knew of an inappropriate relationship taking place between a senior and freshman and I couldn’t report it because those people knew I was gay. If I turned them in, or got them to deal with the issue, then I would be ‘outed.’ I would lose my career,” said Smith.

And that was hardly the worst of it.

“I knew of at least two instances against two men that were sexually assaulted that could not report the crime at all,” said Smith.

Reporting the crime, he said, would have exposed the victims’ homosexuality.

“Why didn’t you go to the chaplain’s office? Why didn’t you go to the mental health center?” asked Ferrugia.

“You can’t. You can’t talk to anyone or any of the people at the counseling center or command or leadership,” said Smith, referring to the policy in place during his time at the academy.

“They can still turn you in?” asked Ferrugia.

“They’ll turn you in,” he said.

That has since changed. Today, chaplains have no obligation to report gay cadets, but 7NEWS has been in contact with several gay and lesbian cadets who still express fear of being “outed.”

They explained — the risk is still too high.

In his present job as an Air Force officer, life is a little more relaxed for JD Smith — sort of.

“[If] your troops find out that you’re gay, or someone else in your work knows that you’re gay, it’s hard to get the mission done. If they don’t like how you’re doing the job, they’ve always got that over your head,” explained Smith.

When he’s not working at his military job, he is building and helping run OutServe. The organization lives and thrives as a secret online social network.

While you can find some Facebook pages and links to OutServe, the real network of names and places is hidden and guarded.

And to become part of it, you have to get past JD Smith.

“The private network is hidden?” asked Ferrugia.

“Yes. No one can find it.”

The Facebook accounts are delineated by regions, countries and states so that active duty gay and lesbian servicemen and women can communicate, in real time, about issues affecting them in their units.

He says OutServe was particularly helpful to the Pentagon Working Group when it was trying to survey gay military members and when the federal courts recently lifted, and then restored, the policy.

“We were able to provide the Pentagon with exactly what was going on at the unit levels because we had communication with all these units,” Smith explained. “The DOD has to respect the law so they can’t reach out to gay service members.”

“They can’t have their own network?” asked Ferrugia.

“They can’t have their own network, but we can,” Smith replied.

“You are literally working with the Pentagon Working Group?”

“Yes.”

And members of OutServe have been in White House meetings to map a strategy for overturning the policy.

“We have shown the White House this active duty group. They have seen our network to show them that we have it,” said Smith.

While it may seem like heady stuff to a driven young officer, the core of JD Smith’s motivation remains the Air Force Academy where he remembers, vividly, his own personal conflicts.

“It was an extremely hard double life. It was ironic in a lot of ways, where you saw leadership addressing issues of gay and lesbian cadets and you’re in the room listening to these conversations take place,” said Smith.

On a wall at the academy in large letters reads the honor code: “We will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate anyone among us who does.”

“It sounds to me like you’re lying the whole time you’re here,” said Ferrugia.

“Day one you’re lying. Down here, it’s the first thing you learn when you get here is that honor code, and you’re told to be here and to take this honor code very serious,” said Smith. “And every day you’re lying.”

“It’s impossible to meet that honor code while you’re here and being gay.”

It’s the reason Smith believes OutServe is so important to future cadets who, like him, believe it is their right to serve.

“I want them to not have to go through the four years here and consistently have to worry that they’re going to lose everything they’ve worked for in their life.”

RELATED:


when a soldier is shot trying
to save another
does the bullet ask,
“what are you sister
or brother”
are you straight or are
you gay
if the bullet likes the answer
will it go away?
people willing to die
for the country they
adore
don’t ask don’t tell
should be, no more!!!!

Karen Lyons Kalmenson

2 Comments leave one →
  1. karen lyons kalmenson permalink
    November 21, 2010 10:36 am

    when a soldier is shot trying
    to save another
    does the bullet ask,
    “what are you sister
    or brother”
    are you straight or are
    you gay
    if the bullet likes the answer
    will it go away?
    people willing to die
    for the country they
    adore
    don’t ask don’t tell
    should be, no more!!!!

    Like

  2. Brandon permalink
    January 3, 2011 10:02 am

    If it means anything what gay soldiers do behind their wives backs , I picked up this book called TRAILER PARK CONFESSIONS by Brian Gibson and peed my pants!

    Like

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