Segment Synopsis: Stephen Snyder-Hill was born in Upper Sandusky, Ohio in 1970. He talks about his family and their history of military service. He describes growing up and feeling different and the darkness he felt, but didn't realize at this point he was gay. He discusses his choice to join the Army and His training as a Fire Support Specialist at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
Keywords: 13F - Fire Support Specialist; Family; Fort Sill (Okla.); LGBT; Lawton (Okla.); Upper Sandusky (Ohio)
Subjects: Enlistment; Family; Growing up "different"; Military Heritage; Military training
Segment Synopsis: In 1989 Snyder-Hill was deployed to the Pinder Barracks in Germany. There he made some close friendship and began the process of coming to terms with his sexuality, but was still not fully accepting. He was then sent to Kuwait to fight in the gulf war where his primary position was as a M577 Armored Command Post driver. He talks about his journals that he started writing at the time and unfortunately lost coming back to the states. He describes watching rocket attacks and after surviving a close call swore to himself that he would never deny himself love again. He also shares his trip to a cruise ship the Cunard Princess for some R&R where he got food poisoning and subsequently got lost in Bahrain.
Keywords: Bahrain; Cruise ships - Cunard Princess; Iraq; Journals; Kuwait; M577 - variant of the M113 (Armored personnel carrier); Persian Gulf War, 1991.; Piano; Pinder Barracks; United States. Army. Armored Division, 1st; Zirndorf (Fürth, Germany)
Subjects: Building Friendships; Cruise ship visit and getting lost; Deployment to Germany; Driving the M577; Fighting in the Gulf War; Starting to come to terms with sexuality
Map Coordinates: 49.4394043,10.946499
Segment Synopsis: Snyder-Hill talks about his first night back from deployment, coming home, and a story about an electric candle his mother had kept. He was accepted to OSU where he studied to become a dietician. He found a place in the community there and became part of a gay support group, but more than that he started to become an activist for gay rights. He discusses writing a response to a homophobic letter submitted to the Lantern, the OSU college paper, and getting into a fight after having someone use a LGBT-related slur against him. Snyder-Hill talks about his interest in getting back into the military and how that caused problems in his relationships.
Keywords: Activism; Columbus (Ohio); Hazard, Daniel; Ohio State University; Pinder Barracks; Zirndorf (Fürth, Germany)
Subjects: College; Coming home; Finding a accepting Community; Meeting someone special
Map Coordinates: 40.0066723,-83.1004924
Segment Synopsis: Snyder-Hill reenters the military in 2001 and joins the Army Reserve. He talks about his memories of 9/11, going back into the closet to serve, and meeting his future husband. In 2010 he is redeployed to Iraq under don't ask, don't tell. While on leave he marries Josh at the grave of Leonard Matlovich, a former service member and gay rights activist. Snyder-Hill describes how difficult it was to go back to Iraq and how he faced increased scrutiny now that he was married.
Keywords: 65C - Army Dietitian; Blacklick (Ohio); Dietitians; Egypt; Iraq War, 2003-2011.; Matlovich, Leonard; Seattle (Wash.); September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001.; Texas; Tikrīt (Iraq); United States. Army Reserve.; United States. Army. Medical Brigade, 307th
Subjects: Deploying to Iraq; Getting Married on Leave; Going Back into the Closet; Meeting Josh; Memories of 9/11; Reentering the Military
Map Coordinates: 34.6143237,43.5983396
Segment Synopsis: At a Republican presidential debate in September of 2011 Snyder-Hill asked the candidates if they became president would they "circumvent the progress that's been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military," by reimposing restrictions on LGBT service members. He talks about about submitting his question and the time leading up to the debate. He describes the response he got from other soldiers after coming out and how it felt. Snyder-Hill discusses joining a lawsuit against the DOD and their regulations relating to the Defense of Marriage Act. He shares about why he wrote his book, taking a group of LGBT couples to get married at the Supreme Court, changing his name, and how his husband supports and leads his activism. Snyder -Hill ends by reflecting on his service and the power of voice.
Keywords: Department of Defense.; Don't ask, don't tell (Military personnel policy); Santorum, Rick, 1958-; Servicemembers Legal Defense Network; Soldier of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement; The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); United States. Supreme Court.; Windsor, Edie
Subjects: Lawsuit against the DOD and DOMA; Response to coming out; Submitting a question to the GOP debate; Writing his book
Map Coordinates: 38.8906424,-77.0044398
TP: Today is Friday, March 25, 2016. My name is Ty Pierce and I'm here withStephen Snyder-Hill to conduct an oral history about his service in the United States Armed Forces. This interview is being conducted at the Ohio History Center in Columbus, Ohio. Would you please say, for the record, you please say and spell your full name?
SH: It's Stephen Michael Snyder-Hill. S T E P H E N M I C H A E L S N Y D E R -H I L L it's a lot of letters.
TP: Stephen, when and where were you born?
SH: I was born in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, in 1970 in October of 70.
TP: And you grew up in Upper Sandusky?
SH: Yes. Small town.
TP: Can you describe your childhood experiences, your school experience there inUpper Sandusky?
SH: You know, I almost tell people that I had like a Beaver Cleaver family, youknow, I mean, my family's very close. We've always been really close. And being from a small town was just it was a unique experience growing up. I remember in high school there was a situation where my parents and I got into a disagreement. I came to school the next day and the principal called me in the office and said, I heard you had a fight with your parents last night. So it's being from a small town sometimes it's kind of funny because you just everybody knows everybody. And I mean, why that could be a liability. It was actually kind of a neat thing growing up that everybody was really close.
TP: Did you have any siblings?
SH: Yeah, I have a brother and we had a foster sister and then I had an adopted sister.
TP: So how were your relationships with your siblings and your foster adopted siblings?00:02:00
SH: My brother and I have always been like best friends were really close inage. And, you know, growing up, we're like any siblings. We're fighting all the time. But literally would do everything together. We'd pal around together. And I have pictures of me as a Boy Scout, with my little brother, with his sucker, looking up to me, you know, just, you know, just being really close. And so we were very, very close. My adopted sister, you know, that was that was a situation where she came in from another family member. And so while we had her, we were we got close with her as well. And then foster sister we had for just a little while that my mom took it because she had some problems that she was dealing with. My mom wanted to help.
TP: Interesting. What did your parents do for a living?
SH: My mom worked at the hospital and,Wyandot Memorial, and my dad was an ODOTemployee, so worked for the state.
TP: So was there a tradition of military service in your family?
SH: Yes, my dad was in Vietnam, so and then his only brother was in Vietnam aswell. Or he served as well. And then my brother is a police officer. So we kind of all have some form of service that we've done.
TP: How did that affect you growing up or I guess did it affect you as you weregrowing up knowing your dad service in Vietnam and some other members of your family kind of having service oriented careers?
SH: Yeah, it did. You know, I mean, being brought into this world was the resultof my dad being in his service because he met mom through letters and when he was in Vietnam, so he met somebody and said, you have a sister and started writing my mom. So, I mean, I guess that I could say that my whole existence comes from service, you know? I mean, had he not written her and met her like he did and then just hearing his stories, you know, I mean, it really does connect to you. He got malaria really badly. And I thought, you know, they thought that he might die and that, you know, that would have that would have been horrendous 00:04:00and my brother would have never been born. But that was a result of his service, too. So it's just a lot of stuff that you hear when you're growing up. And you just it's fascinating to listen to the stories and you just think, wow, you know, I wouldn't be here if things hadn't turned out a little bit differently.
TP: Interesting. So you went to high school in upper Sandusky. Were there anyother I mean, you mentioned you were in the Boy Scouts.
TP: And then there was kind of some some aspects of... There was an awareness ofservice. At what point did you start thinking about the military?
SH: You know, I mean, ever since a little kid we were you know, you hear thestories and it's never, ever like discounted. You always think that, you know, nobody knows what you're going to grow up to be. So you just basically go with the flow. I went to high school and then started thinking about it more seriously as I went through high school about how I could pay for college, an avenue to be able to do that and follow in the footsteps of my father.
TP: So you said following in footsteps, was that important to you?
SH: Sure, sure. I looked up to my dad and I'm very proud of him and what he'sdone in his life. So I definitely, definitely it was an honor for me to to serve.
TP: Were there other aspects of your life that had this this kind of componentof service? I guess I'm struck by the idea that in addition to your dad's service and you said your uncle, but that, you know, your family, took in, adopted a sibling in, you have a foster sibling. And were there other aspects of your life, whether it's the scouts that had this kind of service or the sense of duty?
SH: Yeah, I do. I think so. I think now connecting everything retroactively.Absolutely. And I'm sure we'll get into that more. But definitely that we've 00:06:00always felt like that. I think that it's part of our DNA, at least my my family's to feel like that we want to represent people or fight for people that might not be strong enough to fight for themselves. And I think that with my brother and my dad, I think that we all feel that way. And I think that that's part of our part of our DNA. It's part of what we like. And that's probably what drew us to our service.
TP: So you're in high school in Upper Sandusky and you said that you startedthinking about college. Did you have I mean, were there... In thinking about other career aspirations specifically. I mean did you want to learn or study specific field or trade or the idea of college in general?
SH: Generally, I think that I originally wanted to be a physician, so I reallywanted to do something medical. And I thought about being a physician or maybe going into nursing and then ended up a dietitian. So I mean, somewhat got there, but just a different route. But yeah, that's I mean, I don't know that I knew prior to that, but I definitely knew. I'm very pragmatic. I know that if I want to go to school, that I have to be able to pay for it. And I know that I want to serve, too. And so it just all made sense to me.
TP: So at what point did those thoughts kind of coalesce into you enlisting andhow did that process go for you?
SH: I knew about delayed entry in the military that they offered it while you'rein high school. And my friend, it's actually kind of funny because I didn't mention this, but I had a lot of friends that were also like the movie Stand By Me. We had a little group of us littlel misfits and one of us was a Marine. He was definitely going into the Marines. Two of us were Army, and then the third one ended up going into the Army. So we kind of all were we have this little bond or friendship of us, almost like friends that we're going to, you know, go through high school and then go to service. And so, you know, it's weird. I never thought of that like that. But actually, looking back, that's what we were 00:08:00we were a little group of misfits that all of us wanted to go to our different level of service. And and we all had different aspirations. And we would even talk smack with each other about, you know, Marines versus Army and, you know, so
TP: Why did you decide to go army of the different branches?
SH: Well, that was I don't know if I if it was more because of my just I don'tknow, obstinance for my dad to say I'm not going to go to the Marines, I want to be the Army, you know, just to be different or whatever. But I actually I think that when I looked at the different services, I looked at the what they offered and the enlistment period that they offered and what I was comfortable, you know, originally enlisting or obligating to and then talked to an Army recruiter. And I really like the field that they pitched to me, which, you know, I'm sure that talking to veterans, you hear this a lot. But my recruiter told me something very different than what I ended up finding out at the end of it. I was told when I sat in his office that it was a communications job and it showed these people in back and it looked like a house that were putting up a telephone pole. And it said that as a fire support specialist, you are a communicator and had all this stuff. Come to find out it's artillery and you have the shortest life expectancy in the Army because you're going forward. You're a forward observer and you're the first person in a combat zone in front of everybody else. They didn't put out the film, but so so it's kind of one of those things where, you know, my recruiter told me something a little different than what I found out. You know, the job would be
TP: So, but even at that point, this wasn't necessarily a general recruitment,it sounds like he was. Was he recruiting you specifically for an MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] or kind of a certain set of MOS?
SH: I think that they just they recruit. Now I know that when I came back in,they have medical recruiters. So I think that he probably was just a general. That he just wants to get you in and, you know, try to find whatever is close to 00:10:00what you want, you know, that he can offer.
TP: So you would say you're potentially interested in the medical field andthat's kind of how that.
SH: Oh, no. Back then that was before I probably really thought too much aboutcollege because I was just taking one step at a time. So to me, artillery's sounded good.
TP: So you delayed, actually, so you were in still a high school as you finishout your school year. What was the reaction of your of your family members? I guess first finding out that you have enlisted?
SH: They were very, very supportive. We're all very, very practical people. So Ithink that my parents, you know, I mean, for years I held against them that I paid for every cent of my college myself. And my mom told me later, she said, you know, if we could have afforded to send you, we wouldn't have paid for it because we think you'd appreciate it more if you worked for it. And so that's kind of the way my family is. So their reaction was that it makes a lot of sense because this will be an avenue for you to try to get some aid to be able to go to college. And I was the first in my family to go to college. So that was one to you know, I was just driven. I wanted to graduate. I wanted to go to college and graduate.
TP: So you... Correct me if I'm wrong. You enlisted active duty Army and youmentioned that the different enlistment periods, the branches offer, you were comfortable. What was your initial enlistment?
SH: It was three years. Like a two year, 11 month something. And 28 years later,it's kind of amazing if you think about it.
TP: What about the reactions of your... You said you had your core group offriends. How did they react to finding out you had enlisted? And then also, what about your other classmates, friends. You know, people in the community that 00:12:00family, friends that you knew, what was their reaction?
SH: I don't think it was a surprise to any of them because they were allenlisting as well. So I think that we were all... The expectation was we were going to do that. I think that it's kind of interesting because you're taking me back there and I'm remembering more about it. But it felt a little bit like we were the kind of the... I'm not going to say losers, but we were the people that didn't say we were going to go to college. And you felt a little bit like, you know, those stigmas or those groups of people. And I kind of felt like that are our group of people that chose the military we're just looked differently upon by our other classmates. Kind of like, oh, good for you that's nice, you know, but it's not college or it's not something. And I do remember thinking that it felt a little bit not shameful or embarrassing, but it almost felt like that people looked down upon it back then as though you're not trying to progress, but you're just doing that instead. So it's kind of I don't know if that makes any sense, but...
TP: Did that affect you? Did that effect, maybe your confidence in your decision?
SH: No, I'm always a very driven person, so I knew that that was something thatwas going to be... I mean, I didn't have the opportunities that some people did to get the aid from their parents or to get the support as far as financially. So to me, it didn't mean anything. It just it was a very practical, commonsense thing.
TP: So you graduate high school and then you, you know, delayed enlistments, nolonger delayed and you're you're off to boot. Can you describe the boot camp experience, your basic training experience? Where it was like? What was it like transitioning from civilian life into this role that you you signed up for? 00:14:00
SH: Well, it's interesting. So I guess to back up just a little bit is thatgrowing up, I always felt that I had a darkness inside of me and I never understood what that darkness was. I wasn't ready to face it. I wasn't ready to talk about it. But I remember being in Marion, Ohio, actually, and we were at a Chinese restaurant and I was we were eating. And I just remember feeling different than other people did. And I didn't know why or I didn't know what it was. But I remember it would be really depressing because I just felt like that I wasn't, you know, I just felt different and I didn't understand it. And I remember I put my head down and I was just depressed and my mom said, why do you keep doing this? Like, why? Why, why do you get upset or why are you so upset sometimes? And so I remember those types of things. And I remember like comments, you know, when I was young. I love computers. Even young Commodore 64 was my growing up and I remember my mom. You know, she even said once, I think that if Steve ever dated a girl, it'll be a computer, you know? And so it's like these these little things that you knew that that stuff existed and you heard it, but you didn't think about it and you didn't face it. But yet it manifested itself to me as a darkness because I didn't understand it. And so I think that was a big role in high school. And, you know, when you say joining the military, I think part of me really thought about that as being kind of an escape from a small town and the shelter and the principal calling me to the office, knowing everything about you, that it was an opportunity for me also to get out and go out into the world and and try to understand myself or grow. So
TP: So let's... Thank you for bringing it back to that. Let's talk about, likeyou said, you kind of now identify as this darkness. You termed it. 00:16:00
TP: And looking back retroactively. Right. You said there was a comment fromyour mother. You know, those different things that now maybe in hindsight not necessarily make more sense, but fill in a little context. Can you describe a little more of what that felt like? And I guess the thing as you're living in high school in this town. Plum that a little more.
SH: Sure, kindergarten. I remember one of my earliest memories of friends wasone of my friends from school that I remember being so jealous of him. And I didn't understand why. I just understood, like I remember this sounds so funny is that I remember being so jealous that he could run faster than me and my little brain and how it was developing being so young. I could now look back and probably understand that my brain was trying to understand the attraction that I had to him, but I didn't understand that it was an attraction. And the way that I could process that is jealousy is that I was jealous of him. And those things that you hear, like when you hear comments like that or you think about it, you just really don't think too much about it because you never think that you could be gay. You just think that it just must be, you know, jealousy or whatever. And and I think that I thought a lot about that as I was growing up and meeting people and becoming friends with people. And I call it a darkness because I didn't understand it. I didn't understand why I felt like that. I had later in life, I had friendships with people that I felt like that I cared about them more than I should have, you know, like just kind of an emotional attachment, more than not physical, but just emotional where that. I understand that. And I 00:18:00don't mean darkness as a negative thing. I don't mean it is the word is kind of like can seem negative, but it's just darknesses as in not knowing or not understanding.
TP: Well, and I'm glad that you mention that and kind of relate to this, suchthat it was more about it being an unknown as opposed to there being a negative connotation to it.
SH: Right. There's one of the stories that I remember growing up is that myhometown newspaper, they actually published an article and it was an April Fool's joke that they put in the paper. And I remember to this day reading it and it was that Upper Sandusky was going to have a gay pride parade led by Oliver North and the KKK was going to join in. And that was a joke. And back then it wasn't politically correct. You know, people couldn't run anything like that now. But I remember as a kid reading that and that darkness, you know, something's there and, you know, but you don't you never admit that it would be that you were gay. But when you read that stuff, the effect that it has on you, that's what causes that darkness. You know, that you just don't just to read those words and see that. And, you know, I mean, later on, it was so important to me. I don't understand the obsession that I had, but I sometimes when you try to remember your childhood, you think maybe I didn't read that. Maybe it was just something that I thought that it wasn't really something that I saw. And so I asked my mom to go back and try to find that paper. And she said, I cannot find it for the life of me. And she searched and searched. And I was like, I know, I know, I saw it. And so then all of a sudden she just calls me. She said, I found it and she pulled it up on microfiche. And I have that. And, you know, I keep that as a permanent part. And I probably would have put that in my book had they let me put more stuff in there just because to me, it was a really pivotal moment in my life of... As a little kid growing up, you know, very innocently not understanding who you are reading something like that in the harm that it does to you. It's just so profound. It's like you want to look at that. You want 00:20:00to look at your enemy. And in their eyes again and I wanted to see that paper again, it was so important for me to hold it and read it and look at it.
TP: So even though I guess conflict would be kind of another term for thisdarkness as you describe it. For you at the time and even in high school to the point of your enlistment, didn't self identify as gay, but there was this conflict that now looking back, you see was maybe working through some of that.
SH: Yeah, it's growth. I mean, I think when our brains develop, we probablydevelop understandings about stuff and and part of the coming out process and part of the self acceptance, self-loathing that there are so many stages that you go through and it's just your brain trying to understand what it is at first and try and understand, you know, how to to deal with it. And then, you know, you just it's levels. And I really my narrative goes clear back to that kindergarten of being jealous of that kid, that that's where that brain process started. It's not like this. You know, some people probably think gay people just, you know, flick a switch or decide what to do one day. And it really it's not it's this development of this, you know, this emotional attachment and physical attraction that you don't even understand. You know, you're grown up and you don't understand what it is. You just try to understand it. And I just understood it was different. It was different. The most people and and by knowing that it was different, I think that it really caused me, you know, that darkness part of it, that I felt scared and isolated and alone. I always say that, you know, if you're born African-American, your parents are African-American. They're going to tell you here's what living in this world is going to be like for you. You know, you're going to face these situations. You're going to face discrimination. Being gay. You're like an alien. You know, you're born into a family. Most times that aren't gay. So it's, you know, it is a darkness because you are it's like being born outside of this family that 00:22:00doesn't understand you. And so I think that it's really hard to to to grasp that and understand it. And pretty much every gay person goes through that. I mean, everybody's born into, you know, the situation where the expectation is you're probably going to be straight and then you have to somehow come to terms with that might not be the expectation and then have to break that to other people. And I mean, it's not as simple as what most people probably think it is. Just a really fast decision conversation coming out. And it's it's really a whole lifetime of manifesting these feelings and thoughts.
TP: So at the point of your enlistment, you recall having to check a box ordesignate anything about yourself, your sexual preference or identity?
SH: Yeah, it was actually a horrific experience that I have that again, thereare things in my life that were so important for me to hold and look at again. And I went back through everyone because they archive all your stuff. And I went back every... I wanted to find where I answer that question and I archived it and I found it and just to see. It just gives you chills because you just remember it. And it's like this this incredible narrative of your life that gets up there. You just you recall that. You recall checking that box. And when I check that box, I was 100 percent accurate. I told the truth. I wasn't gay. I didn't know what gay was, you know, and so I hadn't even come to terms with myself to understand what it was or what that meant. But I remember also the MEPS station [Military Entrance Processing Station]. This is this is awful. That they have to go over the form that you fill out. And the doctor that I had, his name was Virgil, and he was probably in his 80s. And it's so funny that I was 18 years old. So what was that like 30 some years ago? And I remember this guy's name and his face and tell me if you could remember somebody 30 some years ago, 00:24:00their name and their face. I remember it because he looked me in the eye and he said something really offensive and I'm not going to say it because it's extremely offensive, asking me if I was gay. And he asked me in such a derogatory manner and so demeaning that I remember his name and his face 37 years later.
TP: And even at that time, still it impacted you, even though you weren't identifying...
SH: It did, it did because I don't know, there's a certain level of cognitionthat you probably do know, but you're not willing to understand or accept it. But it was enough that was profound for me that that I remember it. And to remember his name all these years later is pretty crazy.
TP: Do you remember any other thoughts, feelings you had kind of in that momentor in the, you know, maybe hours and days subsequently about that?
SH: No, I think that it was. I think that when the question was asked and Ianswered it, there was so much going on in my head.
SH: I was coming, I was coming from a small town and I was about ready to getshipped out to the world where I didn't even know where I was going to go. And it's kind of like everybody has to grow up. The military kind of causes you to do it from, you know, 8:00 a.m. to whatever time you take off on a bus. It's like that you're growing up period. And it's it's pretty amazing, actually.
TP: So let's talk a little bit about that process. So you have the medical andthen you're moving on to boot camp. What was that like for you?
SH: It was a culture shock. Even now, Upper Sandusky is still a small town andit's still plagued with, you know, small town ideals and, you know, racism and and things that exist just because of the, you know, just being so isolated or 00:26:00conservative or whatever. And it was really, really eye opening to me, because being from such a small sheltered place and being thrown in with all walks of life from all over the place was just incredible. It was incredible. And I was really extremely religious. You know, in the beginning of my military career, I felt very very religious. And again, going back, I think that that was my way of being able to understand or comprehend why I didn't want to be with a woman is that I was holding myself out for that right person. And I wouldn't have sex before marriage. And it was a I think that part of it was a cover for me to be able to say, you know, this is my belief system and that's why I don't. And so meeting all these people, we had one African-American person in Upper Sandusky who, you know, I don't even know if he would have thought of himself as African-American because he just... It's not I mean, we were just so close and, you know, he just... I don't know. It's weird to say it's just like you don't even think of him being black because we were all so white that it's just so different, you know? And it's like I got thrown into groups of people that came from inner city neighborhoods that were black, that grew up in black neighborhoods. And to me, that was just like culture. I loved it. Like, I love that diversity and I love the you know, I'm religious. Some people were trying to stay out of jail. You're just thrown into all these just different walks of life. And I remember a conversation I have with somebody that that when I was in the military, he had some music and I can hear what he's playing. It was like it said something like, if going to heaven means pearly gates and white clouds and being black so wrong, I don't want to be right. And it said all this stuff. And 00:28:00I remember being so mad about that because I was religious and we got we got a fight about it. I was like, why are you listen to that, you know? And I was like, it just causes like intense conversations between people that I would never have had in Upper Sandusky. And so, I mean, part of what is so great about the military is that it really does take you into these walks of life with all these different people that you can actually interface and learn from and understand just the same way. He learned and understood from me that it just gives you a lot of different culture that you would never get and that sheltered environment when you're growing up.
TP: And so. You said you get on the bus and where was your where was basic for you?
SH: Basic was in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. So it was artillery. I remember evengetting on the bus. I felt so accomplished. I was like, I got my own bus ticket. It's my first time. You know, you take off and you're like. It's just like you're just so grown up and I still have a bus ticket, actually.
TP: So getting on the bus was an accomplishment. What was it like getting offthe bus?
SH: I mean, one thing that makes it easy is that boot camp or basic training wasjust so intense. And it's like they stick you in a cattle car and the minute that thing opens up, you know that you're going to expect something outrageous, like people screaming and doing stuff. But it was definitely it was definitely so fast paced and so intense that it was easy. I mean, it really was it wasn't you didn't get much time to think about something. I was just talking to somebody the other day that their their child was in boot camp now. And I was like, how does it work now? You have cell phones. No such thing as a cell phone then. So what do they do? They let them use cell phones. Like I wasn't even... I sound like an old person when I say that, but it's literally you just don't 00:30:00know, you know, you don't know what it's like now. And it was a different time back then, but it was just so busy and intense that you just really didn't I mean, you were just doing everything you could to keep up. I remember that I have a picture myself. I was one hundred twenty five pounds, small guy. We were like basically they smoked us. They made us do all these push ups. They stuck on a class a uniform, stuck in front of a camera in front of a flag, and took your your basic training picture. And people don't realize literally you just being in that know, I was just in the dirt doing push ups and they literally stick that thing right on you and take that picture right after. And you don't even have the pants. You're not wearing the pants. You're just they just pull each person and put the thing on. And it's just like a little cattle car that they just run you through that. And I love that picture because I tell people what happened. I'm like, you know, they think you go to a studio or something and get these pictures taken. And it was literally like this almost Comedy Central thing that you're going through when you did it. And then here I am, one hundred and twenty five pounds. But it was it was just intense. I guess that's the best part.
TP: Did you? Did you find any connections with people around you that you formedfriendships in basic training?
SH: You know, that's a very interesting question. So this is one of the thereare almost like chapters in my life that that I can really relate to what led up to what happened to me later in life with the GOP debate. But one of them was that there was this kid and we had CQ. So we had to stay up and talk or whatever fireguard and this kid was talking to me. And he was just really, really acting kind of like depressed and down. And we were just talking and and he said, you know, I want to tell you something. I think I might be gay. And I looked at him and I was just like. I said, well, I don't think you should probably be here 00:32:00then. And I told this kid that because I didn't know what to say, you know, and I and I still didn't identify as being gay. But I remember we had this conversation and I was polite about it. I wasn't mean or derogatory to him, but I just in my brain, I thought this probably isn't the atmosphere for you if you're gay. And I remember I think that he did end up getting out eventually like he chose to leave or he told somebody. I didn't tell on him. But I remember that that was one of those things that I reflect on now and just think about a lot. And, you know, I don't know how I feel about it. I don't know how I feel if what I said then was right or wrong. I just know that that I was so sheltered in my own, you know, existence that that I didn't think that I was lying to him or telling. I just honestly felt like that I wasn't gay and that this probably wasn't going to be good for him if he stayed in. And those were one of those things that you just always remember
TP: And you say he got out and got out during basic?
SH: Basic. Yeah. He didn't even stay.
TP: Now, I guess one question I'll have not to conclude or assume anything, butyou mentioned several times that you at this point in your life and may be still, but that certainly at this point in your life felt very religious, had a religious upbringing. You said that part of feeling like that, maybe almost and looking back was providing a bit of a cover for you. Did that have any... How did that have any effect on how you might have viewed this conversation with him over there? Was there anything in and kind of your religious beliefs or ideals at the time about homosexuality?
SH: Oh, absolutely. I definitely viewed it as an extreme negative. And soreligiously, I knew what I thought about it and morally, whatever. But I mean, I wasn't a mean person as far as my religious beliefs. But I definitely felt that, 00:34:00you know, I loved God and I wanted you know, I wanted to have a relationship with with God. And I remember that that really did. I think that it was partly cover, but it really kind of drove a lot of what I believe in and said, you know, so. So his well-being, though, is what I kind of cared about when I said that I didn't know if he should be there. It wasn't a spiritual well-being or anything. But that did... I think it started as cover but then it ended up being very real to me. And I think it was a way for me to cope with such an intense thing of going off to to live alone in Germany eventually. But, you know, being so young and being the only person in your family that is going to try to go to college. And, you know, I was the first one that left, you know, and you felt accomplished. You're like, I got out of my little small town. So, yeah, it's interesting.
TP: Did you did you start to feel that when you were in Basic that you said thatpart of you felt like maybe there was this escape? Like, this is my chance. I'm getting out. I know you mentioned that it was like a culture shock, but did you start to feel that to feel any sense of kind of that individual freedom while you're in basic?
SH: Yeah, I think I mean, it's funny because going back, it's like you can seeyour personality developing. And so my little personality was starting to develop then. Even at one hundred twenty five pounds, I was developing this big persona of trying to lead. You know, it's like I remember we had a guy that was like six something and two hundred and some pounds and I was like his little peppermint patty, like running around, you know. Bossing him around and trying to get him in line. And he just obeyed. It's like it's kind of funny. It's like the alpha male dog thing. But I think your personality is kind of develop as you do, as you go through that. But it's definitely, it was it was definitely an interesting way to live those teenage years and to go through that development 00:36:00of your personality in that atmosphere.
TP: So at one point during basic you end up taking the oath of service. Do Youhave any specific memories of that?
SH: Yeah, it's scary. It's it's something that, you know, that you're... I mean,how many 18 year olds commit to something so serious? You know, if you commit a crime and they tell you you have to go to jail for a year, that's scary for somebody. You're obligated a year. You have no choice. When you take an oath of office and when you swear you're swearing your life away, you're swearing years of your life and you're giving that to somebody. And it's a big gift to give away. And it takes a lot to really do that, especially being so young and non-committal and non responsible. You know, that's a big ask.
TP: And that's... I mean, did you feel that at that time?
SH: Oh, yeah, I was terrified. I was like, here go the words that are, you know.And so it definitely is. It was definitely a profound. For me, at least, I don't know. Some people might just do it and not even think about it.
TP: So what's next after basic, do you go into AIT [Advanced Individual Training]?
SH: Yeah, AIT and basically I was lucky because it was at Fort Sill as well, soI just stayed there. So we had 16 weeks of that and and it was good. I mean, it was basically it was a little bit more freedom than we had before, so. Where you can, you know, be any free time or whatever, you got a little bit more, the drill sergeants were a little bit nicer. So it definitely got a little bit better for that 16 weeks.
TP: And what was your MOS [Military Occupational Specialties]?
SH: 13 foxtrot, so fire support specialist.
TP: And you mentioned seeing a film about 13 foxtrot during your recruitment.00:38:00
SH: I would love to see that now. They would put up a telephone pole orsomething. So that's basically what it showed. But they didn't tell you what that entailed.
TP: So what point did you realize what it really entailed?
SH: During AIT, when you started to... You started to get a little bit of aglimpse of it because you understood what your job was and that you call for fire. And, you know, back then it was before you had any kind of like, sophisticated technology. So it was literally a pair of binoculars, you know, doing plotting a path and shooting and then taking half that distance and shooting and then homing in on a target. And so that's what we did a lot of practice, you know, AIT that we did a lot of map reading and navigation type stuff. So that's where you kind of understood what you did. But then all of a sudden it dawned on you to do that. So you have your front line where you're at and you have all your tanks, your major firepower, and then you have your artillery that sits way, way in the back. So it's safe. And artillery has long range. The fire support specialist is the person in an aluminum, and it is aluminum, track that is way in front of everything that can get up there and put eyes on the targets. That call for the artillery. So that's when you start to say, wait a minute, nobody said we were the first ones that encounter anybody. And so it's kind of one of those things where you're like, nobody told me that.
TP: Did that realization affect you at all? Did it give you pause or were youjust In it at theat point?
SH: If you talk to any 18 year old, we're invincible. Nobody ever thinksyou're... I mean, it was almost like, yeah, that's bad. Like we bragged about that our life expectancy in war was thirty six seconds, or whatever they said that it was. Like we would brag about that. It was like a badge of honor to wear, you know. So I think that it didn't make you nervous, but I wasn't going 00:40:00to war at that time. I didn't think I was. I mean, we hadn't had a conflict since Vietnam. So my premonition of war was, you know, probably will not happen. Boy, was I wrong. Twice.
TP: So after, I guess before we get to that, what was what's the culture like onFort Sill at this time? I know you mentioned it's a little bit a little easier, maybe get a little more time than in basic. But what's that culture that you find yourself in now. As you start having a little more time that's not, you know, push ups and push ups and impromptu photos.
SH: Well, you know, I mean, there's a several ways to look at that. One of thecultures is no females. We were a combat MOS, no females anywhere around. And that was safe for me. Because I didn't have to think about that darkness and I didn't have to make excuses and I didn't have to talk about that as much. And so I think that looking at that part of it, I think that it was again, it was almost like the religious cover that it wasn't... We didn't have females around us. We didn't have to... I didn't have to act like that. I thought somebody was attractive because other people said that. And so that was kind of you know, it's kind of a funny thing to think about now. But back then, it wasn't. I mean, even now, they're just now permitting females to be in combat MOSs, but and not all of them. But so. Yeah, that's what Fort Sill was like, is that it was very... And Lawton, Oklahoma, was just an ugly place. It was like brown, everything was brown. Like I just remember it being so dusty and just not a nice looking place, I guess. But we had brand new barracks, which was really cool. We thought we were like living in luxury because the buildings are pretty new. 00:42:00Charlie Company, I remember.
TP: So there was I guess it was a reprieve from peer pressure for lack of abetter term.
SH: Yeah, but I wasn't anywhere near knowing that at the time. It's just morethat darkness wasn't I didn't have to face it or explain it or think about why I was different or understand why, you know, I was jealous of that kid growing up. It just it was there. And I think that I probably. For the first time in my life... So growing up, I had a lot of those moments where I would be depressed and down and not talk and my mom would get so frustrated with me. And I think that I stopped doing that once I was there. And I think that was because I was in a completely different atmosphere. And it wasn't, you know, I don't know why. It just it seemed like that it wasn't as depressing to me. But again, it was a safe.
TP: So what comes next after you complete AIT and you have your MOS, 13 foxtrot,what then?
SH: Well, this is where me being a private and not paying attention comes intoplay. So they pulled us in a room and said that we had to... They were going to give us our assignments where we were going, our orders. And so I found out I was going to Germany. So I was like, whoa, Germany. You know, like I just thought it was going outside Upper Sandusky, you know, I had no idea that I was going to actually... Like when I do something, I'm going to do it big. I'm going to go, you know, across the ocean now. And I wasn't paying attention and I was so tired and I think I dozed off or whatever, and they said, you have to pick the closest port to your home. And so I was like, oh, I can choose California. That's so cool. I love California it would be so awesome. So I chose California, not realizing that I would have to pay for a ticket from Upper Sandusky to California. So then they could fly me back across the United States to St. Louis 00:44:00to fly to Germany, all because I was a teenage kid that didn't pay attention. And so that was kind of a funny, funny story or whatever. But we flew, you know, that's when I left and I flew to California and basically stayed overnight, like one night in a hotel, until I could fly out again. But but it was so cool. I was in California. I was like, oh, my gosh, I'm going to Germany. I'm a Upper Sandusky. I'm in California. I'm just like a world traveler now, you know. That's what you thought as a kid.
TP: And so then you with this then... Describe the process of getting deployedover to Germany.
SH: You know, it's so funny because. You have these memories and you can't...You remember... I remember this green and blue carpet of one of the holdings places we were, going to Germany, and I remember that it was a time of my life that was like it was really exciting. We were so excited because we got to stay at this really cool place or whatever. And I remember that and I don't even remember the circumstances around it. But the details that I can remember are that carpet I can remember. I can see it, but I can't even remember why we were there, what were there for, what that staging area it was like. So, you know, you're asking me to think back 30 some years, but it is kind of funny that that certain things you just recollect so well. And I remember that there was just so many holding areas and staging things to get there, you know, that was kind of crazy. And so the journey there was pretty you know, it was it was like I said, we're just all over the place in buses and stopping here and stopping there until we got there. But then we finally got to Pinder Barracks. And I remember that, that you just kind of think, wow, I'm actually finally at my destination. 00:46:00And I think the military is kind of in general like that, that that when you're even the last deployment, just the process to come home is insane. And you just you almost can't fathom how an organization can move so many people and not lose one of them and get them all there on time. And it might mean holding these people here and putting them there and shifting them around. But, you know, eventually you get to where you need to be. But going through the process was pretty insane. But eventually we finally got to Pinder Barracks. So in Germany, Zirndorf.
TP: So then what what happens then? What is your experience there as you'regetting used to that base? As you starting to do your job now that you've been assigned?
SH: Well, it's kind of funny because being in the military, you don't know whatyour job is. You interview for it, you train for it, and then you're like, now I've got to go live it. So I don't even know what it is. And I remember when we got there, I was like, oh, my God, this is so easy. This is like my job, this is so simple. And it was like, you know, we would get up and we would do P.T. We would train. We had one day we we would train and do training for our MOS. I did a lot of PMCS [Preventative Maintenance, Checks & Services] on our vehicle because I'm a driver. So it's like a maintenance, basically. And so you got into a routine and you just did a routine. And I always brag because I said we get more holidays than anybody they would have. I mean, we would get every federal holiday and every holiday that came up and then you would actually get training holidays too. That the commander could do at their discretion. So I was just like, this is like the posh life that everybody wants to live, like free room and board and and how wonderful is this? And I think that we calculated it out and I don't remember what it was. It was like thirty one cents an hour I made or something. It was kind of funny later on when we thought about it. But but to me it was just dumb. It was a pretty crazy life. It was. It was you know, I had 00:48:00roommates in my in our barracks or whatever, and and you just developed this bond and friendship with them because you're all going through something together. You're all out of your walks of life wherever those were, all over the US and you're put together and and you go on this incredible journey and you finally end up together with these people. And, you know, going back and looking at my paperwork, it's kind of funny because it had all of our names on it and, you know, all the people that we were eventually going to be with. And you kind of like see it as this weird foreshadowing because you see their names and you're like all along it was planned that I was going to be your roommate, but I just didn't know that. I went through this little scuttling around in the holding areas and then see you here. And then all of a sudden we end up together. But it was all meticulously planned from the start when I look at these orders. But going through the process was kind of funny.
TP: So you've described those relationships a little bit and those friendshipsyou're forming, but how did that play out in your in your work time, in your free time?
SH: You know, I mean, I think that nonwar it probably was a little bitdifferent, but it was definitely we're all in the same developmental stage, you know, in life and from our different backgrounds. I think that it was just it was incredible. I mean, it was really great to meet and bond and develop the friendships that you did. My situation in my story changes a little bit from everybody else's because of my the development of my friendships were different because I you know... I remember that there was a guy that I really, really we were just really great friends. And I remember that part of me thinks that I was starting to fall in love with him now. And I would never have admitted that because I cared for him a lot. Like we were like inseparable. And actually, somebody even said one time, they're like, everybody thinks you and Stutz are gay, you know, because you guys hang out together. You always go to the rental 00:50:00store together and you, you know, and you hear those things. You're like, whatever. We're not we're just friends, you know. But I do remember, you know, things that I would a couple of times that I would just be a little bit depressed thinking that eventually we're going to ETS [expiration, term of service] and we won't be able to be friends anymore. To me, it didn't have to be sexual. It was that I actually found somebody that I could bond with and actually have like a little pseudo life with. We lived together. We rented movies together that that actually felt like... It felt so normal to me that. And, you know, looking back, it might have been more for me than I had realized, you know, but just still wasn't anywhere near ready to face.
TP: Have you? Have you ever reconnected with that person?
SH: Yeah, actually, we did reconnect. I think that I talked to him before I cameout. And so I'm sure he knows now. I mean, but we haven't talked since then. But, yeah, so, I mean, and I've tried... I've actually kind of reconnected with a couple of people after, but, you know, I never told this story to him or never really, but it's definitely interesting.
TP: So, then you mentioned that it's fairly, it was fairly routine and gooddeployment there in Germany since it was peacetime, you said. To the extent that you know at the time a pretty posh life, right, were there any breaks to that? Any breaks to that routine or? Because how long was your deployment there?
SH: The whole time. I was there, the entire the entire enlistment. I mean, wewould go it's kind of funny because people back then we viewed reservists as kind of losers. We're like, well, we're active army and they don't do anything and whatever. And how times have changed because, you know, this last war, more 00:52:00than 50 percent of the people over at war were reservists. And so people don't realize, you know, and I didn't realize at the time and then even now that I'm in the reserves now I look to what we do now. And I think that the commitment that I make now isn't... It's almost harder than the commitment I made then because we would go to the field for two weeks, just like I do now. I'm getting ready now to go to a WAREX [Warrior Exercise] coming up next month. And I'm going to be gone 21 days without a bath. And it's like I am not real happy about that. But that's what we did then, too. But yet I was active duty and full time paid. And it was just... I just didn't realize at the time but that how similar the amount of dedication that you really are going to give is because the only difference with the Reserves and the active Army is that the active Army kind of just owns you all the time. The Reserves really do, too, because they can call me right now and tell me I'm being deployed. So they own me, but just not it just doesn't feel as owned because you're not living under that atmosphere or whatever. But you do realize that later.
TP: Sorry, I'm bringing this up. Is that because did you have were there... Wereyou engaging with reservists in Germany?
SH: No, we just talked. Yeah, we just talked about our paths and our career choices.
TP: And where did you see that going for you? What was your path as you saw itat that point?
SH: Well, I think that it's a step. So I wanted to get to my ETS and then decideif I wanted to reenlist because I knew I wanted to go to college. So it was kind of like a it was a catch-22. I was like, what? What do I do? And so so my step was that I wanted to get to my ETS and then decide if I was going to reenlist or if I wanted to go back home and go to college. But I was pretty determined. I mean, I started thinking about college applications and stuff right away. I'm so 00:54:00systematic and my life was so planned out in my mind that I literally, you know, have the next step thought out before I can even, you know, finish what I'm currently doing.
TP: Any other things about your service in Germany that you'd like to discuss orthat were impactful either time or in retrospect?
SH: So the religious thing that I was going through, I remember that I startedto understand... I think I understood that I was feeling this feeling of attraction. And I think that I started to come to terms that that might have been attraction. I still wasn't gay. I still didn't consider myself gay. I still would never have thought that. But I remember at the time. I just... I was in a Bible study group and we would go and we would study and and I think that the guy that was in charge of it was really like astute, like he knew something was going on with me, like my mom, what's wrong with you or whatever. And I think he could tell something. And he several times pulled me aside and said, you know, you can always talk to me about anything if you need to or whatever. And so I think that he might have realized something was going on. But there's one particular event that I'll never forget. Is that I was sitting with Stutz, the guy that I was probably, you know now that I look back, that I was probably emotionally at least attracted to. And I remember just sitting there and being really angry and hurt and frustrated that I had these feelings and I didn't understand what they were. And I remember smashing this trash can in our room right in front of him, just beating the shit out of it and leaving the room. And so I went out to this field that was by our barracks or whatever. And I remember praying to God and crying and saying, you know, why am I like this? And if you 00:56:00love me, you would change me or you would make me not like this. And that was a huge moment, you know, and I still don't consider that the time that I accepted to myself that I was gay, but I knew that I didn't want to have those feelings. And I remember thinking that if I don't want to have them and God doesn't want me to have them, then why? You know, and I just remember being so frustrated about it and crying and praying out in this empty field. You know, I remember being there alone and thinking that there's nothing between me and God here, you know, and just bawling and like praying and that was really impactful. I remember that a lot.
TP: Was there something that precipitated that? Do you recall?
SH: I can't I honestly can't remember. I think that it was probably... I don'tknow if, you know, looking back, there were so many times when he would write his girlfriend back home or, you know, he talked about his girlfriend or something. And I don't know if that was something that caused that. But there was something I remember that caused the anger that basically manifested itself into this kind of like coming to terms with God conversation.
TP: So you're coming up on your ETS there in Germany, and you said you kind ofhad your...
SH: Well, so I... My ETS, I think was probably May-ish and it was close to theend of the year, October, November, December or whatever. And all of a sudden, Desert Storm happened pretty quickly. I mean, it was the conflict and the invasion of Kuwait was pretty quick. And instantly conversations started happening that we might be called up. And so then that's when everything got pretty real. And I remember going to the phone, you know, and paying what 00:58:00ungodly fee that we have to do to call home. And I had to tell my parents that they told us we might be deployed. And so, again, I wasn't even worried. I was like, this is cool, you know, 18 years old or 19 or whatever I was. It was like, I'm ready let's go, you know, do this and. But I remember that phone call, I remember telling her that they told us that we were probably going to go.
TP: So this is... At point how long had you been in the service?
SH: So I got... I left in June, and so it would have been... Then I left inJune, so it would have been a year after that that I was there and then that following end of my two year end or my three years or whatever. So I'd been there like a year prior to that or actually almost two years when they said that. But I remember it was December is when we went.
TP: You say conversations started happening and you had this conversation withyour parents. How did they, your parents, or other people, how did they feel about knowing that... You said when you enlisted the idea that you'd be out there with a set of binoculars in war it seemed pretty remote.
TP: Now, it's not. I know you said you were kind of cool about it. Yeah. Givenyour age. But how did they feel?
SH: You know, that's a question you'd have to ask them, because I think thatparents tend to want to shelter you and they don't tell you exactly how they feel. I know that once we get to the story of calling home, you'll definitely understand how my mom felt. But they were both very strong about it. My dad has pictures. He refused to shave while I was gone. Like when we went to war, he stopped shaving and he wasn't going to shave until I was back. And so a lot of that stuff I didn't know was happening at the time, but they seemed very, very 01:00:00supportive and we're going to get through it. And retroactively, I think that my dad was more worried than my mom was. It seemed like it at the time. It seemed like that he was more upset, you know, because obviously he knew what he went through in Vietnam. So he probably had premonition of what I might go through. And he didn't know.
TP: Did you... Did your training, I mean, did your daily routine in Germanystart changing or was that before or after you actually received orders that hey I'm going?
SH: No, they gave us confirmation and then everything changed. It was insane. Itwas a funny story. So we have a motor pool. And so we started to load up and gear up and started putting ammunition and everything to get these things ready to get on a rail, to be able to go. And so there was a lot of prep like that. And for the first time, they gave us live ammunition, you know, on base. And so we had to guard it. And so I remember being on guard duty and I remember that basically they did not... They didn't want to give us a weapon like a live weapon to guard the ammunition. It was just really weird. And I remember that they gave you an axe handle that was just a wooden handle to be on guard duty to walk around with. And it was just. It was like one of the things where I was like, this is absolutely ridiculous that I have a piece of wood to guard all this ammunition. And I'm walking around like this. And I remember it was like two o'clock in the morning, it was so cold. I remember just my legs buckling because it's freezing cold and having to be out on this guard duty. But we had to do a lot of that kind of stuff and a lot of preparation, a lot of getting ready. The actual... It's kind of funny. The difference between Reserves and active Army is that active Army you are in this little package, they can easily box up and ship off. And so it literally was so systematic. They had people come in and take all of our stuff and pack it up and all your belongings, you know, 01:02:00they label packed up and put in storage. And and so it was just really, really quick and it was fast. Whereas that was nice. It was easy. You know, now if I get deployed now, it's who's going to take care of my dog? Who's going to pay my bills? Who's going to watch the house? Who's going to do all this stuff? It's you're not that package anymore. So it's actually a lot more devastating to be deployed when you're in the reserves, you know, because you just you aren't easily package-able, you know. And so we basically that's what happened. Life on base, I like to bring the story up. I love playing piano. And when I was a little kid, I you know, my dad is musical, my brother plays guitar. And so when I was little, my dad or my grandpa got a piano out of the American Legion and gave it to us and I started playing it. And I remember that one of the connections that I had, that made me feel really good in Germany was that they had a rec center that you could sign out a piano. And so I would go every day that I could and play that thing. And I loved it and met so many people there. And, you know, I would play it and just listen for people to come in and say, oh, it's so great, I love that song or whatever. And and so they had like Nintendo and stuff that you can do there. But I would always go in and sign out that piano all the time. The woman at the front desk always knew me. And so it was like one of those things where, you know, I did that. And so that had to stop once, you know, we were packing everything up. You can't go to the rec center. They closed down stuff. And so everything really got pretty fast paced quickly.
TP: So at what point... You said it was about December and were you going to Kuwait?
SH: We originally I don't know where we flew in, I think it was Kuwait, but it'shard for me to remember. When we were there we went to all three. We went Saudi 01:04:00Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq and we drove a lot, but. Again, those think those memories that you have, that carpet, the Virgil, that guy's name. You have these memories and one of the strongest memories that I had was that when we landed, that plane is getting off that plane and smelling the air. Because here I was, big time, upper Sandusky. I'm going to go to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I'm getting all the way across the country. Oh, my goodness. I'm going to Germany. I'm like way across the country. Oh, my goodness. I am going to go to Iraq or Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or whatever. And, I remember when I got off the plane smelling the air and I remember thinking, this air's so weird, it's like it was like I landed on a different planet. And even it's kind of funny because 20 years later, when I was deployed to Iraq, I was on the plane talking to somebody, said, wait until you get off, you're going to smell the difference. So I was explaining to them that profound, that moment that you just remember like, wow, I'm in a different part of the world, you know, and my dad. Since this was all really, you know, I always looked up to my dad, so before I left, when I found I was being deployed. It was really important for me to somehow communicate to him what I was going through and we didn't have iPhone or Skype or anything, so I got a journal before I left and it was a Green Army Issue journal that I took out of supply. And so I decided that I was going to write what I was going through. So I... My first entry was on the plane ride over, and I remember writing to my dad and I basically said, you know, I'm going to war and get on the plane. And I started just talking about my feelings and started writing in that journal. And I kept that thing with me the whole time and wrote in it every single day. So it's pretty crazy. 01:06:00
TP: What were your feelings about that going to war?
SH: Well, I wasn't scared. I think that I was ready, you know, it wasn't a bigdeal to me, but it was also something that there was a lot of unknowns. Like you didn't know what you're headed into. And so I think that there were a lot of those feelings. But then to get really kind of crazy, like the Matrix living inside a different world, I was in this conundrum of coming out. So it wasn't just going to war. It was actually trying to figure myself out, going out and praying and crying and asking why I have these feelings. I was still dealing with all that stuff while I was also dealing with this. So I think that I had a lot of feelings and I didn't know what I didn't understand any of them. I really didn't. One of the biggest. Losses that I've ever had in my life was that journal, I think back and I can almost tear up thinking about this, but I wrote stuff in that journal that I probably now, if I read it, would completely understand what I was going through and knowing what I was going through then. Now that I'm in the frame of mind that I was in, it would just be... If you ask me what I would want in this world more than anything, anything, millions of dollars. Winning the lottery, anything that I could have. It would be to read those words that I wrote all the way through that war. And when we were done with the war in Germany, they they wanted us to march off in desert BDUs [Battle Dress Uniform]. So we got on the bus and all of our stuff we left on the bus. They gave us these desert camouflage uniforms, which we didn't even have the whole war. We actually were green uniforms the entire time in the desert, 01:08:00sticking out like a sore thumb. Even though we painted our vehicles tan, we never had DCUs [Desert Camouflage Uniform]. It was like... I think that that's how fast the the conflict happened and how unprepared everything was that we stayed in green uniforms the whole time because it was a fast conflict. And so they finally gave us these DCUs and I was like, oh, finally after the whole war, we get to wear these. So they wanted us to march in and the German people were all there celebrating us when we came home. And they had us leave our belongings on the bus and somebody stole my bag. So they probably stole it for a Walkman but they took that journal. And I can't I mean, that is the biggest loss that I've ever had in my entire life. I wrote every single day in that thing. I wrote every feeling that I had. I wrote every experience that I had. And it's gone.
TP: What do you think it would have said?
SH: That's that's the 20 thousand dollar question, that's why I want so badly tobe able to read it again. I mean, everything's a haze, you know. I remember getting ready to go. I remember a night looking up at a lamp post and it was raining. And we're loading these these tracks onto this rail station thing and 30 some years later, I was out and it started raining. I looked up at a lamp and it took me right back to that moment. And it's like it's the weirdest thing that you're just like right there in that moment. And you just remember it so vividly just because of that one thing that just took you back there. But that journal would have taken me through that whole thing like it's everything that happened. And, you know, my mom saved all my letters home so that I have somewhat of a you know... I just recently took them all and chronologically put them together. Maybe that's what I should donate. That would be actually really cool. Chronologically you put all those letters together of all the stuff that I was going through. And that's the best that I have now. And that wasn't that wasn't 01:10:00my personal feelings to my journal. It was like the first time that I ever really tried to do something like that. It was more for my dad than it was anybody. First entry, I was going over on the plane right in the last entry was' flying back. I remember that. But anyway, sad.
TP: So going back to the point that you made in talking about the journal wasthat, you know, you said that this maybe the process started in Germany, but certainly you remember that kind of night out in the field. That's still carrying. You're still... That wasn't something that kind of quieted down. You're still very actively, I guess, grappling for lack of a better term with this.
TP: Can you describe that a little more?
SH: Yeah. I mean, again, my understanding of it now was very, very differentthan my understanding of it then. And so I think that journal probably encapsulated stuff that I didn't understand or couldn't understand. But it was just a really, you know, I always say that my coming out story was so different because of the fact that it was not only during... You know, I just had this epiphany that I was trying to deal with coming out to myself at a time when I went to war. At an unknown time in my life and what was going to change and how crazy it was going to be. And 20 years later, when the debate happened, I was almost in the same situation. I was deployed and there were so many uncertainties with don't ask, don't tell. And I was actually I made this major decision, a pivotal decision in my life, to ask that question of the GOP debate. But it was a lot of like the same exact path that was just really, really very, very emotional journey and really pivotal moments in my life that were, that it 01:12:00coincided with that deployment and actually uncertainty of war. And then, you know, I mean, obviously, the second time I knew who I was, but the first time that was really that was a profound thing to go through in the way that I did. I mean, you know, I always say that LGBT... Everything that I always talk about with my book and with everything that I do, I always say that this isn't my story. I don't own this. It's all of our stories. And I think that that's so important to recognize because, you know, I say one story, one person going through this, and there are fourteen thousand people that got discharged, you know, and they all have a story like everybody. And so it's really our story. It's everybody's story. But I just always think about, you know, how patriotic America is and how everybody always says, you know, we appreciate the dedication and sacrifice you make for your country. And until now, I don't think anybody realized that we had an additional level of dedication and sacrifice. And that was to be closeted and to not be able to talk about, you know, what you did on Saturday night or who you spent went to a movie with or or making up fake names and things like that. So in my acknowledgment in my book, I said that, you know, up until September 20th, you know, LGBT servicemembers gave so much more than than just the normal sacrifice that we're all patriotically indebted to them for, that it's just an additional level that.
TP: So, you know, kind of coming back to the other levels of uncertainty that'shappening, is this going to war? So what... You get on the ground, you mentioned the smell of the air. What's your daily life start looking like as part of that invasion into Iraq?
SH: So in the military, you're allowed to wear a combat patch if you go to01:14:00combat. And so I got a combat patch from being there. And when I went in 2010, I got a combat patch too. The military, gives you the ability to decide which one to wear. And I absolutely, unequivocally will always wear my first one because of what I went through. It was so much different than it is now. We didn't have showers. We didn't have any amenities at all. It was that I had my home was my vehicle. I was the driver of the vehicle and so we literally drove for most of the war was just driving. We drove I don't remember how many hundreds of miles that they said or thousands or whatever that we drove. But it was literally just driving, driving, driving all the time. The actual conflict itself was an 80 hour conflict that was very, very short and quick. And that was the actual real battle other than all the bombing and stuff. But it was just so much driving and so much, you know, and every time you stopped your vehicle, you had to put up camouflage around it. I hated that. Oh, I hated that stuff so much. It'd get strung on everything and like, you just be so... It almost makes you so mad that you had to stop. I slept in my vehicle. I have pictures of myself. I look like a little ball curled up in my little driver's hatch and I had an M40. So I actually had a grenade launcher on my M203, I think, but a grenade launcher on my M-16. And they gave me live grenades to hold. And I remember putting them in my- or in my top, my blouse. I just put them in the pocket of it. They have a little primer on them. And I'm half the war. I'm driving around with these things bouncing in my pocket because you didn't leave it loaded in your vehicle. All your ammunition was kept outside. But I think of things like that. It makes 01:16:00me laugh now thinking like that these grenades are just like basically just bumping around inside of my little pocket the whole war.
SH: But, yeah, I was kind of in a lot of MREs [Meal Ready to Eat], you know,MREs like, not like today's MREs. And we used to think we were so smart because we would get like the spaghetti meal, we'd stick it on the heater of the vehicle and let it heat up and get a little warm meal. We learned to make Pop Tarts from, you know, two crackers, the creamer and jelly. If you mixed it together and then sprinkle sugar on, that was a pop tart. Like, you learn to make stuff out of it because you just that was your meal, you know, and so you got kind of used to that. And then I got so sick of chicken-ala-king because I liked it at first and then everybody hated it and they gave it to me. And so then I literally made myself burned down on that stuff. But it was a lot of driving. And I have a picture where I invented a shower. You know, we couldn't take showers. You had to basically... I remember one time I was in a dilemma because I didn't have much water. And I remember that my critical thinking skills were not good at the time. And so I had so much water to be able to bathe in and do everything that I do and laundry. And I bathed and I was not a clean person because, you know, there was oil, the oil wells were burning. We were just... I have pictures and my brother had that he did a painting of where my skin was black, like there was soot. You could take soot out of your nose. And I remember bathing in this water black. And then I brushed my teeth and then I sat there and I was brushing my teeth in this black water thinking, you idiot, why didn't you start with the teeth brushing? Because who cares if you have toothpaste on your so you learn critical thinking skills in the military definitely teaches you stuff.
TP: Can you describe the vehicle a little bit. I think that you mentioned whattype. You mentioned that I think in AIT it's aluminum. But can you talk a little 01:18:00bit about the vehicle, particularly since you spent so much time in it and you said it was kind of home.
SH: So there were M203s is there or 113s [armored personnel carrier]. I'm sorry.And it's like I'm totally... Now, I'm not in artillery, so it's hard to remember all these things. But there were 113s, but then I actually drove a different one because I drove the TOC [Tactical Operations Center, M577] that it was a little bit higher. So they were kind of... I'm a short guy, but you have to scrunch down on them, but our TOC vehicle was a little bit bigger. So they didn't feel aluminum. They felt very, very big and sturdy or whatever. I mean, I drove over a landmine and blew the track off of one when we were moving at one time. So there was a lot of that that stuff, you know, that you were driving around. And I remember hearing the explosion and then. Basically, we're so mad because it derailed the track and so we had to put it back on. Everybody is mad at me for that. But you couldn't... And honestly, I was following a line of people and it just dug up whatever I ran over that blew up. And it was like, you know, how many people ran over before me and didn't do anything. And then my vehicle, it actually blew it up and we had to replace the track on it. But there was a lot of movement like that. Funny stories is that we... Now have iPods. Back then I had a Walkman sand used to get in my Walkman. It made me so mad because you'd hear it. So you don't have it nowadays. But I would actually I love Led Zeppelin and I remember that. I just thought I was so bad, like I would have my earbuds in with my little Walkman going on with Led Zeppelin jamming and be driving. And those vehicles only go 20 miles an hour. But it felt like I was going like in a Ferrari on like 300 miles an hour at war, you know, listen to the Led Zeppelin. And I wasn't supposed to be. And I remember that sometimes they would be talking to me on the radio and my chief would get so mad at me, like if he caught me, listen, he'd smack my head and he's like, that's how I got my attention. But I remember just flying over the sand dunes listening to Led Zeppelin. It was just 01:20:00the coolest thing ever. At night we had to do light discipline. So everything had to be really, really I mean, it was like a pinhole of light and you had to follow everybody. And it was so hard because you were just up so long and you were driving so much and we drove so much that it was just I remember that you have to have somebody guide you because you easily follow the wrong pin holes and you're just basically going and it's pitch black. And I don't I don't remember if we use NOD's or not the night vision. I can't remember if we use those, but we did a lot of movement at night.
TP: So you kind of landed and got right on the move. What was your understandingof your role in the larger goals of the mission?
SH: Nothing. I was I was a private I did whatever they told me to do. I knew howto call for fire and I knew how to drive my vehicle. But our understanding was literally nothing. We didn't know the plan. We didn't know... And come to find out that, interestingly enough, had we known, it probably would have changed the event of the fire, the the thing that was coming up. But basically what was happening at the time was that the big shock and awe was that we had the Iraqi military that we were facing and we were flanking them from the side. So we were coming in like that and we were kind of on the corner of it. And so basically we were surprising them by coming in this way. And so that was their goal. But we didn't know what was going on. We were just driving, going where they told us to go. There was a lot of POWs. We would, as we went not through the ground battle, a lot of POWs. But what people don't realize is that it was really interesting is that Saddam, the loyalty from his people was there because it was demanded. But the minute that any of them had the opportunity to surrender, they do it in 01:22:00a second. And so it was almost like freedom to them. So a lot of what we did during that time leading up to the actual ground battle that I was involved in was literally going up, letting them surrender, taking them POWs, giving them food for the first time, and hearing some of the stories that people told. Like some of the interpreters they showed us a book of people that he had killed, that Saddam had ordered slain or killed or whatever. And it was like a book of these people, you know, that. And these are his followers. And it was just so intense, you know, and so a lot of the war, we were collecting all these people and then we would blow up their vehicles. So, like, we would destroy any of the vehicles left. And people love doing that, you know. And I remember we would blow up stuff and there'd be like an orange dust cloud that told you to put on your gas mask.
SH: I still cough. You hear me cough now, but I still cough to this day a lot.And so they think a lot of that stuff comes from Desert Storm because we were involved in all these chemicals and things that were blowing up and we had no idea what it was. And the burning oil wells, all that kind of stuff, you know, that obviously affects you years later. But still, it's the majority of what we did and and leading up to that 80 hour battle.
TP: So with these POWs, like you said, it was it became very obvious that assoon as they had the opportunity to surrender, they would. Did that affect your view of what the mission was? I guess I should go back a step even though you didn't necessarily know how your part was playing. What was your perception of of the initial Gulf War?
SH: When you started to feel like that you weren't really fighting them, youwere fighting him, you know, and it was like that... It's almost like a guilt a little bit, because there are I saw people missing legs, missing arms. We call 01:24:00it MLRS [Multiple Launch Rocket System], you know, and just basically it was I remember when they basically the MLRS or these rockets, it just, it's undescribable what it looked like. But we were all part and they just shot over us. And it was just like this beautiful stream of these rocket things that were going. And people are taking pictures and everybody is getting in trouble. You're not allowed to do light discipline. And people were just so mesmerized by their snap and their stupid pictures with the flashes and everybody's getting yelled at for it. But I remember thinking how impressive it was. And what happens is that stuff lands all over and it's to intimidate people, to make them surrender. But it killed people, you know, I mean, wounded people. And we would pull up on them and you'd see people missing arms and legs and, you know, you knew that they just wanted to give up. That's all they wanted. And so... The Republican Guard was different, they were definitely more loyal and wanted to fight more, but I think that the my perception at least is the general military wouldn't wanted to. They wanted freedom from him.
TP: So. I have to ask, as a 19 year old-ish kid at this point, kid, right. Likeyou said your your job was to drive and then you're coming up on these people who've have been injured by what some of our forces are doing. You said you started to feel guilty. What's that like when this happens?
SH: You know, I mean, it really makes you think about humanity. And it made mehate war. I really did. It made me- it made me think that this should be the last resort to anything because I don't care who it is, people talking about terrorists and everything. What I see is a child that grew up and maybe made wrong choices or or ended up where they did. And, you know, when you see somebody missing their leg or missing their arm, you know, that's somebody's son 01:26:00or daughter, you know. And so I think that the humanity inside of me hated that. And I think that I still, you know, I mean, as a soldier, as somebody who's been in the military as long as I do, I hate war. I hate it. I mean, I absolutely believe in what we do and protecting and I am proud of America for the way that we conduct everything that we do, but the act of war and the act of that death and violence just so wrong, it seems wrong. And I think that being so young and influencable. Well, I think it was really profound for me to see it. And then there's a certain part of guilt, too, you know, people ask you, did you ever kill anybody? And. The answer is, I don't know. I mean, I had a part in it, you know, did I ever shoot somebody point blank? No, but when I drove up and saw that guy missing his leg, was that one of the things that I called in? You know, so you do there's an amount of guilt too that you're going to carry and you're always going to have that because you don't know if that was you that caused it. But you know that ultimately it is you, you know, and I think that anybody in the military probably has to face that that nobody wants to be a killer. Nobody wants to be to feel like that, but... So you're facing all those things, you know, and here I am writing it all on my journal. So hard.
TP: I think that this is kind of the nuts and bolts question, but he said, youknow, you're calling in different strikes and that sort of thing because that was your MOS. Can you describe that process a little bit? You very quickly alluded to it as you were talking about AIT. But I think in, you know, now when you have air strikes that happen. And people are flying drones from thousands of miles away.
TP: That wasn't what this was. This was quite the opposite. So can you describe01:28:00a little bit what this is when when you're, okay we need to hit that? What do we do here?
SH: So it's not... We learn it's like arithmetic. So in school, you learn how todo it and then they give you a calculator that does it all for you and you learn the long math. You used to dissect sentences. Now kids text or whatever. But so we learn the long way, which would be that we go out with binoculars and shoot an azimuth or know a coordinate and take a guess, shoot something out. And then we would wherever hit, we would subtract so much of the distance and basically just keep doing it until we actually homed in on it and shoot it. We never got to actually use the technology when we were training because they didn't want us to. They wanted us to train as though we didn't have the technology, but we did have G/VLLDs [Ground/Vehicular Laser Locator Designator] that basically and the vehicle that you could shoot a laser out and it would actually give you the the place to call in or the actual coordinate to call in. And so in the war, we did have that. We didn't have the homing thing that we had to do. But I was in the TOK. I didn't get to do that portion of the G/VLLD. But the thing that's interesting about a fire support specialist is that since you're on the front, your eyes on the enemy, the artillery that's sitting in the back, they shoot and there are errors that they make as well. And we call it danger close. So basically, when they shoot, if it hits by you, because it's really they're shooting from a long distance behind you up to try to find a target that's close to you. And there are many times that we get hit or whatever. And that's why I think that there are aluminum tracks and that we have a 30 some second life expectancy or whatever they call it. You know, that that's what happens. So that's kind of the process of calling in then you... And the radio you you basically radio in the coordinates for the artillery and then they'll fire it. 01:30:00And then you watch and see where it hit and then you make adjustments.
TP: Did you have any instances of danger close? Where you called these in.
SH: Well, we did, but I mean, that leads into the 80 hour ground battle. Sobasically we got it. When it all went down, I remember it was raining and it was like a crazy morning. And it was you know, they decided that we were going to do this invasion and we waited. So I learned every card game in the face of the planet up to that, you know, when we'd stop, we'd play cards or whatever because we didn't have too much technology back then. But when the ground battle went down, I just remember it was raining. And I remember it was just a really gloomy day, but we knew that this was it. And so it was just an incredibly intensive 80 hours that you were basically up and you were involved in this where you saw vehicles blowing up and you saw the artillery and the hitting and stuff. And it was relatively it was very, very fast compared to nowadays, you know, I mean, we have wars that have lasted how many years. And it was like an 80 hour conflict, basically, but. It was one night that we were there and we had artillery hit by our vehicle and so we hadn't called it, so it wasn't danger close, it was somebody shooting at us. And then I remember looking out when it happened and I remember seeing it and thinking that. It's the most beautiful thing that I've ever seen in my life, it was like this blue, swirling fireball thing that hit and it was just like it was like almost like fireworks. You were just amazed by it.
SH: Until you realize that they're aiming at you, they're like shooting you andthen it hit on the other side of us. So I knew what was going on. That was the... If you didn't have that precise equipment you were trying to fire and 01:32:00home in. And the second hit scared the hell out of me because then that's what I knew was happening. And so since this was my life and my vehicle and everything, you know, I had pictures of my family up taped to my vehicle. And it's like where I live, basically, and I remember that for the first time as a teenager, I thought that I was going to die. I remember when that second hit happened. Just systematically, my body said, what what can I do to save myself here? And so I remember ducking down into my vehicle because the hatch was open and I was watching it all go down. And so I ducked down to try to get shelter, thinking, this is it. And I remember closing my eyes just thinking, you know, my life is done. You know, as a teenager, I'm done. And when I was waiting for that third artillery to hit us, I opened up my eyes and I looked up and I saw a picture of my brother and his girlfriend. And I remember I started to cry and it was because I face a darkness for the first time in my life, because I looked at that picture and I thought that I was going to die that day and that I'd never, ever live my life for myself. And I remember thinking that for the first time in my life, I knew that I was gay and I knew that I had wasted my whole life and that I might not have the opportunity to ever be myself or to be honest about it. And I wasn't worried about dying, I was worried about not living. It's kind of crazy. So anyway, I waited.
SH: And I remember in that moment I said, coming to Jesus moment of myself, thatI remember thinking to myself that if I live through this, I'm never going to deny myself, love again. And I thought of all those memories and all those 01:34:00feelings about, you know, like hiding and can smash that trash can, and I just remember going through that and just thinking that what a waste my life has been and, you know, people come out and people come to terms with themselves and. Mine was just so profound, I just remember it so vividly that it wasn't just that I came to terms with myself, I thought I was going to die that day. And so it was just so much more strong and profound for me because it was just. It was very intense and actually, it ended up being that when we flanked it was actually our people thinking that we were the enemy, that we're calling in artillery on us. They discovered that pretty quickly made corrections. So they stopped. We're like, so everything kind of. So it's kind of like this weird moment where I was like at the most humility, like scary time in my life and then humbling, like coming to terms with who I am and then instantly find out, oh, our bad. It was wrong, you know, it was us doing it and everything is good. And then you're then you're snapped back into this reality where you're like, okay, what the hell did I just go through? And now where am I in this whole process, you know, and thinking of this. And I just remember that just like now what you know, now what I do and what's the next step or whatever. And again, that journal, you know, everything, everything was in there, I didn't write the words that day, I didn't write them. I wrote a lot about it the way I felt I didn't write, you know, what I'm telling you now, but it had everything in it. I just hate that.
TP: In that moment you said kind of the trigger with seeing your brother and hisgirlfriend? And you mentioned some of the memories, you know, the trash can and 01:36:00these other things, can you describe a little more. I mean, was this. I guess, I don't know what that feeling would be like, of these things they're locking in place or can you describe that a little more?
SH: If you're watching a movie like The Sixth Sense or something, and then youget to the end of it, and then they shock you and you realize that everything that you knew up to that point was fake or that, you know, the big plot twist to the movie and the epiphany. It was like that. It was like that. I look back at every excuse that I'd ever made for not dating, religious, being in the military, you know, liking computers. The reasons that I made up in all these different excuses that I made over my life and realized that it was all false. And that's what I came to terms with that day, is that that my whole life has been a lie to myself even. And so it was really intense, it was very, very I mean, most people, you ask them what your coming out story and, you know, I don't know that anybody has such a pivotal exact moment where it all just came to fruition and it all just hit it once. Combined with the feeling that you were going to lose your life, you know, you were going to die, and that they say your life flashes before your eyes mine did. And it was just what flashed was so terrifying to me because it was all a lie and it was all this thing that I had tried to... This darkness that I had been dealing with, that I just tried to keep away, was exposed for what it was. It wasn't a darkness anymore. I knew 01:38:00what it was that day and it was definitely something that I mean, I can't articulate to you the words that to let you understand what that is like.
TP: So you... Does it come over the radio that, oops, our bad?
SH: Yeah, basically, and we're like, what the heck? You know, everybody's, youknow. Friendly fire, friendly fire. So, yeah, so.
TP: So I guess there's a lot going on. There's a lot happening in those moments.What do you feel when, I guess, what do you feel when that call comes over that you realize it's not the Republican Guard that's shooting at you that that third shot's not coming? When did you realize that? What's your... What's happening to you at that moment?
SH: I mean, you're thinking so many things. There's a lot of relief, obviously,because you're just, you know, like you've just been put on the spot. Somebody held a gun to your face and didn't pull the trigger. But for me, it wasn't that. It was that epiphany of the fact that I had never let myself love another person and how profound is that. Staring into the face of death, thinking that you're going to die. And that isn't what you're scared of. And I remember that feeling of being gone and never, ever having been able to love somebody was more incredible than the thought of death. And that's what was going through my head more than anything. You could have shot me and put a bullet through my arm and I wouldn't have felt it, that wasn't this was like a bullet through my heart.
TP: So it's safe to say that, you know, that this epiphany kind of subsumed anyof the relief about of your mortal self, right? 01:40:00
TP: So how are you? I mean, I'm interested to know kind of in that moment, whatdo you do? Like are you able to I mean, do you have to kind of set that aside to get back to doing a job? Like what what happens as this is coming out? This clearly had this huge mmoment you're still processing this.
SH: Well, think if you live 19 years of your life and you've masked this secret,this darkness from yourself for 19 years and then something so profound... It probably took something that profound to make me face it, because I honestly is not you know, it's not something that I'm just like I was born gay and I just knew or whatever. It took a profound event like that for me to come to terms with that. And so finding out in one second that 19 years of your life was all for nothing or fake and then trying to decide now what. You're stuck in that moment and then finding out it was friendly fire. And then it's almost like somebody turned on the lights and you were exposed in front of 5000 people naked. And then you're like, oh, you know, what do I do now? You know, because it's I was exposed. I was vulnerable. It's like to myself, not to anybody else. I didn't say a word to anybody, but I was vulnerable to myself that day and... That's when I had to decide what's next. Like, I don't even, I don't know.
TP: What was that decision?
SH: Well, I mean, it's years of decision, but it's one step at a time. It'sgetting through the war and it's going home and trying to decide so. So, I mean, it's. It was an easy decision. The decision was that I wasn't going to lie to myself anymore. That was it. It wasn't how I was going to live my life. It wasn't any of that stuff I wasn't even thinking about. It was that I came so 01:42:00close to never, ever being able to love somebody. And I that's not what I want. And so that was the decision. So then I just had to decide what's... Now what. So we said the war basically 80 hour ground battle, we were done and it was just as... It was faster going back than it was going there. I prided myself because my vehicle... Everybody's vehicle broke down all the time because these vehicles aren't good with sand. My vehicle never broke down the entire time because I took care of that puppy that entire time. And as we were ending the war, we drove it into this final place where they just staged all of our equipment with no intention of bringing it home. They actually said we're leaving it here for future battles or for future conflicts. And I drove that vehicle and it died as we got there and like it literally was just dead. It was like I was so proud. I was like I made it through that whole thing and it never broke down. And I was, you know, I bragged about that and that thing lasted right up until we drove it to its final resting place and then it was just dead.
TP: Got you home.
SH: It did. So then we flew back and I wrote in that last journal and I alreadytold you the horrific story, it's just about as bad as the artillery losing my journal. But when we came back... Again, these things like these moments... When I was there, it was kind of funny. Oh, I forgot the whole Cannard story, you have to hear this. This is crazy. So while I was over there, there was a point in the war that they actually picked two people to be able to go on a cruise ship. And it was it was parked on Bahrain and it was a lottery. And they took any soldiers they thought were good. They would actually pull you out of the war, fly you by Chinook and give you R and R for two days or three days or something in this cruise ship. And I got picked. I had never won anything in my 01:44:00entire life. Like I am literally like the furthest person from ever winning anything. And me and Lee were the ones out of this whole battalion that got to go. And thinking back, it's kind of funny because now that I'm an officer and higher up, you know, we always do that for enlisted people. You try to take care of them. And all those officers that didn't get to go probably hated the fact that I got to go. But, you know, that's the way we do. We take care of the younger kids or whatever. So they flew us to this cruise ship and it was like this surreal like. And again, I had that journal with me and writing everything that was happening at the time. And so I have the picture actually to this day of me walking into that thing. And they had to think about Ramadan in there. And so we got to Bahrain and we landed and me and Lee had our stuff and we walked in there and I have the picture coming into the ship. And the purpose of the ship actually was a couple of things. That females were there, like female soldiers. So we're combat MOS so you got to fraternize, you know? I mean, look at that for me. That was not... Out of all the people that they can pick for this, you could drink, they had alcohol there, you got food and you got to fraternize with women. I was religious. I didn't drink. I'm not going to fraternize with women. I was probably the biggest waste of anybody to send on that trip, but I somehow won and got to go.
SH: So the first night I was eating like crazy, I was taking pictures of foodbecause I was going to take it back and show everybody I was just so excited. And I ended up getting food poisoning the first night and it was the worst. I had never had food poisoning before. And I remember being I thought I was going to die. I was throwing up and Lee called the doctor and I was so violently sick that it was like... I mean, it was just I was so miserable. And so they actually pulled me out to go to hospital from the ship. So I was supposed to be there three days and they ended up pulling me out. They put me into this hospital outside the cruise ship. He went via Chinook back to our unit, which was where I 01:46:00was supposed to be. Back then we didn't have ID cards like we do now. Now we have every time you eat a meal, you use your, you scan your ID. They know where you are, like you're tracked. Back then I had a plastic laminated ID. Nobody tracked anything. So when I went back when that Chinook went back or when that helicopter took him back, I was just gone. And he had to say he got sick and went to a hospital. And then they had to start trying to make calls to figure out where I am or whatever. And so I didn't have money or anything. So I'm like a PFC at that time and I got better. And then I remember trying to go eat because I was outside. I fell outside the like, fell through the cracks. I wasn't... It wasn't like wherever they put me in this little military or this little hospital thing, I probably missed my window to be able to get back or to... And it's like me not paying attention. I probably didn't pay attention to something and I fell through the cracks and I didn't know where to go or what to do. And I remember trying to go eat and they wanted to charge me money. And I'm like, I'm in trouble. I don't know where I am because they should be taking care of me. But this isn't... Something's wrong and it's like everything so systematically taken care of. I was not taken care of and nobody knew what to do with me. And I wasn't with the Army because it was a different R&R group that ran it all. And so here I am trying to figure out where to go. So I literally basically said I need to get to some military component of the U.S.
SH: Like, that's what I wanted to do. I was with some British soldiers. Theytook me in for a little bit. They fed me and they took care of me a little bit. And then I remember that they tried to get me over to the Marines. And so they literally got me to a group of Marines. And I remember thinking Marines are just as dumb as I always thought they were. Because the first experience I had, they were beating the crap out of each other in this chow hall fighting. And I remember making these friends with people and I remember we played cards once and I'm just lost. I'm literally like this, like lost puppy dog just wandering 01:48:00around Iraq trying to figure out where to go. Bahrain is where we were a bit. And so I went with British for a little bit, stuck with the Marines. They were trying to get me back to the Army. And then I finally got back to the Army. And I remember finding a lieutenant colonel that had a 7th corps patch. And I'm telling them this crazy story. I'm like, you would never believe what happened to me. You know, I've been hitchhiking. I've been trying to get food. I'm scrounging around, trying to get fed, you know, and fallen through the cracks or whatever. And I remember he went and bought me a meal and he said, I'm going to get you on a plane. And he started making calls. And I remember thinking, even with him, he said, Who are you with? And I said, HHB 21 field artillery is like, who's that? And I'm like, Seventh Corps. He's like, who's that? Like 1st Armored Division. We are like going up these echelons. And I'm like, oh my God, he really doesn't know who I am or where I'm from. And I'm like Steve Hill from Upper Sandusky, Ohio. That is in this unit in Germany that I'm trying to tell this guy who doesn't even know where I came from. Why I'm running around AWOL [absent without leave] trying to figure out where I am or whatever. So he got me this meal and he got me on a plane back to Saudi Arabia where my base unit was back. And this was toward the end of the conflict. I think it was... I don't know if it was after the battle or before, but it was toward the end of the conflict. But we had a base unit of my unit that was back and then the unit that were the part that was actually driving, doing all this stuff. So they took me back to the base. And I remember that it was just insane. People were like, what happened? I was feeling all kinds of reports and they were like, mad because, you know, wasn't taken care of.
SH: I wasn't fed and trying to figure out what all the who screwed up and what,you know. And again, I wasn't privy at all what happened or how they like who they determine at fault or anything. I was just a little PFC. I didn't know 01:50:00anything, but they ended up... Our unit was coming back from the stuff, you know, and they had a different driver driving my vehicle because obviously I was AWOL and so I remember that my chief was so he was so happy that I was safe because they were really worried about me. And, you know, to them I was MIA. They Didn't know where I was. And so he actually wanted me to drive in for whatever reason. So they actually got me on a Humvee and drove me out to my vehicle so I could drive in with them. And it was just it was a crazy, crazy period. And I wrote a whole chapter about it in my book. It's called Lost and Found in Iraq and. Again, it always goes back to this gut feeling that I had, that I wrote every single thing that I did and everything that I saw and everywhere I went was in that journal. And, you know, to tell you this story, it's like half that I'm like timeline's I'm like, I can't remember. I was at the British before the Marines. I can't remember, all right. I remember these little pivotal moments, but that had every single day, everything that I went through. And you know what I would give to be able to read that, to be able to experience that, to be able to be taken back. And I'd rewrite my book. I would rewrite it to exactly the way it happened versus trying to remember it and grasping at these fading memories as I age. But it's pretty crazy.
TP: Very crazy, how long of a time period are we talking here for this cruise ship?
SH: I, I think it was like a two week time period that I was actually runningaround trying to figure out everything. So I was basically lost for a couple of weeks there.
TP: It was kind of incredible that you're able to get back and get back in timeto come back, I guess. What was your reaction of your crew members, your team when you showed back up to drive?
SH: Oh, it was like show and tell. Like, well, let's start with, like, thecruise ship. What was that like? And then also happened to be AWOL and get lost. And what were the British people like? It was like, I don't know. I was like a 01:52:00little show and tell a guy telling all these stories or whatever, but it's pretty crazy.
TP: Again, given the timing of this, since this happens after the 80 hourconflict where you kind of have this moment of clarity. Are you... Do you remember still kind of working through and processing those some of those emotions as your...
TP: Yeah, like hitchhiking around Iraq, trying to get back to the army.
SH: It's kind of like that feeling of when you leave, it's so busy and intense,you just can't really think. And so I think that was I thinking about love and life and relationships. No, I was like, I need to eat. And, you know, so I was running through and going through the motions and I wasn't really, you know, I nothing could take away what happened and I knew that it was there and it existed. And I'm sure that I probably thought about it like during my nights when I was sleeping and writing in that journal, I thought about it more, but I can't honestly remember. I mean, it's so sad. I wish I could.
TP: So you're back in ostensibly Kuwait and your mission is done for thatextent, to what extent did you were you aware of, I guess, the larger political reality before it was done this? Because at that point in the war, they made the decision not to go into Baghdad.
TP: Did you have any feelings about that? Any thoughts about the larger militarypresence and the military action that you were a part of, or...
SH: You guys probably knew a billion things more than I did. I didn't know whatthe mission was. And I maybe it's a result my age, too. I didn't really care. I just did what they told me to do. You know, it was easy for me, but. The one 01:54:00thing that I do remember is that. When we were deployed, it wasn't like you're going to be here till then, till this time, I knew I was ETSing and I knew that if you ETS that they had to do certain things for extension or whatever they had to do, you know? But, so that date I had in mind, I knew that part. But then I also knew they owned me. So I got. Does this mean I'm going to be here for four years? I didn't know that. Know we didn't know how long you're going to be there. And I remember that they finally kept saying, you know, it was like you wanted a date so bad. You wanted to know when it was going to end. You want to know all this stuff. One of the things that was probably one of the most profound things that happened to me there is that earlier I was telling you, you said, how do your parents react? So we had several opportunities. And again, this was before cell phone, before all this technology. So we had several opportunities where they would try to get people to be able to go to the phones. But there were so many of us and it was so hard to be able to do that entire war up through that conflict. But I couldn't write home. I couldn't tell anybody. My mom didn't know anything about it. They didn't know if I was alive or dead. I mean, they they would have been waiting for a knock on the door saying, you know, we're here to tell you, but in all of my mom's letters, she seemed really strong to me like that. I'm not worried about a thing. Everything's good. I'm not even concerned. I almost feel like my dad was more worried than she was. And so I finally got the opportunity to call home and I couldn't even do it on that cruise ship. But I got the opportunity to call home. And so I immediately took it and we drove out to the site that had this great big tent and these satellite phones. And it was like if you go to an amusement park and you're waiting in line for a roller coaster, it's like billions of people in line. And you're just like, first you're like, oh, my goodness, how long is this going to take, you 01:56:00know, to even get there? And and then you're just as you get closer to that tent, you start to hit this reality that you're going to speak to your family. You know, I hadn't even talked to my family that much from Germany, you know, it's been years since I've been able to see them and I started to get these butterflies in my stomach like that, I'm going to actually talk to my people that I love. Knowing too, that what I've gone through, it's like it's almost like that. I'm talking to them as a different person and several aspects, a different person and seeing people die, different person that had, you know, come to terms with myself or whatever. And so the closer I got, the scarier I guess I got. And I remember when we got into the tent, the people were just crying and talking to their families and when they would tell them their time was up, it was like a death sentence. Like people would fight and they would be like they didn't want to hang up. And it's just like they just remember... I remember seeing that. And so then I got on and I picked up the phone and she said, AT&T operator, can I have the number? And so I gave her the number and it connected and it rang and it was like three o'clock in the morning or something back home. And that phone rang and I was just like I felt so connected to my family. I was like, oh my God, am I actually talking to them live like right now? Like I was my opportunity to... And my mom picked up the phone and it sounded like she was crying. And I don't know I don't know, I've never really asked her I need to ask her what was going on, it might just mean that she woke up really early or whatever, but it sounded like she was just sobbing. And I don't know if maybe that she thought that that phone call, maybe that call in the middle of the night to her could have been a you know, she wasn't expecting me to call.
SH: I couldn't tell her I was calling. And so I'll never forget when she said.Hello. I just instantly kind of started to tear up because I thought, oh, my God, she hasn't been this strong woman that that I thought she was it was like a fake act to try to make me feel more confident. And I could feel them on our 01:58:00ability fromher voice or whatever. And she said, you know, she said hello and she said, this is AT&T, I have a collect call from Iraq and she just started bawling. And she's like, yes, and she's like, I just remembered like, oh, God, you can't even talk. You're like, crying. And you're like... It was just like you just got to I don't know how to talk to the people you love. And I never forget that feeling. Hearing her voice. And hear her just just wail out crying and say, yes, I want to take it. And now. So we had this great conversation, you had like ten minutes or something that was horrible, and so I remember hanging up was like the hardest thing in the world to do. It's like so freaking hard. You're just like. You have to say goodbye again, you know, but anyway. Was pretty intense. It was an intense time, so I get to call home and then we ended up, you know, getting ready to deploy back. Got on the plane, wrote my last entry, came in, and lost my journal. So the first night back, I'll never forget that this shows a lot because while I was there. One of the things that always really meant a lot to me was music, and, you know, I've always played by ear. I never, ever learned to do... I could sit down and play anything I heard. It was the weirdest thing that I still can do that it's real strange. But I remember fantasizing about being able to play the piano. Like while I was there because it was just something that was so important to me, music like that. And I remember how much I used to sign out that rec center thing. And I just remember just it was like a fantasy. It was like some people would talk about eating steak again. And I was like, god, what I would do to just touch a piano key, you know, I just want to feel that and play it and just whatever. And I remember talking to another guy about that and we were just talking about how much we enjoyed it or whatever one night, but. So we came back and 99.999% Of everybody 02:00:00went directly to the phones to call home. Or went and got all their stuff out of storage and, you know, instantly they gave us time off so people went right to drinking or doing whatever they did.
SH: I beelined right to that rec center like I didn't even I didn't stop at go.I went right there. Went right up, I didn't even change. I didn't get my stuff out of storage. I didn't care about anything. And I went up there and that woman that always signed out that book just started crying. And she grabbed me and hugged me. I signed that piano out and I played that thing that night until I fell asleep on it. So I literally like it's like not calling home, not get my crap out of storage. That meant so much to me. I literally fell asleep on that stupid piano playing it.
TP: This is no historical context, but I know what was the first thing you played?
SH: I played a lot of like Journey, Led Zeppelin, stuff like that. I love horrormovies. I play horror movie music. I play anything. So it really could be anything. It was a random plethora of anything, basically like Hotel California play that actually when I went to Iraq the second time, a group of us were in a little band there and we filmed us doing Hotel California and played the keyboard for it. And literally YouTube actually took it down because their music recognition understood that it was Hotel California. I was so proud of that. I was like, yes, like it's it was so good that they recognized it as being, you know, copyrighted. And they took it down and they made us not publish it. But, yeah, I just remember that tells a lot about who I am or, you know, what music meant to me to go there first and play that and fall asleep on it. I mean I don't know how I did it, I remember waking up with slobber and just still 02:02:00touching it, you know. So we basically... And then it was pretty fast paced after that because after I got back, you know, I was ETSing pretty quickly. So it was a lot of stuff to go through and a lot of emotions. And I remember having to say goodbye to Stutz, my friend. I remember feeling like I broke up with somebody and hopefully it didn't sound weird, perverted or anything. I mean, it was very, very platonic friendship. But he was really a companion to me. He was somebody that I really cared about. And for the first time, I think I understood that being gay wasn't sexual at all for me. It really wasn't sexual at all. It was very, very emotional. And it was very, very much of an attachment to a human being that I could have lived my life if you told me I could never have sex and just live my life and that little existence going to get a movie and renting a movie and hanging out and just companionship with him, I would have taken that. That would have been what I wanted, you know. So saying goodbye to him was extremely hard because, you know, he didn't understand. I mean, we're friends. It was hard for him too But, you know, I remember he teared up a little bit, too, but it was really, really hard. And I think more for that...
TP: I'm sorry, coming back... Whether it's when you first walked in the roomwith them, you know, or or whatever, did you know at that time? Did you view that differently since you got through this in Iraq?
SH: Yeah, I mean, I knew what it was. You know, I remember being I remembercrying, like one time I said goodbye to him and I went and cried afterwards because I just I remember feeling real empty, like I didn't know what was next to my life. And it just felt like a little piece of me was left. And I say that anyway to people when you have to say goodbye because, you know, these people 02:04:00weren't in your life before at all. And then you go through such a profound experience with them and then you have to say goodbye to them. And it's like a little piece of you that is new, that developed with them is now gone. You know, so it's hard.
TP: So you were... Said you were coming up on your ETS day pretty quickly andyou chose not to extend?
SH: Yes, because I put in my college application and got accepted OSU. So I wasecstatic when I found that out. So everything was preplanned and my best friend back home got an apartment and I sent him rent and I was ready to go like we were... I had it all planned out.
TP: So what's it like going from... At this point you're 20, 21?
SH: It would have been 1991, yeah. So twenty one.
TP: So you're... You've been to war you've come back. What's it likeassimilating back into civilian life? What's it like starting college for you at this time?
SH: Well, there were a lot of stages. I actually have a video when I came homeand I actually saved that. And when I do presentations I show it because to tell the story and for people to hear the story and know what I went through. To be able to see me and see me, see my family for the first time, it's like it humanizes and, you know, like you see it and it's almost like I'm watching it as a character in my life. I'm watching that person thinking what he went through and seeing that he re-engages with his family. But at the airport, it was just incredible, you know, to see everybody. And I just remember it was just, you know, just so surreal coming off that plane. And people were like, oh, he's gotten taller. You know, I'm like five, seven and my family's like, jeez, look 02:06:00at how big he is, you know, it's like it was just so funny. It was just so the just the I don't know, just seeing everybody or whatever. So we drove home and we stopped in Delaware, and ate at a Denny's and then we drove home. My brother is so funny. My brother's like we were so close. We were like friends. Growing up he used to drive me crazy because he loved to play with my ear, it drove me nuts. I was like, oh, stop it, don't do that. And he's like even his wife now he sits there and plays with their ear or whatever. I remember in the car, like it was like he kept wanting to touch my head because it was like to make sure that I was real and I was there. And it just took me back to, like our childhood, you know, like and just the way he, you know, just was just so... It was almost like you have your dog that you hadn't seen in a long time. You just want to pet it or something. And I remember like sleeping back in the car ride home and Tommy being back there with me and we were talking and we got home and we stayed up most of the night. And I was shown on my Commodore Amiga that I bought in Germany. And how much more sophisticated was than a Commodore-64. And I was so excited to show him that and show him some of the stuff I brought back. And it was just like all these stories. And we stayed up half the night. And I remember when we got ready to go to bed, I went over and my mom has like thing from the Daily Chief-Union, you know, it was a flag. And on the back it had all of our names on it. And then she had, like, one of those cheesy candles that you, you know, turn on and off that their electricity, they're not candles. And so we got ready to go to bed and so I flip that candle off, went up, and fell asleep and then woke up to my mom screaming. She's like, who turned this off? And she was like... I was like, oh, what did I do? And I was like... She said, oh, she said, it's kind of stupid. But when you left, for some reason, I wanted to keep that on the whole time you were gone. So she's like, it's kind of dumb now, I guess I don't want to think about it anymore. But it was almost like it was almost like you broke my you know, I didn't want to turn this candle off. And so she went to 02:08:00turn it back on. It didn't come back on. So it's like I'm not a superstitious person or whatever, believe in any of that stuff.
SH: But it was just pretty kind of crazy. And I actually write about that in mybook, too. Because I think that it's like my little guardian and protector of that candle. So it did not come back on. And I remember us thinking, wow, it's so weird. But so basically now is where I had to decide from where I was before and I'm not going to deny myself love. To how am I going to start living my life and enter college, you know? So again, just like being in the military, thrown into a war and all this external stimuli or whatever, here I am like now going to college and being like, I think I'm gay, like, what next? And I'm also at a college university where everybody's teaching you how to be like objector or whatever. You know, it's like it's like everything is coming at you at once or, you know, to form your own opinion. And, you know, and I had ETS I was out of the army officially. Not really. I mean, I still had six years of IRR or whatever. They can call me back. But but for the most part, I was done with my enlistment. And so it was just insane. And, you know, you're trying to come to terms with everything and you're trying to learn your life and do all this stuff. And, you know, I was still pretty religious. I joined a Bible study group and I was starting to dial back a little bit from that. Because I don't think it wasn't a mask as much anymore. But, you know, that was important to me. And then one thing that I forgot to mention when I was in Germany. I got the opportunity to visit Dachau, and so it was I didn't get to travel a lot, but I did get to go there and I was never a huge history person. But to me, that was really 02:10:00important to go. And part of me vicariously, I think that I lived like my family never got to go anywhere. They stayed in Upper Sandusky. And, you know, my dad's been on a plane two times in his life probably to Vietnam and back. And, you know, my mom a little bit more. But I felt vicariously like I was living this crazy life for everybody. And I wanted to feed them everything that I was going through. So I got to go to an actual concentration camp in Germany. I mean, who gets to do that? You know? So I went there and I had a little disc camera and I had like you could take like four or five pictures. And I just remember when I got there, it was almost like the feeling of Iraq. When you get there and you just feel the death, I could feel that, you know, it's like so different than going to a Holocaust museum because you're actually where all these people suffered and died for no more than who they were, you know, and tortured and all this stuff. And so I remember going through the gas chambers. I remember going to the ovens. I remember seeing all these things. And I remember when you first go there, it's a mach make fray [arbeit macht frei] or whatever, and that translated into work makes free.
SH: I remember seeing that and thinking that is really profound to think, youknow, that I could have been like somebody coming in here seeing that and thinking that, you know, if you work, you might become free. And there is a big memorial, things that said never again. I remember that. And so I really wanted to get pictures of these because it was very powerful. I felt that death there, you know, and so I tried to take pictures. I didn't have very many. But one of the things that struck me the most wasn't the normal stuff that people are like, oh, my goodness, they actually gassed people here. They did whatever it was a uniform. It was that I went and saw these wooden shoes and I saw this uniform and it had a number on it. And that was a human being, a number, you know. And and I remember looking at that thing and thinking I was this close to that 02:12:00person that I could be because that touched their skin. You know, they died. And I remember looking at those shoes thinking the same thing that these wooden shoes, they had to wear these wooden shoes. And that just really hit me. So I took a picture of the uniform and then didn't think about it again. I stuck it in a shoe box. And so I went to college. And basically, you know, as I was coming out in college, I think that I did what probably most people do. Maybe I went through a much more profound experience of coming out. But I had a sociology class and they said that they were going to have a gay kid come and talk to our class, a gay student. And back then it was wasn't LGBT or anything. It was just, you know, a gay person is going to come and talk to you. And I was like, oh, my God, I can't believe they would do that. You know, it's like so progressive, you know, Upper Sandusky they'd never do that or whatever. And so I remember sitting in the audience of seven hundred people or however many, it was a great big sociology class. And I remember this kid walked out and I looked at him and I remember thinking, wow, he looks like me. He doesn't look like I would think he's not like... He's not what I would think a gay person would. He's like a normal person because I kind of started to think that if I was gay and I was this person, that I'm not one of them. I'm me, you know, I'm like I know who I am. I'm not anything any perception or stereotype or, you know, I like classic rock and I don't talk with a lisp and I don't like flowers and I hate show tunes and like almost every stereotype I've broke it or whatever. But this kid just looked normal and he talked normal. And I just remember thinking, wow, maybe this is something that is really what my life could be like. And so then I contacted him after the class and said, you know, I'm going through these feelings and I think that I'm gay. And I'd like to, you know, find out more 02:14:00about you and your friendships and stuff and super nice. He took me under his wing and we... They had like a support group back then. They called them. So it was like an actual gay support group. And so I went to there and just made a lot of friendships and really started coming out. I mean, it's like the closet doors were just starting to pop. And, you know, I remember that I went home one weekend and I remember that my brother and I were real close and and I was going to have one of those moments of crying and being upset again.
SH: But it wasn't because of a darkness. It was because I wanted to come out andmy brother, I was real upset. He goes what's what's going on? And I said, I wish that I could tell you. I wish that I could tell you, but I can't. And I mean, I was comfortable, I think, because I met these people and I knew who I was. I'd never done anything with anybody. I'd never you know, it's like I couldn't say I am gay. I know that I am. But I was comfortable enough to feel that I knew that I could be like these other guys that I met. And so I told my brother, I said, I wish I could tell you. And he hugged me and he said, you can tell me anything. And and so I remember saying, I think that I might be gay. Remember, he was a little bit like everything's OK, you know? And he's like, nothing, everything's OK. And I remember that we hugged and then I got up the next day and I went home, didn't say a word to him. And then I was out doing something. I think I was at Kroger or something. And I came home and there was an answering machine message. It was flashing. It was like four days later and I click that message and it was, Steve, this is your mother. Your brother told us what you told him. We need to talk. And it was like I remember then it was like, beep. And I just looked at that thing and it was still flashing. And I just felt so sick to my 02:16:00stomach because I was like, what did I do? What did he do? He told. I guess he got so upset you must have left or whatever, because he didn't know how to process it, then came back and told mom and dad. And so I was terrified. I didn't know what to do to talk to them. And I remember crawling under my covers and I had a cat at the time. And it's kind of funny because of my dedication, my book, I actually write this that I said that in my knowledgements I included my pets. And people think it's cheesy or clich, but I said, you know, there were many times out of my life that I had to leave for a whole year and just be gone from you. And you never understood why you love me no matter what. And I said, you know, these pets got me through really hard times and they gave me unconditional love. And I said, if only humans could do the same. And so it was kind of like... So at that moment was one of those moments where I remember pulling my covers over my head and looking at that stupid cat thinking you love me the same way, like it doesn't matter to you... And not knowing if it was going to matter to my parents because I hadn't called them yet. So I remember that. And I'm still very, very close. I have a dog and cat and I'm like very close to my animals. And kind of a gay cliche of the guys that have the dog and like, manicure them and do all the stuff. But you start to think that maybe that is a connection. Like it for me, it was that animal loves me unconditionally. So I don't know if that might be why we do that. But so we went through a really, really kind of long growth period of of understanding. And I sat down and had a conversation with my parents. And I remember my dad tried to process it in the way that he could and he said, well, maybe you're just bisexual. Like that there's levels of kind of the how far I'm willing to be able to accept where you are. Maybe you're just kind of like setit out here. You're maybe here straights here, you know, and I remember it was a really hard it was a hard conversation. 02:18:00
SH: And later on, I remember that my parents, you know, my mom even said that,you know, you go through these feelings, she's like, does that mean he's going to molest little boys? Does that mean he's going to be a pedophile? Like she didn't know anything? Like I was the alien. I was that alien. They didn't know what that meant. They didn't know I was still Steve. I was still that same person. But she had to go through all those thoughts. And was it my fault that I do something? And I think that we went through awkward phases and I got a boyfriend and I really kept it very sheltered. And then I remember one time she called me and said, I'm coming to Columbus. And she was like, I really want to spend time with you. And so she drove down. We went to a movie. I remember we went to see, like, The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner or whatever. And I remember in the movie she said, So do you think he's cute? And I remember thinking, oh, my God, my mom just ask me that. Then I was like, no. Oh, you know, it's like it was kind of funny, but it was just it was just a weird epiphany where she was really trying to include me in her life for the first time. And it was like that absence that we had our whole lives of that she felt like that she wasn't being included or something was missing or why do you do this? Why are you shut down? Why are you quiet? It's like for the first time we we understood what all that was and we really bonded at that time that she came down and spent with me. And we took a really long walk and we talked and talked and talked. And I told her how I felt and I told her the stuff that I was going through. And I just found this out recently because she never, ever told me this back then, like. How many years later, 20 years later, she told me she went home and my dad didn't want to come down. Or he didn't choose to or she just got mad and said, I'm going to I'm not going to do this anymore. I'm not going to have an awkward relationship. I'm going to go down. And that's the way my mom is. And so dad was home and he's 02:20:00like, what'd he say, you know, like vicariously. What did you find out about our son? And she said, if you want to know, you're going to have to ask him, you know? And so she basically not only encouraged, she said, you're going to have to engage with your son and try to, you know, bit like men or whatever. Start to build a relationship now that we all know who I am, you know.
SH: And so we went through in my parents. I don't want to make them sound at allnegative. They're the best people in the face of the earth. They love me unconditionally no matter what. And I think that for any parent for having a kid come out to you, it's somebody you loved and gave birth to and raised and disciplined. And, you know, it's like you feel like you know him so well. And then all of a sudden you find out something pretty incredible that you didn't know about them. And so you kind of have to step back and re-engage all your thoughts and your emotions and reconnect everything. Now that this epiphany of that, I have a gay kid, you know. So that definitely took a while or whatever, and it was good and they were very supportive. I remember that, you know, I had to forget I had pink triangles. They had pink triangles that say silence equals death and stickers all over my car. I like pink triangle like necklace. And, you know, I got to where I didn't care if people knew who I was in college and I was starting to become this little activist in my own right. And so I remember one time I had an accident at Riverside, my scar here, and I worked at Riverside and had this accident and they had to come and get me because they had to stitch my head. And I was swollen and I couldn't see. And I remember I was just really depressed and my dad and mom came down to get me. And they drove me back home so I could be home because I was just so upset and I was like, you know, look terrible. My face was all gouged up and stuff. And so they want to bring me home 02:22:00because of the accident. And my dad drove my car and my mom, I drove with her. And my car had "homophobia is a social disease" on the back of it. And my dad, when we got around Marion or whatever, we got home and he got out of the car. He said, son of a bitch, winked at me like he was like because he drove that car. And I guess I don't know if somebody winked or waved to him or did something. And they could have been waving because they like the bumper sticker or maybe somebody thought it is cute. I don't know. But I remember that that was just kind of a funny, funny thing that happened. But one of the things that was really profound about that experience is that back at my apartment, I remember nostalgically I was like, I want to pull out that shoe box that I had pictures. And so I pulled them out and I started looking through and remembering Stutz and remembering the Cannard being on that ship.
SH: And I hit that picture, that uniform, and it had a pink triangle on it. AndI remember it. I honestly thought I was just going to pass out. Like it was like everything that I am or have become probably in that one day just interrelated. And I understood what I thought that I needed to do in my life or that I understood that that uniform could have been me. And it was somebody that was gay. It was a number. And what are the ironies of me taking a picture, that uniform and then slapping that stupid triangle on stuff like it was just a logo of the week and not understanding what it meant until I connected that feeling of death, you know, and being where people are tortured for who they were and standing right there next to that uniform. You know, and here seeing that picture just connected it all together. And that's when I think that that's 02:24:00probably the first time in my life that I felt more right about the choices that I made and understanding who I am and understanding what I am and being more secure and everything. And so that was definitely one of the the biggest moments in my life that I've ever been connected to history. Definitely. So I started becoming a little activist. You know, it was... I started realizing that at the time, and this is partly from being in the military, is that you you fight for people's rights. And so it's akin to me to fight for my own rights as well. And so. I remember that I wasn't ashamed and I would go around and have conversations and, you know, by then I was starting to work out, so I was not looking like a puny little guy. So if you make fun of me, I'll scrap with you. I got in a fight with one time because somebody called me a faggot and I'll never forget that was behind the coffee table here in Columbus. And I was with my boyfriend and we were kind of arguing and I remember this guy screamed at me and I remember that. I was never somebody that wanted to fight for no reason. Like, I'm not like the typical Upper Sandusky, you know, let's go fight another town or whatever. But I remember at that moment that guy was threatening me. And it's almost like that Holocaust thing because of who I am. He doesn't know a thing about me, but he called me a faggot, you know, and I remember being so mad. And then it didn't help that I was in an argument. So I just went right over it and got in his face and just I was just so angry and I just had all this pent up rage and anger. And it was probably all this anger that I've harbored all this time. And I remember that he took off his shirt. I guess that for whatever reason, that must be a fighting thing. You have to take off your shirt before you fight back. But I was just like, what the heck are you doing? And then he hit me. And when he hit me in his fist, connected with my face, the rage just 02:26:00came out and I beat the shit out of him. I it was like I couldn't control myself. I punched and I hit and I just kept punching. And he was just I pummeled him down to the ground. He was laying flat. I was punching his spine. I was so angry and so threatened.
SH: And I felt like that it was like this rage of knowing that somebody diedbecause of who they were. And this guy was threatening me. And I was I mean, I was just so mad and thinking back to it, punching somebody in the spine, I could have killed that guy, you know? I mean, I think about that and think where my life would be if that had happened. I remember my mom. I called her. I told her what happened. My mom was so great. She was like, well, I'm sure now I had a great opinion of gay people, you know, like seriously mom. Like, that's what you're going to say to me because, you know, I'm trying to explain what you know. But anyway, so, you know, that kind of stuff was brewing up. And I just felt like that I'm not going to be this victim. That's what I wanted or that's what I felt. And so as I started to progress, it was a bad time in America back then in the 90s. It was not gay friendly at all. I have several Internet articles that I still have where people were talking about gay marriage back then. And it is so derogatory, the things that people said in the papers and all this stuff that was happening. So I remember that I looked in the Lantern one day and this kid named Dan Hazzard. Who I just looked up on Facebook, actually, incidentally, it was kind of funny. But he wrote in this thing because they had a march on Washington and it was like a gay rights march on Washington. It was back then it wasn't like LGBT supportive. It's like gay rights activists are 02:28:00marching for their rights. And that's as much as people really thought about it. It wasn't like they want the right to love or marry or, you know, it was just like they're just marching and protesting or whatever. And so I didn't go to it. I had to work and stay home. But I remember this kid wrote in the Lantern and he said, I want to thank all the queers, and they publish the stuff like just like they write it, for going to Washington. He said, because for the first time in my life, I didn't have to second guess every single person beside me, whether they were gay, whether they had AIDS. It was the first time that I got to just live my life free and not worry about all you queers being around me. And just wrote this really nasty, nasty letter. And so this culmination of that pink triangle, beating the crap out of that guy, all the stuff is starting this activism inside of me. So I wrote back to him and I remember it was the article was entitled Dear Dan. And I wrote this basically scathing thing back and said, first of all, you don't know me. You don't know what I've been through. You don't know who I am. You don't know what kind of a person I am. And if you saw me, I guarantee you wouldn't know that I was gay. You wouldn't know me from anybody else. I look like you. I talk like you. I sound like you. You wouldn't know that I was gay Dan. So don't think that people going to Washington, you know, that we were all gone. We weren't. We were here still. And I said, but I do want to tell you one thing. There is one difference between you and I. I just got back from serving my country and serving in the military to give you the freedom and protection to be able to say the things that you just said about me.
SH: And so I said. So there is. The difference between us Dan and I want you toknow as a gay person, that's the difference, is that I fought for my country. For you to have the protection to do that. And that was big. That was a big thing for me. And it was big to put my name to. Because not everybody knew... I 02:30:00was still out, but not to all my classmates and stuff, and I signed my full name to that thing. And so all these things are, you know, in my lifetime are bubbling up to what's going to happen at the debate [SH asked then presidential candidate Rick Santorum if his presidency would "circumvent the progress that's been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military"]. So these are all the things that were, you know, over my life that were leading up to the activists that I've become. So, you know, I went through college and so many things happened. There were so many... I just when I wrote my book, I literally just started thinking of these things in my life. And it was just people say, how hard is it to write a book? It was so easy. It was like I just lived this crazy, perfectly lined up thing that just led up to this incredible story. Vernon one of my friends that I met in college, you know, we met and we were going, you wanted to be a doctor and we met and and nutrition. And so, you know, most people knew that I was gay. He did not. And we studied together. We did. We became friends. And one day one of my friends said, you know Vernon knows don't you? And I said, no, he doesn't know. Yeah. He's known from day one that you were gay. And I was so impressed by that because back then, if somebody knew you were gay, they treated you a little bit different. Even if they were supportive, they treated you different. Vernon did not. He was like a genuine friend who it did not matter to him whatsoever. So much that he never even talked to me about it, like it didn't matter. And I was like, oh, my God, that is amazing that people are like that out there, you know? So we became really good friends, roommates and became really good friends over the years. And Vernon's dad died when he was really young. He was he was only like ten or eight or something. And his dad was part of a really, really strong religion and his dad got cancer. And basically this religion told him not... It was against God's will to get treatment. And so he died. So Vernon had so much anger and rage about that, 02:32:00about his dad. And so he was always against religion and angry, because he lost his dad to that, you know. And so I always knew that story and his mom would come down to visit.
SH: And she was real sweet. And she knew that he was hanging out with all thesegay people. And it was almost weird because it was almost like Vernon was attracted to hanging out with gay people. You're like, I don't know why, because he's straight as can be, but it was like he found solace or he just was comfortable around gay people. And so one time his mom said, Vernon, I think I need to talk to you. And, you know, she said, I know you have a lot of gay friends. She said, I've never, ever told you about your dad or wanted to talk about this or felt that I should or not never knew. But I think I should based on you have so many friends. And she said, your dad came out to me when you were really young, that he was gay. And back then it wasn't accepted, it wasn't a good thing. And it was a very, very terrible thing for him. And he didn't know how to deal with it. But he was honest with me and we mutually decided that we were going to raise you and that we were going to still be married and still be in love together right up until the time he died. So he was gay, but he never been with anybody else or he never acted on it. But he did tell me that. And I felt like I need to tell you. So she actually told Vernon in the story and the mind screw that caused him like he literally there was a point where he told me that he wanted to try to do something gay, like he wanted to try to be gay. And I think it was because he admired and missed his dad so much that it was like his identity. I think that it's like you lose your dad and you never know anything about him. You find out he's gay. I think Vernon literally his poor little brain was like thinking I might be closer to my dad if I was gay. Like he actually went through this crazy period. I'm like Vernon you are not gay. Trust 02:34:00me. I like it was ridiculous. And then it actually got so bad like, he was so ridiculous. He would go to the gay bars with us and he would act as flaming as he could and hit on women.
SH: And he'd go up to him and say, boy, there are no good looking guys heretonight. And she'd be like, oh, no, there aren't they're all gay anyway. They'd be like, oh, boy, I always wonder what it would be like to go to the other side. And then she'd be like, Oh, really? You know, and then and he had this whole... I was like, You are absolutely ridiculous. That was Vernon for you. But it's just funny because he was a really good guy. But I mean that was just a really powerful story, you know. And I wanted to include that my book as well because of of you know, for people to understand that what people go through and what he went through and his dad went through and his mom went through, and that was powerful. It was definitely powerful. So basically we, you know, went through college and... Those years kind of just went pretty quickly, and as I graduated I started to have this passion or longing to be back in the military because I started... Because in 96 I was done with my IRR [Individual Ready Reserve]. And I remember thinking when I detached and I was completely 100 percent free. I remember thinking it was like this emptiness a little bit because I was proud of that service, you know, and I was proud of writing Dan Hazard that letter and saying I gave something and I didn't want to let that go. I wanted it back. So I basically started to look into whether or not I could reenlist as going in as a dietitian, because that's what my field was now. And so I called a medical recruiter and started talking to them about it. The hard part about it was that now it was different. I had gone through all this stuff in my life. I beat the hell out of some guy and almost killed him. Because I know who I am and I'm not 02:36:00willing to turn back on that. We were at the height at that time of the military's anti-gay don't ask, don't tell... Was, you know, when that started it was a great thing. It was you know, that for the first time, gay people are allowed to serve. That's what we thought. Then it turned out to be a witch hunt. It turned out to be that if you got caught, you know, or you said you were, you confirmed that they now had a law to protect them, to kick you out. And so I knew going in I was like, man, this is going to be really hard, because after all that I've gone through, I'm going to have to go back into the closet, you know. And I remember it was so stupid because the pink triangles on my car, I couldn't go to drill with that. And so I had to get that off my car. And I don't know what adhesive they put on that stupid thing, but I picked it and it was like just little pieces of it came off. And I must have sat there, pried that stupid sticker off my car for hours to get it to come off. And it's almost symbolic of what I was going through because it was an identity that I finally gotten in my life. And now all of a sudden I had to pick it out and take it out and somehow go back into the closet. After I've gone through all this stuff that artillery and everything else had to go back into the closet. And that was hard. That was really, really hard.
TP: So just to confirm, kind of on you're so you... So you reenlisted at thatpoint? Or your looking at it.
SH: Well, when I made the joke earlier about the war thing, I have thispropensity to pick the worst times that you could possibly go into the military. So I went right before the Kuwaiti invasion when we hadn't been to Vietnam since... We had been to war since Vietnam and in college, I thought, you know, I really, really love the military. I do not want to go back to war. I remember I would wake up in college with, like, a nightmare that I got deployed again and I would literally wake up and I'd be like, oh, God, that can never happen. Like 02:38:00that will never happen to me. And you just kind of like that was just a dream or whatever. So March of 2001, I reenlisted. Impeccable timing, right? Since September eleventh was on its way. So I have this knack of really kind of bad timing. I guess so. Yeah. It was hard. It was very, very hard because now it was a very, like a macho culture. And I had to live this double identity, this life where I had to lie and I had to hide and be careful and, you know, not be seen with friends. And I remember one time we went to Red, White and boom down in Columbus and one of my soldier friends called and said, hey, so we're going with my family. You want to go with us? Cause we're good friends. And I said, no, I'm not going to that thing it gets too busy. I had every intention of going down. I went down with my boyfriend at the time and my friend Jenny, like we were going and I was just like, I can't go. I can't mix these lives together or whatever. And then seven hundred thousand people downtown nobody is going to see me. So we're down there and we're... The fireworks are going off. And it's just like this wonderful, like tribute to soldiers. And you're just you feel so good. And I was really starting to harbor this bad feeling. Like people asked why I ask that question to debate. These feelings that I had were starting to manifest themselves into anger. Like that anger that I just beat the crap out of that guy. And one of the feelings was that when these fireworks were going off, they were saying, you know, all the men and women who serve their country, we honor them. And it was just like the it's like this whole show. These millions of people down here are for me, are for our soldiers. They're honoring us. All these fireworks. It's just so beautiful. And it should be the proudest moment of your life. But I looked up and watching those fireworks hit and I just thought, I have to lie about who I am and I can't even be who I am. And I don't even have 02:40:00the freedom to tell people that to be able to serve.
SH: And I felt like that I was protecting other people's freedoms that I didn'thave. And I remember getting so upset, like to the point where I was bawling, just like angry and and I'm trying to convey to another gay guy and a girl what I feel as a military person going through this. And so I remember that I was just I said, this isn't fair. It's not fair that I have to lie to serve the country I love. And so I'm just going off and I'm like on this tirade and like talking. And we were walking back and all of a sudden this kick in the back of my leg happens and I turn around and it's that guy that asked me to go with him and his family. I didn't know how long he was stand there. I didn't know what he heard. But I was like I was so scared that he had heard me going off. And he's like, hey. And I was like, hey. And I grabbed Jenny and right in front of my. Boyfriend, I grab her and I said, this is Jenny and try to introduce her hoping that he didn't hear anything. And that's one of those moments where you just don't ever understand what somebody would have to go through, like my boyfriend at the time. Like, how would that make you feel that you were, like, shoved aside and hidden out of protection for, you know, and then you just had to go with the flow or whatever. And so I introduced and hopefully he didn't hear anything. And I was on pins and needles like around him. And I don't think he did. So I was good. But it was really that stuff was starting to manifest itself into anger.
TP: I have... I mean, there's a couple of questions. I know we talked a littlebit about, you know, this transition back from now, a civilian life, a gay man, an activist who has created a life now. You're allowed to be yourself and to 02:42:00make this decision not to deny yourself and not deny yourself love. And you're making this decision to go back before you even really get to talking about that. You know, a little bit. I'm curious to know, what was the reaction of your friends, particularly gay friends and boyfriend at that time saying you're going back in the military?
SH: Oh, it was. It was definitely. Are you sure? Because you know what? You'regoing to have to do. What you have to go through. And there was a lot of hesitation, you know, and at the time, again, we didn't think we're going to war. I was like, I'm going to be in the reserves. I'm not going to get deployed. And I had to have that conversation. Do not worry. I'm not going to get deployed. It's not going... It's going to be fine. I'm just going to... It's going to be awesome. I'll be back and I'll get my military discount on things and and I'll be able to, you know, possibly retire from this if I want to. And so but it was definitely hard because it was being around those guys, you know, and I don't want to make... I never want to make military sound bad. There are good people in the military. There are bad people in the military. And that's just the way it is. They're homophobic people. They're non, there are supportive people, but unfortunately, at the time the more negative people were more vocal and you would hear stuff more and people would say stuff more. And it really started over the 10 year period before I got deployed from 2001 to 2010. It was literally got to be where I felt like it was gut wrenching to go to AT or to go for a weekend and have to hear all the stuff. I have to hear these comments, these gay jokes, all this stuff. I went to an annual training where they... It was for Officer Basic Course and they had our homosexual briefing. And tell me how you'd feel going through a homosexual briefing when you had this epiphany 02:44:00with this pink triangle and all these things that had happened. And literally we're in this big auditorium and they told you what the rules are for homosexuals. And I'm like, that's me, you know, so what are my rules? And they're like, you can't say you're gay. You can't try to marry somebody. You can't engage in gay sex. Those were the three rules. Everything else you can do, whatever you want. Like if they caught you at a gay pride parade, if you told them you weren't gay, they had to take your word for it. So those are the rules. You just weren't allowed. If you think about the hypocrisy of that whole idea, is that I would rather you lie about it and be it than to be honest about it. And that's what the don't ask, don't tell was. And so for the first time now, there's those three rules. If they caught you doing any of those three rules, then they could kick you out. And saying you're gay could have been an email that you wrote. Love you, you know, so so it became a witch hunt for people. And it was really, really that was pretty terrifying. Those ten years of my life were some of the hardest years of worrying and being in situations where, you know, Josh and I, my current husband, we would go to a fairgrounds with his parents and they do these rockers. And I remember we were holding hands and I saw one of my unit guys walking by, ripped apart hands, and he didn't know it was like for him. I had to kind of train him and say this is what it's going to be like being in a relationship with me, because you've just got to accept that I might pull a girl in front of you and embarrass you.
SH: I might do this. You know, one of the things that comes to mind that wasreally a bad time for me or another one of those moments was that I was sleeping. It was like midnight and I was with my boyfriend and we were at my house. And I have an arcade machine that I built hence all my arcade tattoos. 02:46:00And so this arcade machine plays all these games. And my soldier friends loved it and they would come over and I'd cleanse my house. By cleansing I would take off pictures of boyfriends, vacations. You know, my house is pretty plain anyway. But any evidence of you being gay had to be gone. So in your own house, you had to hide it. So one night they called me really late and they're like, we're drunk and we want to come over and play games. And I'm like, we're laying there sleeping. And I'm like, we got to go. You got to go, go, go, you know, because they hung up. And so we ran around and literally I ran usually had time to prepare for this. I had no time. He had to get out and I had to run around and get all these pictures. And so I'm like terrified that the door's going to knock and I'm going to have to explain to these guys. And so I get these pictures and he's getting ready to go. I have them all in my arms and the phone rings again and they're like, we changed our mind. We're not going to come over. And I remember hitting one of the lowest points in my life, being in my private sanctuary, my home, you know, my safe place. The place where I didn't have to hide from anybody, having to hide from people. You know, I remember holding those pictures and looking him in the eye and saying, I am so sorry. You know, I genuinely felt more bad for him than I did for me because this is what I'm used to. This is what I have to do. And I remember him looking at me and saying, it's fine, but I'm just going to go home anyway, you know. And it's like just this low point. And again, when people ask, why did you ask that question? These are the things that are slowly starting to bubble up like a volcano ready to explode.
TP: So you're... Backing up a little bit. And when you reenlisted in 2001, March0f 2001, you said initially you're wondering if maybe you can enlist in some way that drew on your now your dietician background.
TP: Did that happen?
SH: Yes. Actually came in as 65C so I'm a dietician.02:48:00
TP: OK, so that was good.
SH: Yeah, I'm an... Exercise physiology was my minor, dietetics, exercise buff.And then in the military as a dietician I do weight counseling, coach people for PT, and also feed people in the hospital. So it's like a perfect combination of me.
TP: And you enlist as a reservist.
TP: So you're doing... The commitment is essentially one weekend a month and twoweeks in the summer?
SH: Yeah. This year it's a month. It's going to be an entire month. But yeah itis, it's... We have different things we... Like we went to Egypt in one year. I got to go to Egypt. So that was incredible. So we do get to do things like that. But for the most part, it's not exhausting amount of time. For me I think it was more exhausting because it really was like... I always tell people, it's like putting a concrete barrier around myself for protection, about all these comments that I'm going to have to endure and things. So even a weekend a month or two weeks a year, I would literally dread having to go into the atmosphere of, you know, hearing people's jokes and hearing people say, oh, she's hot, what do you think? You know, and you just have to sit there and, like go with the flow. And you have to lie and it just makes you feel so stupid and little, you know. And and so it became kind of a more of a negative for me to the point where there was almost a point where I got out because I thought about it. And I hit my 10 year mark and I was... I remember thinking, I can't do this anymore. I'm just tired of it. Like, I'm tired of lying about who I am. And so there was a point where I started administrative action to see if I could get out. And then for whatever reason, I decided to keep going. But, yeah, it was... It became really negative for me.
TP: Why did you keep going?
SH: I mean, my ultimate goal was to retire. I wanted to stay in for my full02:50:00time. And so at that point, I had to make a decision whether to give up all the time that I done. And I really love the service part of it. What was hard now is that being out, you know, I had to go back into the closet, so that was hard. And so that almost made me get back out, you know, because it was just not a not a happy time. Don't ask, don't tell and in those times. I remember one time we were to AT and I was in Texas and I left my computer open and my email was up. And I came back to the room where the guy that I was sharing a room with was there. And I didn't know if he read it. And it didn't say anything bad, but you could tell I was gay. And I always felt so scared and exposed, you know, and it was like, did he look at it? Did he read it? You know? And so, I mean, those kind of things just were exhausting, you know?
TP: Well, I'm struck by this idea that going back in as a reservist, you knowwhat that commitment is, and you said you built this wall around you and going and you're going back into that, you're
SH: Choosing that.
TP: Yeah. And when you're when you're doing what you're training, you know, yourschedule changes and that sort of thing. But did you start making changes? And we talked a little bit about some incidents that happened in your personal life Red, White and Boom, at the county fair, but outside of those incidents did you find yourself scaling back your activism? Did you find yourself scaling back? When you weren't on training, when you weren't doing Army, that you were Stephen, in your daily civilian life? Did that bleed back over? 02:52:00
SH: It's kind of interesting because I think that it's... You live a double lifeand it's not like there wasn't a lot of bleeding back and forth on either. But I don't... I still to this day, I don't even know what an activist is. I mean, I feel like that anybody that believes in something is an activist, you know. So I always think that word sounds kind of funny to me. But I don't think that I ever consider myself an activist, even though looking back, you know, I can say, you know, I was, but... I just tried to survive. I mean, that's what I was doing. And I do think that trying to survive really does take away some of the confidence of trying to have conversations or do anything because you feel like a coward. You know? One of the things that I always tell people is that the Army values. That they teach us and ingrain in us, three of them are honor, integrity, and courage. So don't ask, don't tell. Basically told you not to have any of that. Don't have courage, you can't be... You can't have integrity, you had to lie. And so I think that always really bothered me a lot. And so it wasn't even just the fact of being gay. It was the fact of that shameful lying and that shameful way to live that really became more exhausting for me over those years. You know? And again, you're starting to get this picture of this volcano that's it's building up to what America only knows about that 30 seconds of what happened on TV. They have no idea of this whole history and this whole collaborative of events that led up to that, but this is what was boiling up slowly. And I didn't know what the outcome would be. I didn't know that it was going to any specific event or any specific thing or any point in time or history. But it did. I mean, is what ended up happening. But to me, it was just 02:54:00trying to survive. And I was just having such a hard time getting through day to day and even being in my civilian job, worried I wasn't out at my civilian job because I had employees that I supervised, that I was I thought if they get mad at me, they could call the military and tell them. So it really creates if you lie once you create a web of more lies that you have to do to be able to survive. And I felt like that I was in survival mode 24/7, trying to live.
TP: Looking back at your reenlistment in 2001 did you have a similar checkbox asthere was in 1988?
SH: Say that again.
TP: Was there a checkbox?
SH: Oh, no. So don't ask, don't tell they quit asking you. And I never told youwhat that doctor said. I don't know that I should. I don't know that it's appropriate, but it's so... I guess I would leave that up to you if you wanted to know.
TP: I don't... If you feel it. I don't know that maybe, I guess more salaciousthan informational. And I think that I would trust your initial instincts.
SH: So I would just say that that he asked me if I did a certain sexual thingthat was really derogatory. That's the way he asked. And so, you know, again, Virgil remember that name, but no, they didn't ask.
TP: And so in 2001 you didn't have a similar situation.
TP: On your enlistment at least formally.
SH: No. But oh, my God, it was so much harder. I mean, the military was so mucheasier. Lying once and then not having it be such an issue. I think it became such an issue because people knew don't ask, don't tell was there and the potential for gay people to be there, even though we've always been there, somehow was stronger for people. And I don't know if that made people make more 02:56:00comments than normal or if that made more masculinity or more jokes or more fear or what it was. But something was definitely harder coming back in.
TP: So you have these, you know, some situations happening, You said, soundslike even passively that you are making decisions in your civilian life and being selective about who you are yourself to and around. You mentioned your employees or people who reported to you at work. And so you have this kind of this dual existence going and there's growing frustration with it. At some point you get called up. Well, I guess let's maybe before that... As this is happening. You were in Iraq in 2001. We're still in Iraq, you know, and you enlisted, you said, I'm not going to go back to war or whatever.
TP: I'm sorry I flipped my dates for Gulf one. You enlist right before 9/11.Where are you on 9/11?
SH: So I was working at a weight loss place at the time. And I remember that myfriend P.J., that that was a roommate at the time, called me and he's like, oh, my God, a plane just ran into this building. And he said, the World Trade Center. And I was like, oh my god, P.J. you're being so dramatic. And like, I just completely like, remember that I was like, stop being so dramatic. I'm like, I'm working like planes of unfortunate, it's horrible, but it's not like a big deal that you're making this out to be. And so I had thought at the time, 02:58:00like, I wasn't I didn't travel a whole lot. I thought the World Trade Center might have been one of those like, you know, twenty floor skyscrapers or something. I didn't know what it was. You know, I wasn't even really thinking which buildings it was, but and then when he called back and said the second one had hit, I remember thinking, oh, my god, he's right. Something's really wrong. And so and I still wasn't relating it at all to military because that wasn't... You were in shock more than anything. And then when everything started to go down and then all the talk started happening about revenge and, you know, protecting America, then that's when the you know, the next month that I went to drill they had concrete barriers up. And that's when it really hit that I was like, we're changing everything. This changed everything. And so I remember seeing those concrete barriers thinking that my life's probably going to change again. And for the next ten years, it was... Like I said, it was very exhausting for me because I was living in those times of having to lie and hide and do all this stuff. And I met Josh during that time, you know, and, you know. I think I was thirty nine years old and my whole life, all I wanted to do was find somebody that I could love and somebody that I would be my best friend. And Josh was that person. And honestly, I'd almost given up thinking that it would ever happen because it just didn't seem like that I would ever find the person. When I was young, I wrote in a diary and I wrote to the person that I was going to fall in love with. And it was kind of funny when I wrote it. I think that it was when I was in college and I was just coming out and I would go to bars with my friends and sit there and kind of be alone back in the corner watching everybody and then I'd go home alone and not meeting anybody. I remember being real lonely 03:00:00about that. And I wrote I went home one night and wrote in this journal or diary or whatever. I wrote to this person that I was going to meet someday. And I never showed that to anybody I dated because I never felt like they were that person. And when I met Josh and he was like my best friend, we were inseparable. We were... He was the person that I've always wanted in my life. And I shared that with him.
SH: And I said, I wrote this to you like ten years ago or something. And itwas... It was like this thing saying how I know it's you. And, you know, what If I don't know it's you and I don't say hi. And I just wrote all this stuff, this one because I was really frustrated. Anyway, I met Josh and, you know, we had known each other through mutual friends. And it was kind of weird how we met because we actually first saw each other during karaoke. And he thought I was straight because apparently wearing a wife beater and singing the Bodies by Drowning Pool is scary to a gay man. So he's like, that guy's not gay or whatever. And so then I had heard my roommate talk about Josh a lot, and my roommate talked about me to him forever. I knew him, but I never met him. And then finally, when we actually met each other, we were freaked out because we were like, that's weird that we've known each other and Adam's been coming over to my house with you. And I just happened to not ever be here when you're here. So like, we had these circles that we were just spinning around. And now at the end of this, you know, with everything Josh and I have been through and gone through with activism and everything. I can completely see how every force in the world could never have kept us apart. We were eventually going to find each other and be together. And that's what we ended up, you know, basically meeting and falling in love. And it was like the greatest gift that I've ever had. I was so happy. My mom said, I'm so happy that you're, you found love. You know. That 03:02:00I can see in your eyes that this is just the first time in your life that you've ever been happy, truly happy. And so that 10 years, part of the frustration with this is meeting Josh and being in this new wonderful relationship with this gloomy doom of deployment over me. Because for 10 years from 01, we were told monthly we're going to go. You got to be ready. We're going to go. Get your stuff in order. We would get... They would say, you need to get your bills, figure out your bills. And it became so much hearing that that I started to just feel like there's no way it's going to happen because I can't... Like it's just and it's almost like a prison sentence. Like for the love of God, deploy me and just get it done rather than go through all this warnings and innuendo and like all these, you know, fears and threats. And you just want to do it or whatever, you know. So it was hard ten years.
SH: And then beyond that, it was living that lie and that... I justcontinually... Just like like I could give you I could sit here and just name thousands of examples of people showing me these jokes and and sitting there and listening. And I don't know if you can ever understand it. I mean, if you're black and somebody tells you a black joke right in front of your face, but they don't even know they're doing that. That's what it's like, you know. And so it was hard, you know, for ten years doing that.
TP: Sorry, do you feel... You mentioned this a little bit, but do you feel thatthe enactment of don't ask, don't tell. You said you felt from your perspective that either the frequency or the tone of that type of jokes and the comments kind of ramped up. Do you feel that was in part due to don't ask, don't tell? Do you feel like that was part of more broadly like just America at the time? A 03:04:00reflection of the military? Or maybe we're making too much of it?
SH: No, no, no. I do. I feel like that it maybe it was me being more sensitiveto it because of what I was going through, but it definitely was more prevalent. It was I mean, it was almost comical that I would feel like that I'd come home from... Like I remember that, you know, when I get home from AT, I would want to do the gayest thing that I could. We would go to like a showtunes with drag queens or something just so I could like... It's like I just wanted to, like, be out of that atmosphere so badly, you know? And I didn't even like show tunes, or drag queens. And I just remember being so, you know, it was just hard at times it was really hard. So Josh, worked from home. And I remember that we got we got the call that our unit was going, but the way that they were doing it was different. So either you get deployed, they pick apart your unit, they pull people out to fill other units or they pick your unit and then they take some of your unit and they fill in with other people. So being a dietitian, I thought my risk of deployment is pretty low because they don't usually typically deploy a lot of dietitians. They do a lot of nurses from the hospital. And so they deployed and they kept... And then once we found out we were deploying then it was like pins and needles every month. Find out who is on the list, who is off the list. And so the unit actually left for their premob [pre-mobilization] and I wasn't chosen. And that none of food service or none of that the dieticians were. And so then I was at work one day and get ready to take a new promotion. And I got a phone call from the unit administrator and he said, yes sir, this is so-and-so calling you and just want to tell you that you're going to be deployed. And I was like in shock. I was like, they already left, like, I don't even get...And he said, well, I guess that they have a dietician on site there and that the commanding person that's coming in wants a dietician replacement. 03:06:00And so you're it and so you're going to have to go fast. It's not... You don't have as much time as everybody else did because you have to catch up. He said, I don't even know how we're going to do it. We might actually have you meet them in Kuwait. And then I'm thinking what I went through before thinking, oh, God, you know, like, I don't want to meet anybody anywhere.
SH: But so they were trying to figure out how they were going to get me caughtup to them because they'd already done some premob stuff. So then I was like I immediately left work and I was like, I got to go. So I went to Wendy's and I got lunch for Josh and I, because I would typically do that because he worked at home. And he was on a call and I went upstairs and I remember my... Again, it's that feeling of when I thought I was going to die. It wasn't because I was going to die. It was because I was going to have this vacuum in my life. And when I was driving home and going to tell Josh it wasn't that I was being deployed, it was that for the first time in my life, I found the person that I love and now it's going to be completely destroyed by this. And I remember being more scared about that, more horrified about that. So I walked in and he could see it my face, he immediately was like, what's going on? I said, it's something that's very serious. I got to talk to you. And so I put my lunch downstairs and came up and I told him, you know, I got the call and I'm being deployed. And I just started crying. So I was like, I don't expect you to wait for me. Like I just told him that I said, because I would never I don't know that I would expect that anybody because it has to be horrible. I've never had to do this before. When I was deployed before, it was easy. I didn't have a relationship. Now, I have to ask you, after only knowing me for, you know, we've been together like six or seven months to wait for me to take care of my dog. Like, who's going to take care of my dog anyway? My parents? But I didn't know that they would take him. So I was just like kind of freaking out about how this is going to affect my life or whatever. And he didn't even blink an eye. He grabbed me and hugged 03:08:00me and he said, I'm absolutely going to wait for you. And I remember telling him at the time, I said, if you wait for me, then you're the one and I will marry you. And so he didn't even blink and eye. He was like, absolutely, you know? And so we cried. We held, you know, and we said, we're going to get through this. And then we walk down the stairs and my dogs ate our lunch. Macho actually got up on the table and ate all of our Wendy's and was sitting there like a fat little puddle. And I was like, Are you kidding me? Like, this is what... I was like out of all this stuff it's like the one thing I wanted to do is eat lunch. Now my lunch is gone, I'm getting deployed. I'm going to lose this relationship.
SH: So it's like all these things are just like, you know, I always joke and sayhe was depressed because getting deployed and he is a depression eater, Macho is. So anyway, so I knew it was going to be really hard at that point because we were going to have to go through premob and it was going to be... We're going to have to learn to communicate, you know, because I know that I saw so many relationships destroyed in Iraq when I was there before. I guy committed suicide. So many things that I saw over there [skip in video]... A relationship that is already volatile because of the situation and hard in society that yells faggot at you or whatever, you know. I mean, there's a lot of stuff like that you have to overcome. And that's hard on a relationship as it is. But then a deployment, I just thought for sure would destroy it. So I went to Seattle and started the premob process. And it was it was really hard because I'll never forget one of the soldiers was talking to his wife on the phone. I could hear her voice and it freaked me out so bad because I thought. I never thought that you could actually hear the gender of the person on the other end. So I started turning my volume down on my phone so low that I can barely even hear Josh and I did that out of protection and then I bought a headset. I was trying to do things that would make it, you know, so people couldn't hear him. And then we 03:10:00resorted to a lot of texting. And then people that I was friends with would grab my phone and play video games on, cause I had a bunch of games on my phone. And so then it became really scary because don't say I love you or anything or like when you text me just write, hey are you free. So that was our code. You know, can we talk like, is that you? Is it somebody else holding your phone and so? It was like this prison that I created for myself to try to live and exist. One time Josh wrote, I love you. And iPhone changed it to Oliver. And we actually started using that as our code word. So if I was talking to him on the phone and if somebody happened to hear that it was a man on the other end, I would say, Oliver, and that meant I love you. And it's like this prison that I was creating for myself. That volcano is just building up to this and it was bubbling over then, you know, that kind of stuff and having to do that. And we got a pass because it was Thanksgiving. We're getting ready to leave in December. And so we got a couple of days pass in Seattle. So Josh flew out like he's so funny.
SH: Neither one of us could afford like I mean, we were both pretty broke. Andhe's like, I'd pay him to come out for a week and I don't care, you know? And so he flew out to see me. And again, it was like, how are we going to do this? And, you know, and then my sergeant major who was friends with basically said, well, we'll go pick your brother up, you know, and it was like that kind of stuff, you know. And even the premob up to that, like so many memories like these... I like to tell these stories because these are the volcano that's that's erupting. When people ask, why did you ask that question? They'll know, you know? When when they drop me off at the drill hall the first time Josh came with me with his family. And we had to park on the other side of the drill hall in Cleveland and we hid behind a crane on the other side. And my parents let me out of the car. And Josh and I hugged and kissed. And I remember looking into the minivan. I'm looking at my mom and she was watching us and it was just... I felt like like a 03:12:00little zoo animal because it was like I felt like she was so proud of me and loved me so much. But then she was so ashamed that I had to, like, hide to do to hug him and stuff. So. So we're hiding on the other side of the crane or whatever. And, you know, and then we had a yellow ribbon event. And Josh told me later, he said, I got to tell you, one of the worst things that I've ever done in my life was when I had to tell somebody I was your brother and try not to cry. He said, because I honestly was so emotional and he said that it was so hard for me to lie. And I just felt so empty doing that. And I honestly just wanted to bawl. And I was afraid that if somebody saw me cry that it would be too emotional and they would suspect and I was scared about that. So all these things are bubbling up and, you know, the Seattle thing, we got to pass and get to fly out. So we landed. I told him this is my brother or whatever, and then we got to get a hotel room. We stayed together. And then again, we're in Seattle. So what are the odds that I'll run into anybody? So I was pretty free and I just had such a good time with him. We bought rings, you know, at the time we said they were going to be our our engagement ring or whatever and just had the best time of our lives. We just bonded so well and it just affirmed everything that I knew about Josh and about us being together. And it came to the time when I had to say goodbye the final time. And man that was terrible. It was like at the airport. He dropped me off and we were supposed to all meet by a baggage claim or whatever. And so we kind of staked it out and we walked down and I saw some of my soldiers. And actually it was like we just wanted to get away, like we wanted to have our own hidden place.
SH: So we found an escalator that had this sort of weird cubbyhole below it. Andso we went back and we kind of sat in there and we, you know, just silently... One thing about Josh and I said we can sit and just not talk and say everything. 03:14:00You know, it's like we were communicating just even just sitting together alone, not speaking or not saying anything. So then we played this game that I have tattooed all over my arm on laptops. Because it's like it's called worms. And so we were like, let's play that because we love to do that and we'll kill some time and just enjoy our time and enjoy the last couple of minutes together. So we played a little bit and then I saw that they're getting ready to leave. So I remember looking out and seeing all the wives hugging each other. And seeing all the people out there like holding each other and handing cards to each other and saying, you know, we're going to get through this. Call me if you need me. And I know what you're going through. And I remember looking at Josh and just thinking that he was so alone and I felt so bad for him. Here I am the one getting deployed. I'm going to war. And I just looked at him and thought, I feel so bad for you and I'm so sorry that you are so alone. You don't have anybody to talk to, nobody to go to, nobody to say anything to. We're hiding like rats under this cubbyhole while everybody's out there embracing. And so we start crying and we come out and wipe our tears and bump into this soldier. And he's like, hey, I was like, hey, meet my brother. And I'm like, oh, God, we're really emotional together. We love each other a whole lot. So I was particularly vulnerable at that time because of of worrying about losing my relationship. Worrying about, you know... I spent ten years being able to try to get through a weekend with this bombardment of comments and innuendo and jokes and negative stuff. I knew I was about to engage in an entire year of it where I couldn't get away. And that scared me. You know, I wasn't going to war. I was going to war for that. You know, that was my war. And so I was a little bit, you know, that was what I was 03:16:00worried about most. And so we got on the plane and again, this volcano,
SH: We're on the plane and basically it's all soldiers. So we all have theability to do, you know, like they led us up into the cockpit while they're flying. Let us see it. I mean, it's totally cool. It's like the pilots are like, watch and they be on a... And it kind of scares you. You're like, wow, that's how you fly. It's like they just enter four digit number and then the plane just starts to veer. And, you know, it's kind of neat to be able to see all that stuff. But they also let you joke and they don't really care what you do and one of the soldiers picked up the mic and said, ladies and gentlemen, tonight's in-flight movie is going to be Brokeback Mountain. And everybody on that plane just burst out laughing. And I remember that I just it's like I instantly just want to throw up. I was so upset and I remember looking at these people like they were laughing at me and they didn't know it, you know? And I remember thinking that you guys are my family. You're the ones that I'm going into war with and I would rely on to protect me from death, and you're mocking me. You're making fun of me. And I remember just thinking, I can't do this. I cannot do this for a whole year. I can't even get on a plane and I'm already... It's already starting. And we landed in Germany and I called Josh and I'm like, I can't do it. And he was actually told my parents later. He told me later that he confided in my parents and said, I'm actually really worried about him because he is... This is rough because it was only like a day before it was... The song somebody was singing and it was almost as derogatory as what that doctor told me. And I was like, you've got to be kidding me. I honestly thought I must have done some bad thing in a past life that's causing me to have to go through this stuff. And it's like the night before we leave, I deal with this, you know. Like listening in the chow hall, people joking and and then get on this plane and 03:18:00people joke. And then, you know, I call Josh, I'm so upset and I'm like, he's trying to talk me off a cliff. And so then I hang up with him and then I go sit down.
SH: They have McDonald's hamburgers all stacked up for all of us. It's kind ofcool when you get deployed like, you know, a lot of, like, little things like that. McDonald's, you know, contributed and all this food or whatever. So I just sat down and I was sitting with some friends. And this really nice guy who I like a lot is one of the nurses came up and he's like, hey, take a picture. Everybody's like, get together. And he's like taking pictures because he's you know, I think that they wanted to do like an album later. And so I swear to god, he looked at us and he said, smile, say homo. And it was right after I had just hung up that phone. And I literally... I would love to see that picture. I would actually love it. Maybe I'll email him and and try to find it because he knows everything now. But I would love to see what my face looked like in that picture because that would be all telling of everything that I had been enduring and going through all this stuff. So, you know, I just honestly didn't know when I was going to do. Luckily, we flew over, we got there. We started to live our lives and get in your daily routine. And I worked out a lot. And I think that I developed a way to try to be able to exist. It was still there. There were jokes. There were so many jokes. They painted our commanders door pink when he left and he came back and it was pink. And then they had a formation and everybody was lisping really badly. They were like, yes, sir. And because the painted his door pink, it's just the stuff is just like, you can't make this stuff up. And I was just like it was just like grating at me. I was like, you know, I just had to survive. And I had Josh I went into my private sanctuary, my little box there. And, you know, I basically would Skype him and then keep the volume down so nobody would hear. But you just kept going through all this stuff 03:20:00and you're just like and then I picked up a Stars and Stripes newspaper and it said that they were considering a repeal of don't ask, don't tell. And at first I thought, does that mean they want to kick us out? What does that mean? What does repeal mean? And then I started reading and they said that they would let people openly serve. And I was like, oh my god, after all that I've gone through. And I was just literally, like, shaking. I was like, you know, this is 20 some years of my life and ten years of lying. And I just couldn't... It was the most incredible feeling to think that when I always said that I was fighting for people's freedoms that I didn't have. That I might actually get that freedom.
SH: And that freedom to me meant not getting kicked out. It didn't mean sayinganything. It didn't mean wearing a gay flag. It didn't mean anything. It meant that if I got caught with a picture of my boyfriend, I didn't have to lie about it. And so I had Josh sent me... It's kind of funny because he sent me a chew toy for Macho. So my dog, like, chewed up a toy and he said it. He wrote Love Macho on it. And then he wrote me a little love letter and he put his initials on it like he couldn't sign his name because he knew that I would get caught or whatever. So my little existence, I put those little things up and those meant so much to me because that was like my home. Like not Iraq wasn't my home. Those little items were my home, you know. And I remember that when I was unpacking when I first got there, I found a poop bag, one of those poop bags that you do, you take your dogs. And it was unused, of course, but I literally hung that stupid poop bag up with that chew toy because it made me think of my dog. It's like that's how crazy you are to want to be home or that connection or whatever. So I tried to survive the best that I could in that time, you know, and Josh and I would Skype a lot. And we're in Tikrit and where we were, it was kind of interesting because there were all kinds of stories. Like they had a swimming pool there and they told us that the dive team, I guess that Saddam or not Saddam. Uday Hussein or whatever his name was... Basically the rumor or I don't 03:22:00know if it's true or not, but the rumor was that the swim team lost or something and he literally drained the pool and made them dive to their death or get shot. It was their choice. They could get shot in front of their families, which was considered dishonorable, or they could dive into this pool. And I filmed it because it was like a hundred feet diving board down to a concrete floor. And it's like that Holocaust thing where you're like, people died here. It was on the base where I was at. And so where we were in Tikrit, that's his birth town. That's where they supposedly thought the weapons of mass destructions were or whatever. But we would get pretty frequent mortar attacks. Where, you know, they couldn't get in but they'd shoot mortars in. And Josh and I would be on Skype and a mortar would blow up and you'd hear it and I'd be like, that's mortar. I got to go. And hang up and Josh told me later, he's like, you don't know what that did to me. Like, every time that phone hung up, it's like I didn't know if that was the last time I was ever going to hear from you again. And I couldn't call anybody. He's like I couldn't call to find out if you're OK.
SH: I couldn't call your parents. Like, I didn't want to worry them. And he'slike, those were terrifying to him. And so I got an R&R and I got to come home and spend 14 days at home or whatever. And I'll never forget, ever how happy I was and how much I just was so in love with Josh. And we were just best friends. And I was like, it's like everything that I endured was recharged in that time. You know, it's usually the opposite. I get 14 days of hell and then I have to come back and try to recover from that. This is like a year of hell that I had 14 days to recover from these comments and stuff. And so Josh and I were out here in Columbus. We're eating. We're just laughing. And I have a picture that I love because it's a picture of me and him laughing and his hands up. And I'm like, look like I'm biting him. And I always tell people that whenever we take 03:24:00pictures, I always try to make sure my biceps in it. Like I'm always like, did you get my arm in the picture? You know, I try to flex. And so then he always intentionally tries to cover up my arm because he doesn't want my arm to be in the picture. And then I tried to bite him because he's trying to cover up my arm. And somebody captured that moment of us together. And that's who we are. Like, that's our you know, it's just like a perfect synopsis of what we're like or whatever. And we were laughing and I just tried to bite him for trying to cover my arm or whatever. And I said, I wish that I can marry you right now. I know that I said that if you waited for me, I'd marry you. If I could marry you today, I'd do it. I said, what if one of those mortars hit and that was it and I never got the chance to call you my husband. So then we were instantly got this. This is us. We're like, let's find out this call. So we start calling around and saying, you know, I had a couple of days that I had to get back and I didn't know what the process was. I thought we'd go to a courthouse and just get it and leave or whatever. So we called Washington, DC because we thought, how cool would it be? I mean, just think of the history of this. I get deployed before don't ask, don't tell was implemented. I get married before it actually becomes effective. While I'm at war. Home from war. Isn't that the coolest thing ever? So I was like, this is awesome. Let's do this in Washington, D.C., our nation's capital, of all places, Where I'll get married. So we called and she said that there's like a five day wait or something for your stuff that you can... You had to wait to be able to sign something.
SH: And we said, well, we're out of state. And, you know, he was like, you know,we have to go back to Iraq. You know, one of us has to go back to Iraq. And she was like, well, that's probably would qualify for waiver so you're probably fine. So he hangs up the phone and I said, did you tell her we were gay? And he said, no. So he calls back and said, does it matter if you're gay? And she's like, No, honey, it doesn't matter. It's the same for both of you, like, same for straight people. And it was just so weird because we get so used to taking second best that you just you accept that, you know. And so we got in that car 03:26:00start driving and we started calling Officiants and Googling who could marry us or whatever. We came across Tiffany Newman. And this woman is an African-American woman. And on her website, actually, she had a viral video go viral that had her and her husband, who's white, and it said on her website, our marriage was illegal once, too. And so she specialized in LGBT weddings. And we're like, that's who we want, absolutely, 100 percent, because she's lived the life that we have. And so we called her and we said, we want to do this. We explained the situation. We said we have to do it quickly. It's in a hurry. We want it to be as meaningful as it can but we also know that we are time constrained. And she heard the situation. She said, you know, I'm not very familiar with military stuff. She said that is pretty powerful. She said, I do know that there's some really famous military gay guy that is buried in congressional cemetery or something. I'm not sure about it. So we instantly start Googling, and so we come across this Leonard Matlovich guy who I didn't really know a lot about. Again, your activism starts to take the best of you and you start to want to learn your history like the pink triangle. And so we Google his history. I call my mom. My mom is so awesome because she's a history buff and she's tell me everything about him and she's Googling as we're driving. And she said, you know, this guy is the first guy that ever challenged the military. He Was in the Air Force in the 70s and he came out. Time magazine had him on the front page saying, I'm a homosexual. And Frank Kameny, the the founder of the Gay Rights History Movement, was the guy that actually orchestrated his situation and coming out. And so. That was amazing. I was like, this was this guy that, like, stood up first and he's why we're at this repeal of don't ask, don't tell. People like him and Harvey Milk and all these people. And so I was like, let's get married to his gravestone. 03:28:00
SH: I didn't even blink. And I was like, I know it sounds morbid, but Iabsolutely want to do that. I want to honor this guy that before he died... When he died, you couldn't be married. It was illegal. You couldn't be gay and be in the military that was illegal. And somebody that's at war is coming home from war to get married at your gravesite to honor you. That meant more to me than a billion dollar wedding. And if I had it to change again, I would never do it differently. I do it exactly the same way with just Josh that day. So we went there and his grave was amazing. It didn't have his name on it. Again, it was just it was it wasn't that it was about him. His grave just said a Vietnam... "A Gay Vietnam Veteran". And it said when I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one. That was what he put on his tombstone, you know, and it just made you think of all the suffering that we've gone through and the things that we've had to go through. And then his name was on the base of the... He has like a plot and it's on the base, but it wasn't on the headstone at all. And so, you know, it was right. It was the right thing to do. And again, Josh and I never did any of this stuff for a story. I never... If you would have told me I was going to write a book or be on the news, I would have told you, you're crazy. We did it because it had meaning to us, you know. It happened to write this beautiful story. Like when you when you go through it, you're just like, I don't know how you could have planned this better. Like, everything all of it combined. But it wasn't planned that way, you know, and we got married. There was just one friend that lived in Washington that took pictures of us. You know, it was just a very, very short ceremony. And so I had to go back. Oh god, that was like hanging up the phone with my mom, you know, and I remember how hard that was and saying goodbye again to him. And I remember, I just... I didn't think I was going to be able to do it. It was really hard. And I remember he left me a voicemail when I was on my way back, and I have it to this day. I could share with you if you want, but whenever I go 03:30:00out and talk, I always play this for people. And there isn't a dry eye in the audience after they listen to the voicemail. But the reason I play it is because people ask me all the time, what would you say to Rick Santorum if you had the opportunity? Like if you could go to this guy who said that, answered a question at a debate and let people boo you right in front of him and didn't thank you for your service. What would you say to him? And, you know, I've thought about it many times. You know, I beat a guy up for less than that, you know? And it always goes back to what I would say to him is I'd play that voicemail that Josh left me and you could just hear how much love that he had and how hard it was and just how much he loved me and how hard it was to to say goodbye. And how he said it was just the best two weeks of his life. And it's just like that's what I would play. That's what I want him to hear, that I want him to hear what he feared and hated. And so I play that when we go on talk and people just freakin every time, like bawling like there isn't one person not crying when they hear that voicemail.
SH: But anyway, so. So I had this ring on and this was now my wedding ring, andI wasn't taking it off for anybody before I hit it, I was wearing it and I knew that I was going to face a lot of questions. And I was, I mean, I was worried about that because I was like, you know, number one I never even anticipated they were going to say go to ask one to get benefits, because now you qualify for benefits. You're married. And I'm like, oh, yeah, I'll do that maybe later, you know? And so you really... My dodging stuff had to really get escalated because now I'm really struggling because I'm married. And, you know, what kind of a person goes and gets married and doesn't talk about any of the situation of it? I come back like a weirdo and don't say anything. Yeah, I got married. To who? You know?
TP: And we're pre-repeal.
SH: Yeah. We're still pre-repeal. And...03:32:00
SH: So they gave you because of the paperwork filing or...
SH: Well, no, no, no, you know, so when I came back... It's your choice if youwant to register to get and when we're in Iraq. So it's not like a mandatory... It was like everything was chaotic. So it was just like you need to go do it. And so then I was like, maybe I shouldn't have told them I was married because it's not recognized so it's not legal. But then what I read in the paper was that the repeal wasn't in effect, but they weren't enforcing it anymore. The Obama administration was not enforcing don't ask, don't tell. And they kind of put a stop to it because the repeal was imminent. They just couldn't come up with a date for it. And I'll never forget reading in the paper the reason that they were struggling to come up with a date for the repeal of don't ask, don't tell was that they didn't want to affect the morale of the people that were actually over there fighting for their country at the time. They actually put those words in that paper. And I can't tell you what that makes me feel like, I mean. You've heard all these stories, all this stuff that's led up to that, and they were worried about everybody else and how they felt. And my volcano was like at its optimal tipping point, that's where it was... It was almost rage at that point, really, it was, and so on our little AFN network [American Forces Network], they basically have this commercials and one of the commercials said they're having a GOP debate. And I'd heard Michele Bachmann and a couple of candidates say that I will absolutely fight this whole repeal of don't ask, don't tell tooth and nail and I'm making it part of my candidacy. And I'm going to get it reinstated and all this stuff. And they were like before it even got repealed, they could come up with a date they were already platforming on that they were going to destroy it. And so they said that they were offering people the ability to send in a question to the GOP debate. And you could submit a question. So I have this fantasy. It was this volcano that erupted, but the 03:34:00fantasy was that... Josh, what do you think would happen if I sent a question from Iraq and said that I'm gay and I'm here fighting for my country so can you all you guys tell me what you would do about don't ask, don't tell and how profound would that be?
TP: So just so I know, this would have... This conversation that you would havehad with Josh would have been before the actual repeal date.
SH: Oh, yeah. It was... This is it was it was probably either it was probablyearly September, I would say.
TP: A couple of weeks out?
SH: It might have been. Yeah, it was a couple of weeks, this whole turn ofevents. So basically you could submit. So then I went through the whole thing and when the L.A. Times came and interviewed me, it was so funny... Because he asked me exactly... He wanted to know exactly what I did, the process, everything. He wanted to know how many times I did the take. How I decided to line it up. For some reason that was also important to him, but then when he wrote the story, it really did make a difference because I wanted to say it just right. And I kept fumbling the words and I wanted it to come out. I didn't want it to come out angry. I didn't want it to be like a gotcha. I wanted to ask that question based on all this rage and anger and things that I've gone through. But I couldn't come through like that. And it took a lot. I kept having to try to redo it. So I did it. And I took off all my uniform tags and stuff and I put the the camera down so you can see my face. And then I tried to see if I could disguise my voice a little bit because I was always scared that people would recognize me. Because I was going to say I'm a soldier in Iraq. So if you recognize my voice, you know, it'd be really easy to tell. And then I was worried that my background people might know my room, you know. So I recorded the question and then in the question I said, in 2010 when I was deployed to 03:36:00Iraq I had to lie about who I was because I'm a gay soldier and I didn't want to lose my job. My question is, under one of your presidencies, do you intend to circumvent the repeal of don't ask, don't tell? And so I actually went on to ask, and would you consider extending the same benefits, same sex benefits to married couples that are legally married? They cut that part off. They didn't use that. They just use the, you know, what was good for them or whatever. But anyway, so I hit send. I was scared to death. But then so many people submitted questions, like millions of questions were getting submitted. So I'm like, what are the odds mine will get picked, or whatever? But then you could vote on them. So then Josh right away is like telling all of his friends to vote for Steve's question, you know, like and try to get people to vote for it. But something pretty profound happened is that it wasn't our friends. It was people were like, whoa. And it blew up in their own little bubble of people, angry, supportive, like fighting online, like all this banter.
SH: Like it just really escalated and all of a sudden I got an email from Googleand, you know, I mean, it's it's like an invasion of your soul and your privacy when you get like somebody write you about what you did. And so, I mean, I always joke and say, who gets an email from Google? You know, like, Google sent me an email. And so...
TP: This is a Gmail address?
SH: Yeah it's through my Gmail. And so... And I even made a fake address. Like Icarefully orchestrated this very, very like so I couldn't be traced or anything. And so.... As a matter of fact, that fake address, it's kind of interesting because we had a sexual harassment training and an equal opportunity training while we were in Iraq. And the guy that was doing the training, this was about inclusion and diversity. When he was doing the training, he actually... He said that do not get caught sexually harassing or doing anything to a female. If you do, you will go to jail. And if you go to jail Bubba is there and you will drop 03:38:00the soap and you will pay. And like that was... This was equal opportunity, inclusionary training for soldiers that he just mocked gay people again my volcano again. So I went right back to my room, created this fake email account and went off and I reported him. And I said, I hope you guys know that the repeal of don't ask, don't tell is coming and that kind of stuff has got to stop. That's... And I just went off and I wrote. They never wrote me back like I said it, nobody wrote me back or whatever. But that's the same, like my fake account that I used or whatever. So I get an email from Google and they said the question was amazing and it really, really stirred up a lot of controversy and a lot of you know, we think it's a good question. And they said we want you to resubmit it, but we want you to show your face. And every bit of my gut dropped out of my soul that day when they said that. Because it was like no way. And I said, no, I can't do that. I'm not prepared to do that. I don't know what that would mean to my career. I don't want it to mean anything else. And no, I'm not going to do it. And so I basically told them no and again that L.A. Times guy was like, let me see the email, I want to see it. And so I didn't really realize why he wanted to at the time. But when I started talking to Josh, he said, we're married. So if they reinstate it, we can't take that away. So what are we going to do? If we don't fight this, if we don't bring it up now as an issue and bring it up as a historical talking point? What's going to happen to us later? Is it just inevitable? And so we started to really... Then I start to come to this reality of what I had to do. You know, people say it's courageous and stuff, and I don't... I never think of it like that. But in hindsight, I think what courage is, is that you choose to do the right thing and you don't worry about what the consequences are going to be.
SH: And I think that that's what it really is, whether that be somebody throw03:40:00themselves on a grenade to try to protect people. Nobody wants to do what they do, but I think you do it because you think that this is the right thing to do. And I thought this is the right thing to do. So I wrote Google back and in the subject line I said I reconsidered. And in the L.A. Times article, the spread like the whole page like had that I've reconsidered is like the... It's really cool how they did that. But anyway, so I sent in the question and basically said the exact same thing. And then she said, we aren't sure that it will be aired, but we definitely wanted you to submit it because when it airs, it's going to be after the repeal. So we don't want the question to seem dated if we choose it. So it made sense, you know, and so I basically the night of the debate came up and Josh and I were watching it together. It was nine o'clock, I think, here, and it was like 4:00 a.m. where I was. And so I got up, my alarm clock went off. Oh, my God. It's like those little moments that I'll never forget. I'll be 90 years old and I remember hearing that alarm clock off at that morning at 4:00. And so I turned it on and the debate was ramping up and they were starting and it was two hour debate and went through an entire hour of it and nothing. And I was like... Part of me was relieved. And I thought maybe this was all like, I'm going to be safe. I'm going to be safe. And then part of me thought safe is all this hell that I've endured all these years, and is that what I really want to be, you know? So it's like this conflict in my own mind about what I want to... If I want it to happen or not. So it came to a commercial break and Josh and I would be on Skype and we would try to you would hang up during the debate and call. And we're kind of excited, but we're kind of like he was alone at home and I was alone in Iraq. And so Megan Kelly came on and she said, next up, we have social issues. And then I Skype Josh. I'm like, what does that mean? What does social issue mean? Is that? Do you think that that is us? And and so we're 03:42:00starting to like... I mean, it's like the hair on the back of your neck standing up, but you're also, like, terrified. I can't describe the feeling of, like, excitement and terror, like being terrified at the same time. And so they came back on.
SH: And I you know, I mean, it's zoomed into Iraq and it said, you know, thenext soldier or the next question stirred up a whole lot of controversy online and comes from a soldier serving in Iraq. And I knew I and. My face came right on TV and my name. And that question came on and I just... I don't think I breathe the entire time that I was watching it. And then the audience booed when the question was asked and... People always... That booing I heard distinctly Josh was doing cartwheels or something, he said he didn't even hear it because he was so excited that the question was on there. He's like, yeah, yeah, yeah, you know? And I'm sitting there like [gasp]. And then they booed. And I'm like, what did they boo? Like, I don't understand why they booed. They booed the question or they booed... You know, I thought instantly, like maybe I did something wrong. Maybe I shouldn't have done this because I already had trepidation about doing it. But I was like, maybe I shouldn't have said it, maybe I should have done it. And it was like almost that abused syndrome where you're so used to getting beat down that you just feel like that I shouldn't have done it. It was a mistake. And then the booing and then Rick Santorum went to answer the question. And, you know, he said sex has no place in the military. He said, leave it to yourself whether you're heterosexual or homosexual. And I remember thinking that I never asked to have sex in the military. I'm asking not to be kicked out. And in one second on national TV, this man who never served a day of his life, you know in the military, reduced my entire twenty six honorable year career with awards and decorations and reduced it to sex. That made me sick. And when you said keep it to yourself, whether you're heterosexual 03:44:00or homosexual, I thought of all those memories of people saying I got a fight with my wife last night. We went to see Batman last night. You know, me and my wife, that's me and my wife that here's a picture of my kids. Here's a keychain with my kids on it. Here's a screen saver. He's saying, keep that to yourself. And I thought to myself, I would love to see anybody try to endure the hell that I've tried to endure all this time while you're at war. That's the whole profound thing about this. These veteran oral histories normally you're saying what's your experience being at war? And while I'm at war, I'm dealing with all this mess, you know, and all this craziness. And, you know, I just thought they wouldn't be able to do it.
SH: They wouldn't be able to do it. We had a guy commit suicide the second timewe were over there, and we would have people kill themselves left and right if they had to live like that. People ask me what I think about the booing and people criticize me and say it was only a couple of people that booed, it wasn't the whole audience. And, you know, you guys are dramatizing this or whatever. It wasn't the booing that killed me. What killed me that night was he got a standing ovation for that answer, that he reduced my entire life to sex. A standing ovation where all those people stood up and cheered him. And that was more gut wrenching to me than any boo ever could be. I think a lot of people are surprised to find that out when they hear that. But anyway, so I hung up, you know, like it was done, called Josh, I'm like, oh my God, like, what am I going to do? Like, hopefully nobody saw it. That's what I thought. I was literally so ridiculously in my brain thinking, it's 4:00 a.m. here maybe nobody saw it. Maybe people just were like doing whatever and not paying attention to it. And so the Josh said, oh my God, Google booed soldier. And so I Google it and it's like five websites instantly reporting a gay soldier gets booed at a GOP debate. 03:46:00And then I was starting to get sick to my stomach. I'm like, this is not going to be good. And so then Josh ended up going to bed and I the whole day was watching what was happening. And there was a point where you could Google gay. And I was the first hit on Google. It was horrific. I was... I never wanted to be that. And actually, I think I took a screenshot of that because I was like going from where I did... The book, my book title is From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement. And it literally is that. I never thought... I struggled to be accepted who I was to myself and now I just told everybody in the world, six point some billion people on the Earth from the other side of the planet, that I was gay and I was here and here's my name and here's I'm out there, you know. And and so what that does to your mind, I can't even tell you, you know, and by the next day it was all over the news. It was... I went into the chow hall that morning for breakfast.
SH: And remember that two of my closest friends, I had to tell what I did orwhatever, and they were very cool. My one friend was kind of funny because he was like, man, you are a liar because we have worked out together. We were like best friends there every day we worked out. He came to me early and said, you know, sir, I'd love to learn to exercise, can you help me? And and I was like best friends with him, knew everything about his family. He thought he knew everything about me. He kept trying to Facebook friend request me and I kept ignoring it. And he told me later that I took that super personal. I thought you just didn't want to be my friend. He didn't know I was trying to hide from him. But that's what don't ask, don't tell, caused is these weird, awkward, you know. And so I came out to a couple of them and then I went to chow and I was with my friend Temse, and I said, I don't know what I'm going to do. And she said, little brother, you know you're going to do you're going to stand up, put your shoulders back in your head high, and you're going to walk over there and you're just going to be yourself. And it was just so cool because, you know, I knew I 03:48:00could because don't ask, don't tell was repealed. Does that mean people are going to accept me, not beat the crap out of me or, you know, try to hate me no. But it also meant that I came out to everybody on the planet, too. And I was like, that's an additional thing that I was dealing with that other people probably didn't have to deal with. We got over to the chow hall and it houses thousands of people. And it has probably I think I counted like maybe 20 or 30 TVs in it because it's really big and they show news cycles and they just keep showing the news. And so I'm sitting there eating and I heard my voice echoing through every one of those as they replayed it on the news. And I heard my echoed voice and saw my face on every one of those monitors as I'm sitting there in Iraq with all these people that none of them knew. And yeah, I'm just going to say that. I'm not even trying to tell you what that feels like. I mean, just try to put yourself in that position. And that continued to happen probably about five more times. I was at the gym and it came on the news there. It's just like you just you can't psychologically prepare yourself for what that is going to do. And so it blew up.
SH: We had a QRF [quick reaction force], we were out and one of my soldierfriends, it was like midnight where they call you and they have you come out and you have to do a quick reaction force and you're guarding a perimeter. And he's like, yeah, I heard Obama was talking about you today. And I remember looking at him thinking for the love of God. What do you ever do in your life that anybody ever tells you that you heard the president was talking about you today? That it's just so surreal and it just seemed like that it was insane, that it was like I was living this life of somebody else, you know, watching from the outside in. And so one of the guys that I was there with that I didn't get along with that well and we weren't really good friends. Because I was really quiet the next day. Like, everybody was like very, very like... I heard rumors that people were running around with their laptop showing people it and stuff. And so they knew instantly. But it was kind of like, oh God, you know, this is going to be horrible. And and so this guy is the first guy that actually said something 03:50:00to me. And he said, so are you signing a lot of autographs? And I was like, it's extremely awkward, I'll say that. He's like, why is it awkward? And he grabs my hand and he rubbed it. And I'm a personal space guy. So it was like, what are you doing? And he goes, he said, your gay isn't going to rub off on me. He was like, my brother and his partner got married last year. And I was like instantly I was like, I don't even like you. And like, instantly I have a connection with you. Later on, I asked him about that plane ride and I said, what did you think when they said that joke on the plane? And he said, it pissed me off really bad. And I thought, how many people did that really affect? And just out of the pressure of, you know, being in that atmosphere, you laugh but you're really hurt, you know? And that's when I started to realize that my mantra in my book is trust the power of your voice. Is that you don't understand how powerful that is, because if you tell your voice or if you tell your story, it's so powerful to people that it makes those people like cockroaches. They run and they're the ones that are bad. And all those people that are laughing just out of uncomfortableness because they're with them. The people that are hurt aren't going to laugh anymore. And so we went through... It was just a crazy period. I mean, they call me in, the JAG lawyer, they had to have me talk to the lawyers about it. And so they... I had to go to my commander, tell her what I did, and I'll never forget a response because she looked at me and she said, "listen, what you did, I don't think you did anything wrong." And she said, "and to be frank, if I could have ten of you, I would" as a soldier. She just cared for me a lot. And I, you know, I did classes over there, so they liked me a lot or whatever. So she said, I don't have an issue. And then she reported it to her high ups. And then I get a page right away. I need to see you. And so I'm like, I think now she's real. And she might have thought it was like some rinky-dink and think that, you know, it didn't really... Because I told her I submitted a question. I didn't tell her the president was talking about it or anything else. 03:52:00So really quickly, she found out when she submitted that soldiers in my unit.
SH: And so they called me back right away. And I'm like, oh, God, here we go.It's all on down now. And. It surprises a lot of people that the initial response from the military was my protection. That they were very, very worried that I was safe and protected, that nobody was going to harm me or do anything negative. So that was the first thing that she went over. And then she said, we need to talk to JAG to make sure what you did was OK in their eyes or whatever. So I got on the phone and we made a call and talked to this guy, and he was real nice. And he was kind of like, he's a lawyer, you know, he's told me he's like it was within your right. We don't care that you did it in uniform, he said. But when you're in Iraq deployment, you don't have anything but uniforms. So we were appreciative that you didn't do it naked on TV. So he basically made a joke of it. And he said, I think what you did was fine in my eyes. And it didn't seem to be emotional about it. Didn't seem to have any kind of compassion or care about it. Just kind of a matter of fact. This a year ago in January, I got a Facebook message and it was... It said, I don't know if you remember me, my name is Major Sugarbush. I was the one that you talked to in Iraq that when you ask that question, I was a lawyer. And he said, I saw that you wrote a book. George Takei wrote our forward. And he said on George Takase website, I saw that you wrote a book and I promptly downloaded it and read it. And he said, I've got to tell you that that 15 minutes that I interacted with you was the proudest moments that I will ever have in my Army career, he said. I brag to my kids daily about how I was part of the civil rights movement. And that was just the coolest thing to read, because it's just like... That's when you feel like that, you know, like Rosa Parks when she did what she did on that bus. I don't think that she ever thought she would be in every history book on the face of the Earth or you know what I mean? I'm not comparing myself to any of them, but it's just one of those things where you just never know the impact of using your voice, of telling your story. And so these things that happened like that really show me the impact of 03:54:00it. You know, when when he calls me and says stuff like that and told his kids that or whatever.
SH: And so I had to meet with the public affairs officer because they startedgetting immediate requests from NBC for interviews. And so they basically told me that for safety while I was on Title 10 and deployed and active duty, I probably should avoid those because that's when you're scrutinized much more than you are in the reserves or whatever. And so they said, so it's up to you if you wanted to, you know, we can make it happen. But so I basically was a little bit worried about that. Well, consequently, we got contacted, you know, by a group that was getting ready to file a lawsuit to fight DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act]. And the lawsuit was going to be from service members that were married because they knew we were married and they solicited... I guess Josh found out about it. They solicited and said, are you married in the military? We would love to hear your story because we want to do a class action lawsuit to fight DOMA... Like that was what? So the Windsor case could have been our case. That's basically what they wanted to do. What more compelling? I mean, it's always compelling. Like all these cases are compelling. Everybody's stories compelling. Edie Windsor and this money that she was getting, you know, losing that was so unfair was her story. Our story were, you know, military people that were married, you know, and it's it's compelling. And I really think that it would have just as much impact and power. And they were trying to consolidate and they were talking to the Windsor people and they were trying to consolidate these cases and make them all very strategic with how they tried to fight DOMA. But anyway, so then we had to make a decision again. Do we want to... Now that I'm stirred up everything, do I want to just go to the next step and and join this lawsuit? And again, trust the power of your voice. Honor, integrity, and courage. And so we did, you know, we had to go back to my commander and say, ma'am, I got to tell you that I'm going to sue the Department of Defense. And this poor woman, I mean, she loved me to death. But at some point you got to be 03:56:00like for the love of God, can we just get through this thing and not have you do anything else here? But anyway, so we did join the lawsuit and Josh was starting to do interviews. I was kind of funny because here I am, the one that was booed and everybody was talking about me, but I had never done an interview. And he's all over the news with Al Sharpton. He's doing interviews. And I was like, it was funny because when you talk to Al Sharpton, he was just so... You could tell that they had him so prepped and worried that he was just like that's not even Josh and was like, weird how he was reacting.
SH: And and he said it was funny because Al had answered all of his questionsfor him and he was having a hard time interviewing. But it was like... He was like, correct. Like he didn't know what to say because he would blurt out his answer or whatever. But anyway, so so they wanted me to meet with this PAO [Public Affairs Officer] with the public affairs to talk about how I should engage the media. And so I was terrified about that. I thought now the Army's going to tell me what they think of me. And and so this guy comes in and pulls me out of an auditorium and we're supposed to spend an entire day together. And, you know, you just asked me. He said you got a cup of coffee and I don't even drink coffee, but I got like a tea or something. And he said, I just got to ask you, why did you do it? You know? And so then I started telling him all these stories. And started telling him what led up to this and, you know, I've been sitting here for three hours talking and I basically for him, I only had 20 minutes to try to regurgitate what made me do that. And not make me sound like a bad person or whatever. And so then he decided to go ahead and extend our interview and go to lunch. And so we went to lunch and we ended up spending the better part of a day together, which was supposed to be two hours. And he just listened so intently. And I just thought he just seemed so interested for some reason. I just didn't get it. He was real nice. And he said, I got to disclose to you that my son just came out to me. My son is 21 years old and this has been a shock for me. And it kind of reminded me of my parents and thinking that he's 03:58:00probably where they were when I first made that phone call. And so he said, you know, I always grew up in this macho environment, you know, where, you know, I hunted and I did all this stuff. And all of a sudden I just feel like I want to relate to my son. But I don't know how, you know, because the way I grew up and so he said, I just want to understand my son better listen to these stories. Just makes me feel like that I do. That I can connect with him. And so then I said, you know, your son grew up the same way you did. He learned the same thing about gay people that you did. And kind of in no uncertain terms, I told him everything that I went through for my own self realization to going through that darkness, to the exposure and all that stuff. I told him that basically had just one sentence by saying society taught him everything about himself that he has to unlearn before he can really even understand who he is as a person. And then he looked at me just like this epiphany hit him and I said, now you understand your son better.
SH: So now you can really relate and understand. And so he shook his head. Hesaid, man, if you ever write a book, you know, because you just profound. He thought all these things are profound. And so then he took me back and dropped me off and he said, you've got two choices. He said, you can let it fizzle out and it will. The media will drop it like a fly because it'll be the topic of the week and people will forget about it, he said. Or you could engage the media and tell your story. And he said, I'm going to tell you personally, I think that it would be horrible if you didn't tell your story. He said. It's an awesome story. It's a good Army story and it shows why that policy should have never been here. And so it was just awesome. And so, you know, I mean, I took his advice and and decided that I was, you know, and so Josh and I joined the lawsuit. Came back, went through the post-mob and, you know, I mean, it was just crazy. It was like when you come home from war, everything's different. I came home to everything different in a completely different way. I didn't know what that meant for my life or anything like interviews or activism or anything. I was still in the 04:00:00Department of Defense. I mean, who does that, you know? So it's basically we come back and we're starting this whole thing and this activism stuff is starting to be born. And we're starting to... We're fighting DOMA and we're you know, we really we want our marriage to be legal. So we instantly like the summer I was back, we decided we wanted to make our names the same. So we decided Snyder-Hill. And so we went to the probate court here in Columbus, Ohio, and took the elevator up to the top floor, filled out the paperwork, and it said your reason for changing your name. And I didn't know how to do it. So I asked one of my coworkers I knew who changed it. And she said, yeah, they asked me and I said my name was stupid. And she wrote that as the reason on her application and they accepted it. And so I was like, oh, that should be easy. So we went, filled it out, and didn't even think... We weren't even thinking activism.
SH: We were thinking we're just changing our names because we want to be...We're married, you know? And so then they took the applications and then made a call, went into a room. We got a bunch of people together. And then she said, can you go talk to the magistrate? And I'm like, what's going on? And so we had put our reason was we got married. And so this woman pulls us in and she was really nice. She wasn't mean, but she said, I just don't want you to waste your money because it's going to be denied. And she said it's precedent by Ohio law that a lesbian couple, I guess, tried to get married or tried to blend their names and they said it was because of marriage. And they made them change it. They said as long as you don't say marriage, that will let you do it. But that's how they won the Ohio Supreme Court lawsuit. And so she said, you can't say that. You can't use those words. So I instantly was like, oh, I'm cheap anyway. So I was like one hundred thirty eight dollars I'm not wasting it to make a point. I was like, you know, I was like, this isn't activism. Like I wasn't thinking activism. I was thinking, I don't want to waste one hundred thirty eight dollars apiece. So I tear them up and I'm mad and I'm just like fuming. And we go down the stairs and Josh starts crying because he's so mad. He's like, 04:02:00his eyes are bubbling. And I just looked into his eyes and I was like, You're not going to let this go, are you? And he's like. And I was like, we need to go back up, don't we? So then we pushed that elevator? And we went up and that elevator opens and all those people are standing around, like, still talking about it. Like that... And it's just like they looked at us like, oh my God, what's going on? And it was kind of like shock, like, oh crap, something's about to go down. And so we came back and we said, we want to file it anyway. So if they deny it, they'll deny it, but we're going to fight it. And so I immediately came home and called the news and, you know, the news like loved the story because they knew about the booing and everything. And so we called the news and we said Ohio's telling us they're going to deny our name change.
SH: And so they did a crazy news story. Thier like talking about Ochocinco[football player Chad Johnson] or whatever the guy's name. He changed his name like forty seven times. And they they basically when we went to our trial, they had the news covering it right there in front of that poor judge that had to read this, this stuff. And I was like, you know, I was like, we put a lot of pressure on Columbus, Ohio and on Ohio in general. And so the magistrate or the judge said... He asked us if it would make our lives easier. And what he was trying to do was to get it out. He was trying to say, OK, that's your reason. And so I said, no, it doesn't make my life easier, it's just that I want the name because we were married. And and so they interviewed me afterwards. And I said, I love this man. He's my husband. And I said, I feel like that I fought for twenty six years of my life, that I shouldn't have to lie on an application to change my name. I've lied my whole life. I'm not going to do it anymore. And so they set the court date and, you know, the news was there and he basically said, well my ruling will come in the mail. And I was like, oh, you. That's so dirty. They're going to try to get out of like... They didn't want to make a statement or whatever. Well, we called and checked on it. And he ended up 04:04:00writing this really thoughtful decision. I don't know if it's because we put a ton of pressure on them with media and everything, and he knew that we were going to blow up if we didn't get it. But he basically said he didn't think we were trying to circumvent Ohio law. And we actually change the precedents of Ohio that now you can say you're married. Now they can use our case or our ruling as that's not a reason to deny anybody any more. So then you start to get this like wind under your wings and you're like, you know something, I changed the law. We're suing the Department of Defense. And it's like you're living vicariously through your actions. But as an activist, you start to actually feel like I'm actually changing the world. And it starts to make you feel empowered and wanting to do it and wanting more. And so we we engaged really heavily in the lawsuit. One of our... I always like to tell our story because it's so important. Charlie Morgan was one of the plaintiffs and she... Sweetest woman you ever met.
SH: Josh kept telling me about her because you met her before I came back... Andshe had stage four breast cancer when we were fighting. And she has a little daughter named Casey and her wife. And she had a terminal diagnosis and spent the last days of her life fighting for freedom for other people to have. And I just thought, what a testimony of a human being, you know, for this woman. And I don't have any story compared to that, you know? I mean, just think of that. And so she was part of a lawsuit and we were fighting like crazy. And, you know, we were doing everything that we could. So then Josh came up with this idea of C-bus love. And so what he wanted to do was he wanted to take twenty five couples, fifty people to, Washington, D.C., get them married on the steps of the Supreme Court before the DOMA hearings. And we wanted to lead it. And I was like, Josh, you're crazy like nobody wants to get married on a bus or do whatever. And I'm the logical one. He's the one that just wouldn't take no for an answer. So he started making calls and he tried to figure out how much it 04:06:00could cost, like we wanted to make it minimal cost. So basically, we had to rent a bus. We had to pay for the marriage certificates. We tried to do this really nice package. Like if they paid, I think that they had to pay like five hundred bucks. They got the ride. They got the hotel stay. They got a great big... Like he had this all... And he was calling companies and getting stuff donated to us. Like that we could give them like give wedding gifts and all this stuff and just made this wonderful. He's just such a great, great human being what comes to that. But made this awesome stuff. So we're having all these meetings, how we're going to do it. We're planning it out. And we got up to where we were getting ready, getting close to it, and we were four thousand dollars short. I mean, we didn't charge them anything. We were paying more than anybody was, you know. We four grand short. And I remember being so mad at him. I'm like, you can't give him all this... You can't give them these presents and these hotel stays because it's too much money. And so he was like he was like, we're going to do something. And so then he contacted one of the local drag queens here in Columbus, Nina West, and basically he said, would you help us with a fundraiser? I hate drag.
SH: Like, I'm a weird person. Like drag queens make me uncomfortable because Iusually, like, joke with me and like make me feel embarrassed and I'm like... And Josh loves it and I just don't, you know, and I'm kind of like ah whatever, you know, he goes and I don't or whatever. But anyway, so they were going to host the show and raise money. And I thought, oh, that's so cool, you know. And so we went and basically spoke before it and, you know, and they had this wonderful show. And I remember something in me changed that day because I got up and I thanked all these people for coming out and doing all this stuff for us and donating all this money. And thanked them for helping us with this fight and told them, you know, our marriages aren't legal and we're going to change that and everything. And so I remember looking up and seeing this drag queen that was 04:08:00looking in a mirror and he was rehearsing. He was checking everything like his face and his makeup and making sure everything was pristine and mouthing what he was going to say and everything was going to do. And I remember thinking that person is taking this so seriously and putting every bit of his heart and soul into trying to do this selfless thing where he's giving 100 percent of what he makes to this cause. And I thought I didn't even think the drag queens. Like I thanked everybody, but I didn't thank the people that were performing. And seeing that guy in that mirror, it just really struck me. So I ran up and I grabbed the mic and I said, you know, I need to apologize. I said, I just thought of something. I said, you know, going back to Stonewall in the 60s, Drag Queens were some of the first people that ever fought for our rights. And I said, and they're doing that today, right now, you know, and and it just really hit me. And I always... My opinion changed a lot that day. You know, when I had that happen, it was just very powerful. So we raised every bit of the money. It was awesome. We took the couples to the Supreme Court, drove them there. We knew all the rules. You can't protest on the Supreme Court grounds. They have very specific rules. So we had to plan everything and we just wanted to be a wedding. It wasn't a protest. Some of the people on the bus were a little protesty. We were like, you can't do that. Josh was very adamant and he was policing everybody. We had Tiffany, the the woman that married us. She was the one that did the wedding. And so we were up on the steps and they married. And all these people were onlooking, you know, there were surrounding. They were watching the whole thing go down and realizing what was happening. And they knew that those justices were in there writing the DOMA decision at the time.
SH: And Josh was yelling, get back, do not, you know, stay off the steps orwhatever. And then one of the security guards that was watching the whole thing and just keeping an eye on us started walking toward us. And I was like, oh God, 04:10:00here it goes. This is going to be it. Like, we're going to get busted. We're going to they're going to call the cops. It's going to be awful. And he came up and he watched them get married together, you know, and he knew that we were yelling at them to stay back or whatever. And he came up and he said, you know, guys, I can't let you guys up there as a group. He said, but by God, nothing in law stops each one of those couples from walking up through the Supreme Court and walking down as a married couple. He's like, I can't stop you from doing that. And so they did. That was probably one of the most proud moments of my life that I felt. I can't tell you. It's like trust the power of your voice. You you have no idea. It affected that guy that day. It may have affected one of those... One of those justices might have been looking out the window watching that. We'll never know that. But you just don't look back. You just go forward and you just do what you know is right. And so every one of them walked up and walked out as a married couple and they were taking pictures of them. Josh asked me, do you want to do it? And I said, no, this is their day. You know, we had our our day was back at the cemetery or whatever. So basically, it was just an empowering event, very powerful. They came back to pride. And that was very cool because Carla from Stonewall actually arranged for them to have their honeymoon was pride, basically. So it was all about them and the couples. And it was just like so cool, you know, and and so it was just the neatest thing ever. It just shows you, you know, you're getting this momentum. And so then we started getting we're closer to the lawsuit and the Edie Windsor hearing and everything. And so things are ramping up. The Lawyers were talking to us a lot. And it was getting really close and the decisions were going to come out about DOMA. And they were considering all the cases and stuff. And we were filing everything we needed to. And it was February and Charlie died. So she died of breast cancer. And she never got to hear the words that DOMA was repealed. And I hate you know, 04:12:00that sucks so bad. She spent the last days of her life fighting, you know, and she never got to hear that.
SH: But anyways, she died in February and then our case came out and theybasically... Since the Windsor case was the one that they were hearing and they basically said that... The DOD came back to us and said that, look, Windsor pretty much nullifies all this, so we want you to either drop your lawsuit and because we're not going to enforce... And the military code, it actually said opposite sex spouse and they said we're not going to enforce that anymore because of Windsor. So you're you're done. You won. And so they basically told us we won, that they're going to enforce it. And so the lawyer said at this point, since we won the lawsuit, you know. They were so cool. They're like, you're part of history. You're the only gay group that ever sued the Department of Defense for marriage recognition. You know, it's really cool. And they said, so you have your choice plaintiffs. We can tell them that we don't want to drop it for one or two reasons. Because we're not going to drop it, absolutely not. But if you would like compensation because of what you've missed out on for your marriages, we can get that for you and you can get money, you know. They said that's your choice or we can not ask for compensation and say that we want them to change the language, that it's unacceptable. We want the language changed. Not one of them blinked an eye. Not one of them asked for anything. We said we want it changed. And so we kept that lawsuit in effect and we won. And the government had to change that verbiage. Whether wins or not, they didn't want to do it. They weren't going to do it, but we made them change it. Again trust the power of your voice. It's like one of those things where you're just like. We changed the law for every military service member, you know, going forward. And so it was just incredibly powerful and it was just, you know, and so Josh and I continued to do interviews. And I mean I can't tell you, you know, we wrote a 04:14:00book, I published the book, and it came out. And people always ask me they were like, you know, you're probably rich publishing that book. And I'm like, if you only knew. I said, the amount that we've made off this book, we spent five times that amount traveling on our own PTO, speaking at rallies, going out and doing this stuff. It's not about money. It's not about any of that stuff. And, you know, right up to where we are today to the... We've probably every step along the way.
SH: I think that we're kind of the Columbus gay couple news interview peoplethat whenever something happens on the news, if they're talking about marriage equality rulings, they call us and come and interview or whatever. But we continued to just interview and to be activists and to keep going because it's something that it feels like it's something bigger than you and you need to keep it up. And it's exhausting. I've told Josh many times, like, I feel like that I don't know if I can keep this up. You know, it's like when are we done? You know, when are we done where we don't have to talk and tell our story? And then opportunities like this come up where you tell your story and you realize the importance of it. And I mean, we just got back from Missouri with all this stuff that's going on in Missouri [Obergefell v. Hodges struck down state bans on same-sex marriage in June of 2015]. We've traveled the country. We've gone I mean, we've been all over the place. Somebody from New Zealand wrote me from Parliament that read the book. A mom wrote me and said that her 17 year old kid came out and that he's not very good at articulating his feelings. But she said, I feel like you articulated every one of his feelings through your writing. A kid from Malaysia that's in a very anti-gay town read the book and it came to me and it was just dumbfounded. And then my soldier friend that I actually write about in the book. It's a dude, this looks like a gay guy's house. He actually knew that I was writing and publishing it. And he asked me, he said, you know, 04:16:00can I read this before it goes out because it's going to be, you know, worldwide or whatever. And so I let him read it. And he's very conservative. And, you know, I... He's never really said any anti-gay stuff, but his wife definitely did at the time. And so I was kind of like a little bit weird about it. And so I didn't know what he'd think about the book? His dad's a preacher and is very anti-gay, I guess. And so he basically sat there on AT and read it every night. It's almost like he was addicted to it. I was kind of surprised he so dedicated to reading it. I figured you'd kind of half read it. He didn't stop. He read it from beginning to end every second that he had to to get through it. And he came over and woke me up one night and he had tears in his eyes and he said, dude, I had no idea. He said, this book needs to be read by every straight person out there.
SH: He's like, I had no idea. And so later on, he had told me it was kind offunny. His dad said something negative about gay people and he said, Dad, you can't say stuff like that anymore. Like he stood up to him. And so the power of telling your story, you can never, ever underestimate it. You never know how significant it's going to be. And I never want to take credit for anything because this is not me. This is not for me. It's for us. It's for all of the LGBT service members. It's our story. I always say that it's not mine. Right down to our cover on the book is a picture of me. I didn't want to put a picture of me on there. It was an art student that did a don't ask, don't tell art project, and he was one of our friends. And it was really awesome what he did like he did... It was like on a flag and he did glass panels with me pulling the tape off my mouth. And it was just so cool that we wanted to... It was like an ode to him to say, we want to use your art project on our book, you know? And so I don't know. It's kind of like pretty much the story. I mean, we still continue to go out and talk and we will until the day we die. I went to Abor in Chicago and it was kind of funny cause I didn't realize before I never talked to just 04:18:00gay veterans. I'm always talking to non-gay people. It's like this is the first time that I ever talked to actually me, you know, as us. And so I read them the dedication of the book. And I got really emotional with that. And I said, you know, I can't I'm not preaching to you guys. Like, you guys understand you've lived this, you know, and I'm just the only thing I can say is I'm sorry. I'm sorry for anybody that's had to go through this and had to live through this and had to lie and had to get kicked out. And I mean, it's just so amazing to think, you know. I think that I don't know if I said it or not, but my hometown newspaper basically made a practical joke and they did that thing growing up where they did the Oliver North is going to do a gay pride parade and the Ku Klux Klan is going to join in. And there's a little kid I'm reading that thinking, you know, I didn't know at the time it was a darkness back then. But when I read that, you know, that's how you... When I said society teaches you about gay people, that's an example of society teaching you. So I was learning about myself through that article. And just not even a couple of years ago, we did a book signing in Upper Sandusky and they celebrated it.
SH: They put it in the Daily Chief Uion front page, "Hometown Hero Comes Home toSign Books." And I just can't help but be so proud of the fact that some little kid that's struggling like I did as a child struggling with these feelings might read that and feel just a little bit better about themselves that day. And that just makes me so proud, you know? I mean, if you ask about being proud as being a soldier and what we do and fighting for freedom, that's what I'm proud of, because I'm fighting for freedom. That's exactly what it is.
TP: There are some things in there that I'd like to unpack a little bit. Ifyou're up for it I'd like to go back a little bit to September 20th. You kind of 04:20:00have your personal experiences happening at the time of this mission. This question to Google and kind of the internal storm of yourself deciding to make that choice and then also kind of the maelstrom happening around it and after it. And it would have been that timeline was a couple of days before on the 20th that don't ask, don't tell was officially repealed.
TP: So. You know, you kind of made a joke of it. Like, you know, I'm here...Here I am at war and that's the least of my concerns, right?
TP: Right. Coming in today, you said that you saw in Stars and Stripes,whatever, that they were probably going to repeal it, but they hadn't settled on a date because of the irony of moral of people who were serving. What... Am I safe in assuming that you hadn't... You had made any connections during that tour in Iraq? Certainly not with other LGBT servicemen and women at that time?
SH: No, I did meet two people that were over there that I guess that they hadlike a network of people that would try to meet on Facebook and form friendships. So we had basically what we call Modern Family Night. So we would actually get together and download an episode of Modern Family and watch it together and kind of be ourselves together, alone, quietly. And then like, you know, we would watch that. And actually, he... This guy is wonderful. He's a psychiatrist and a great friend. We're still really good friends. I went to Hawaii. I got to visit him or whatever, but so I did have a couple of people, but I see nobody knew it was those two people that I knew were gay as well. But 04:22:00other than that, nobody. It was... But we did. Yeah, we had a little a little Modern Family night and we would watch it and hang out.
TP: So how did that... How did it come to be Modern Family night? Because, youknow, you talk about how secretive you had to be.
TP: You're lowering the volume on your phone. You're not even doing phone callsanymore. You're just texting. So how does it... How does it come to being in the middle of all this, in the middle of...
SH: You find each other.
TP: Kind of pinnacle of rhetoric, really, that you do find each other and end upwith the Modern Family night.
SH: So there was a Facebook group. And basically what they did was that theycall themselves OutServe. And so what they did was that they tried to... They made it a private group and you had to go in and they had to accept you into the group. And then they had different ones for the different areas of combat or whatever. And so somebody had told me or I'd heard about or read about it or something, that that's how people are networking and talking and speaking or whatever. So what happened was that I joined that and then met them through that, you know, and was kind of networking like that. And then and I guess the Modern Family thing is kind of funny because we're all deployed to different times. The psychiatrist was deployed earlier so he had had friends in the network that they did a movie night. So it's almost like it kind of cascaded off each other. And he's like, hey, if you guys want to get together, we can watch, like, Modern Family. I love that show, you know? And so we started to figure out like that and it was just born out of what we did. And it was actually kind of surreal because The Strange History of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which was a documentary that came out about the repeal of don't ask, don't tell and all the fights that led up to it. I downloaded that in Iraq and I invited Sam over and I said, you want to watch it? And we're sitting there watching it. And you talk about the weirdest epiphany, because all the people that were involved in that 04:24:00process, in that movie and they interviewed were the people that I were working with, with my lawsuit. So I was meeting them through a television movie on HBO when I haven't even met them in person and seeing how they paved the way. It's SLDN is the group that Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, they were the group that really protected and had been fighting this fight for so long. And they're the ones that were really lobbying to get this all done. And if you watch that, you just realize that it was like a hair either way it wouldn't have happened, you know, it was pretty intense what they had to... Everything that had to align to get don't ask, don't tell to be repealed. So I'm only talking about after the repeal, but all the stuff that they planned and then I was part of their group to now go after DOMA, you know. And it's just like it's just so surreal to sit there and watch with your friend, you know, and and it's pretty amazing.
SH: And he knew and he was higher ranking than me and he knew about thequestion. And he had a lot of concern because he said, you know, I guess earlier he had been outed and he fought through SLDN. And so he knew them. And so he knew that they were the ones that recruited me and that we were going to do this lawsuit. And he said, you know, I just been through hell because I've gone through this. And he said, you know, you just got to be sure what you're doing that you want to do and you're ready for it. And so he try to give you both sides of the coin and he encouraged me, but he also knew how hard it was. I mean, getting kicked out was so weird. You could actually... They had a gay for a day clause so they could actually give you a bye and say that you were just gave her a day. There was so many. Crazy things that if you hear, you're just like it's comical now to hear it, you know, but it's that's what it was. It was the reality in life.
TP: So as don't ask, don't tell the repeal actually lands and they pick a date,it hits. Did you have conversations with those two friends? Were there conversations happening around you with, you know, servicemen and women who, you 04:26:00know, they might be gay or not, but what's the climate among your core group? And then what's the climate around there? Or is it like we're at war we don't have time to talk about this?
SH: Well, here's the problem is that my reality was different than everybodyelse's because it wasn't about repeal of don't ask, don't tell anymore. It was about that I just went on national TV.
TP: So Yeah, really? [crosstalk]
Yeah. It's like nobody remembered about the repeal of don't ask, don't tell.They're like they're like, yeah. The President's talking about, you know, so it was definitely but you know, I always tell people on September 20th, I woke up that day and I went and did my job the same way that I've done for all these years. I just didn't worry that I was going to lose my job. And I think that that's kind of the consensus. Nobody I really... And I saw online through those groups that nobody had planned to come out. You know, they weren't going to fly out of the closet doors or whatever. But I also knew that it was like dangling cheese. If they said that they were going to repeal it and people did come out and then they reinstated it because then what happens? That's why I wanted to ask the question. I wanted them to be honest about what's going to happen to us. And there were conversations. I mean, I could talk for eight hours about some of the intense things that happened. Like one of them was that one of my friends that... I love her and that she's a really good friend of mine and we've been friends for years. And I lied to her for years. She had asked me about my spouse, about relationships, and I lie, lie, lie to her all the time. And she was like one of the worst ones and don't ask, don't tell because she always asks so much. But she just wanted to connect. She wanted to be a friend. And so and she came up to me after the debate and I thought, oh God, what are you going to think of me, you know? And she said, come here. And she hugged me and she said, I love you no matter what. And she said that. And I was like, Oh, that's awesome. You know, that's very cool. And I need that support right now. So then a week later, we were in church together in Iraq there. And she said, Steve, I've been thinking a lot. Do you have second, can I talk to you? And so I said, 04:28:00sure. And she said, I need to tell you something. She said, I haven't been completely honest with you. And I said, about what? And she said the same thing. So I was like, I don't understand. I was like so oblivious that she was telling me she was gay that I couldn't even fathom that that's what she was telling me.
SH: And then it just hit me that all these years we were persecuting each otherwhen we could have been like allies, we could have been friends, we could have been talking about it. And here we were asking these questions and torturing each other. And I mean, that was amazing to me. The other thing was the chaplain. Oh, my goodness. So I was known as the far left person. And pretty much everybody in the military is far right. But I just am outspoken and I'm like, you know, they would just love to banter with me. We would sit there and there was a particular guy that referred to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck as the three wise men. And so he and I would just go back and forth. And he loved to just... We just went at each other all the time and it was fun. And he was really nice. He actually loved my classes too. He would always come to my classes. Well, after that happened, I was like, oh my God, what is that guy going to do? And he avoided me like the plague for a while. I don't think he knew what to think or say. And so finally he came up and he handed me the Stars and Stripes that I was in. Like now I'm actually in this newspaper that I'm reading about don't ask, don't tell repeal and has my name in it and everything. He is like I cut this article out for you. And so we started talking and we just engaged in some of the best conversation and dialogue, you know, I mean, one of the things is that he was just very honest. He said, you know, I just got to tell you, like, I would be uncomfortable if you were in the shower and I was by you. And I said, you know something? I said, that's funny that you say that. I said because do you know that I intentionally wait until I know nobody's ever anywhere near the shower to go. And I do that because I'm uncomfortable, because I'm so afraid that I'm going to make somebody else uncomfortable. And he said I 04:30:00would have never thought in a million years that you were the one that was uncomfortable. And I said, absolutely, I don't want to make anybody feel weird. I go to a shower to get a shower. I'm dirty. I want to get clean. That's what my intent is. That's what my purpose is. And then we started having this really good conversation where he was like, well, I mean, I guess I see that.
SH: But, you know, you can't just help if you're attracted to somebody. I'm likelike, do you understand that attraction doesn't work that way? I'm like, do you walk around thinking about everybody naked or attractiveness like that, like in your life all the time? Maybe he does. I don't know. But I was like, I don't I think that weird, and I said, you know, under your logic, there should never be a male gynecologist, right, because they can't possibly be a professional. That's... And he was like that's so... I never thought of that. He's like, that's so dumb. And it was kind of like those conversations really made him start to think that it's just silly, you know? And then we also had conversations with our chaplain, and that guy just had a mission with me. He was like... Like after he found out, I think he really wanted he felt like it's God's work that I have to talk to this guy. And he brought me books wrapped up in a shirt that basically the books were about how to change yourself. And he was higher ranking than me. And then I'm just a, you know, a little pistol. So it's like I open them up and I look at them and I said, I want you to know that I really like you. And if I didn't like you, I would probably tear your face off for giving me these books. And he said fair enough, fair enough. He said, I'll read whatever you want me to read. He said, I just you know, it's my calling, you know, what I feel. And so then we started to have a really interesting conversations and dialogue. And through my book, I talk about a lot of the things that we talk about. And we just both learned a lot off each other. And he kept his word. He actually bought my book and read every bit of it. And that's hard for him because it's like against his belief system. And he also wrote me 04:32:00back like counterpoints to everything I say in that book, like, it's like he won't give up. It's kind of funny. It's just his personality. But it's just it's just such a funny experience to to talk to somebody like that. And like, one time he called me, he said, Steve, I get it. I finally understand. He said, I have a friend who is married to this woman and she's just a mean person. She's so mean to him. And she yells at him and she treats him terrible. And she's just a mean, mean person. And she even called me fat and she's just mean. And he said so he just came out to me and he said, So I believe you. I don't think that you... I don't think that it's a choice. He said she turned him gay. And I was like, oh my God. I was like, it's so cool that you're trying to branch out your little thoughts. But I was like, you just keep going. Like, but it was just funny because it's just really like... But we just had this really, really... I mean, he's very innocent when he's telling these stories.
SH: But it was like he really believed that stuff, you know. And so even to thisday, he's still writing me about things in that book or whatever. But the dialogue that that's opened up, it's just been incredible. And that's why I tried to capture it in my writing and these stories, because I just think it's so important because you don't ever change anybody. The only way you can change their heart and their mind. And it's by telling your story. And I think that that's what truly changes people. That's what really will get down to their heart and make them understand that they're listening to a human being. You know?
TP: One thing I wanted to ask you. You just mentioned it a little bit. You saidit's kind of I guess as far as politics go, you were maybe a little farther. You were kind of on the left side of things and you felt like a lot like on average the military is a little more on the right. I was just interested to know why it was that you submitted a question to the Republican... 04:34:00
SH: Republican debate.
SH: So let me go back further. So I actually voted for George Bush and I was aRepublican in Upper Sandusky. I think everybody in Upper Sandusky is a Republican and probably... I don't usually talk too much politics because I think that people just change their perception of a human being just by politics, which is sad that we're like that. But fiscally, I think that I'm much more conservative. So I relate to, like the Republican Party a lot more fiscally and the concern for America and our national debt and everything. So I think that... I think probably most Americans are somewhere in between everything, you know, I mean, I don't think anybody really, truly wants to be so far either way. I was so far left when it came to human rights and issues like that. That's where I'm completely in disagreement to any Republican standard about that stuff. But I still relate the other way, you know, fiscally. So I'm kind of in a conundrum of I don't know if I would say I'm independent or whatever, but I just really want to listen to what people say. Why I sent that to the the Republican debate is because there weren't any Democrats that were making it their platform to repeal don't ask, don't tell. And that's why I thought that it was important for me to address to them, like, what if you do become president? What are you going to do? Because it's repealed. Are you going to take it away? What does that mean? You know, Megan Kelly even said to Rick Santorum, what do you do with Steve Hill? Like, what are you do with him? He showed his face, you know, and then that's where you see him start to flail his arms because he doesn't know what to say. And so that's just how much that. That's how much that... It's not like a passion and I thought it's just an emotion that they just want to hate and go with and then not even think through, what does this mean?
SH: I agree with you that, you know. A two party politics gives you two pointsof view on people and what you hear about whatever, but I was it was interesting 04:36:00in picking out your story what... If you maybe had some identification with the party or if it was more just like, well, that was the opportunity that was presented and how that played out?
SH: Yeah, no, it's just a Google. And I don't know if the Republican debatecommittee I don't know who took the question or decided somebody did. And I know it was Google. I mean, honestly, it is a fair question. Even if you're a conservative Republican to say, you know what, what are you going to do? You know, this guy's gay. He's over there serving. And Fox News, of all places, actually had somebody interview Rick Santorum. And he basically kept saying, what what do you mean by close quarters? And he's like, well, they're in close quarters showers. And he's like, are you saying that they're just going to go after people? Like, is that what you think they're going to do? And he's like, I'm not suggesting that. He said it just makes people uncomfortable and recruitment, enrollment, unit cohesion is like you hear that all the time. And the guy said, let me put a quote up for you. And you put this quote up and said, Social experimentation is dangerous and has no place in the military. And he's like, does that sound about right? And he said, yeah, that's right. You know, thinking that it's about this. And he said that quote was from Eugene Householder, attorney general or surgeon general, back in the 40s arguing against integration of races in the military. And you could just see Rick's face like like I don't know what to say, you know? And so, I mean, so many things like that. I mean, so, so many dialogues have been opened up that have just been incredible, that have really opened people's eyes.
TP: I wanted to ask you a couple of questions, looking back over your service,particularly. And given your given how, you know, this one particular incident was played out, I think for you is very interesting. How would you say your 04:38:00military experience has affected you?
SH: Well, I mean, it's affected me in both my coming out story. I mean, I guessthat I don't have a normal coming out. I mean, it's all been part of the military. It really has. It's people say LGBT veterans and they make it sound like you're mixing two groups, but that two groups is me. You know, that's what I've been and what I've grown up with and what I came out with. So I think that it's definitely... I mean, my military service has made me... My military service made me ask that question that day. They were the ones that taught me honor, integrity and courage. And so I think that part of standing up for people and part of being an activist is what I believe in. And I don't know that I would have thought the DOD. I don't know that I would have taken those people to the Supreme Court with my husband. And I don't know that we would have fought that name change. I don't know that we would have done all this stuff. But it's part of my nature as a soldier to say that if you see something that's wrong or something about somebody who is weak, you protect them and you fight for them. And that's what I've learned. And that's my way of life. That's what I've learned for a quarter of a century that I've been doing this.
TP: And you are still serving. You're still in the reserve.
TP: Given that only one percent of our population in the United States servesthe military, that's less than one percent. What do you think people should know about military service, about combat experience, about people who serve?
SH: I think that that it's probably one of the best things that I've ever hadhappen to me in so many ways that it gave me the opportunity to college, which was wonderful. It taught me the diversity that I have. I might be working in a 04:40:00speedway in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, right now, being racist. If if I hadn't opened my world, you know, the military of my world up. When I was deployed the second time, I owed forty eight thousand dollars in student loan debt and I paid every cent of that off while I deployed. So the military gave me the ability to get under this stress of student loans and pay it off. I mean, some people say, well, you had to go to war to get rid of your debt, but it was worth every penny, you know. But it just provided me so many opportunities and so many engagements. And it really I mean, you know, again, I don't ever want to take any credit for anything, but I don't know how much this has affected everything. The national conversation about it. The RNC actually put that in their platform about marriage equality after all this stuff started happening and Joe Biden came out and President Obama came out and it was all right at the time that it was like I kind of injected the gay into politics at that one time. And then it became a really, really, you know, just a like hitting point of politics. And, you know, I mean, I think gay was probably always in politics a little bit, but never like that, because now it was like Republicans were saying they were going to vote for Republicans because of that. And it became such a national conversation about, you know, like gay stuff in politics that it just didn't stop and it cascaded into marriage equality. And, you know, I mean, it just basically ended up like it is now. And so I don't know that I had an effect on it or that it started that. But I'll never not talk because or never not use my voice because we don't know. And I would rather go through life not knowing and just keep plugging away and just live my life happy and end up, you know, maybe 04:42:00someday it'll be in a history book somewhere or somewhere, maybe not. I don't know. But we did recently get the opportunity. It's kind of cool that that the plot beside Leonard Matlovich, the guy that owned it, that was holding it called us and offered for us to buy it. So we decided to buy that plot. So where our story started it will end. So Josh and I got married at this plot beside the soldier's grave. And we're going to go through all this activism and life and just thinking how much has changed in in my life, you know, going from those newspaper articles and all that stuff to marriage equality being the law of the land. And that's all in my one lifetime period, you know, and I'm going to be buried in that site where it all started and ended. Just amazing.
TP: I think the only other thing I would ask is. What did it feel like when DOMAwent down?
SH: I think that when I interviewed on the news, I said for the first time in mylife, I feel like that I'm an American, that that has freedom. And it didn't go. That's the thing that didn't go down. It went partially down. You're like you're like... You'll take whatever you can get. But it really it honestly was just it was completely amazing that this very, very anti-gay law that was passed to basically protect the government from, you know, recognizing marriages because they knew states were recognizing them. It was kind of a catch all to say, hey, no, we're not gonna recognize it federally. And so which caused a lot of problems with taxes or everything else. So it was bad anyway. But for the first time, it's like and, you know, I always tell people this that people don't realize this about the military is that when segregation was, you know, racism 04:44:00and segregation was at its worst, when the military ended segregation in the mid 40s and basically intertwined the forces. Day one, that was the law and that was what they did. And people say that back then they felt more safe on a military base and protected than they did off the military base. And I can say the same thing. When DOMA fell, Ohio did not recognize my marriage. And I that was my talking point on the news. I said I have more protection and freedom on a military base in Ohio than I do in Ohio, in my home state. And so people don't realize that the military is just it's a very professional organization. And when when the law was passed, they follow the law and it's there's no looking back. And they had briefings after after don't ask, don't tell was repealed. And I'll never forget, our first sergeant said, if you've got a problem with this, then you need to leave. He basically said, this is the new rule and, you know, he's not a gay supporter. You just like that's the law. That's our rules. You need to leave. If you if you have a problem with it. And so it's pretty amazing, you know, in my lifetime, what I've gotten to experience.
TP: Is there anything else you'd like to add or anything that you'd like to address?
SH: The only thing that I usually like to tell people is I really like to saytrust the power of your voice. And I always tell people I'll go out and speak and talk about all these stories and say all these things that have happened in our life. And, you know, you never think you're going to sue and win and and get marriage equality and take these people to the C-bus and all that stuff. But I always remind every person that listens to this interview or that listens to me speak in an audience that they... Every single one of them have that power and every single one of them can change the world. And I really try to make people understand that any of us at any time, if we feel something's wrong, we can do 04:46:00that. I went to Philadelphia and I went to the Liberty Bell and I went to all the little sites because I was in army training. And they had a park ranger in congressional hall or Constitution Hall or whatever they call it. And he was showing the branches of government. You know, he probably tolks to school kids all the time. So he's like has his little spiel he's doing. And I was just there alone. He's like, now do you know that there are three branches? And the reason that this happens and the government can't itself checks and balances and it's made so one person can't have too much power. And it's so brilliant the way the system is. And if anybody challenges that, it doesn't matter. It could be you or me. We could take that fight all the way up and change the law. And I said, you know, it's so funny that you say that. I said, I don't know if you remember a year ago that there was a soldier that called in from Iraq who was gay. And I said, that was me. And he turned like pale white, got on the phone and he was funny, like, I've got Rick Santorum's best friend right here. And he was like he was just laughing. And he was like... But he was just so... It was like I took his whole world and actually gave him a living example of everything he preaches every day. And I guarantee all the passion he had it just like it, reengaged it and fired it up because it's like he said it and he probably started to believe it. But then he saw it. And that was just incredible. And he was just so enamored by that. And I just he probably to this day talks about it to the people that come and see him. So that would be my my take home is that it's not about any one of us. It's about what we have the ability to do for other people and change the world. And I think that everybody needs to understand that that power and use it.