Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

U.S. Marine Justin Elzie

The military expects its rules to be followed and thus enforces them with an expected lack of compassion. It was January 1993, and the military’s policy at the time was to ban homosexuals from serving in the military. U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Justin Elzie believed that President Clinton would fulfill his campaign promise and succeed in overturning that ban. It was Clinton’s first week as president, and he held a press conference on January 29 announcing a “compromise” policy that came to be known as “Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell.” Sgt. Elzie had earlier decided to come out publicly that same day, before he knew of the DADT policy decision. He learned of the details of the president’s press conference after he had arrived for the previously arranged taping for ABC, which aired that same evening. Elzie, who had served for eleven years as a Marine, came out on ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings on January 29, 1993.

"I thought I had cover," Elzie said. "I thought it was a great chance to have a voice for myself and the tens of thousands of other gay servicemen and women. It was an empowering experience, as well, after living two lives, or sublimating one, for so long."

A Marine-of-the-Year winner, Elzie had been accepted into an early retirement program, but the Marine Corps removed him from that program and discharged him after his announcement. He became the first Marine ever investigated and discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and later reinstated, becoming the first Marine to challenge Don't Ask, Don't Tell with a Federal Court Case and went on to serve four years openly gay. Elzie ultimately won a four-year court battle, however, and was discharged with a $30,000 early retirement bonus. He now lives in Jersey City, NJ and works as an actor and writer in New York City. He is a Progressive Activist on Environmental and Civil Rights issues and a blogger on the Queer NYC blog team.

In his book Playing By the Rules (available in e-reader formats), Elzie describes his journey of self-discovery from his early years growing up on a farm in Wyoming to joining the Marine Corps and finding an underground gay subculture within the military. He was described by his superiors as an exemplary Marine with two meritorious promotions, being named Marine of the Year and having served as an American Embassy Guard. After coming out he was recommended for promotion and served as a Platoon Sergeant in charge of Marines on a ship and in the field. He testified at the Senate Hearings opposite General Schwarzkopf, participated in the MTV show Free Your Mind and was photographed by Richard Avedon for the New Yorker. His story appeared on ABC, CNN, NPR and in The New York Times. His book describes his struggle for acceptance by his parents, the Marines and the realization that “when you play by the rules, there are some things that can’t be taken away from you.”

Seventeen years after DADT was implemented, Justin was interviewed live (video below) on CNN on December 18, 2010, the day the Senate voted for its repeal. President Obama signed the repeal into law on December 22, 2010, and implementation of the repeal took place September 20, 2011.

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