Though others had made similar realizations before, Navy pilot Tracy Thorne-Begland’s decision to come out came at the very height of the Clinton-era gays-in-the-military debate.
After conferring with a gay veterans group, Thorne-Begland agreed to go on Nightline on May 19, 1992, when he revealed he was a homosexual on national television. The following year, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell—rather than Clinton’s promised repeal—became the law of the land and Thorne-Begland was discharged; twice, actually—first after his TV appearance and again in 1995, when an appeal he filed in Federal Court was denied.
Today Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been demolished, but the forces of intolerance haven’t: When Thorne-Begland, who became an attorney, was nominated for a judgeship in Virginia, homophobic conservatives in the GOP-dominated House of Delegates rejected his bid in a fairly clear instance of bigotry. However, the House has since confirmed Thorne-Begland as the state’s first openly gay judge.