INDEPENDENCE DAY

Born On The 4th Of July: America’s Gay And Lesbian War Heroes

Tracy Thorne-Begland

Though others had made similar realizations before, Navy pilot Tracy Thorne-Begland’s decision to come out about being gay came at the very height of 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. A Circuit Court judge has since appointed Thorne-Begland to the bench to fill an interim vacancy, but his position will be up for review next year.