You remember the courageous story of gay Army Private Kyle Lawson who was attacked by a fellow soldier once word of his sexual orientation got around base. Shortly after the initital assault, another soldier, brandishing a knife, threatened Lawson. He’s since been honorably discharged and took the time to speak with Steve Pep about life as an out gay soldier and his new life as a civilian.
Tell us how the soldier who attacked you was punished. What is his current status?
Loss of Phase and extra duty, which means he can’t hang with his friends on the weekend. He must instead work on post – not even a slap on the wrist.
Had you known him before the attack? What was your relationship like with him before?
We were somewhat friendly. We hung out a few times before the party (where the initial attack occurred). He lived next door to me in the dorms.
Your attacker said you provoked the assault by making sexually suggestive remarks? True? If not, what exactly sparked it?
This is a typical response when gays are assaulted. Someone has to answer to the military. Look at the case of Private First Class Barry Winchell. When the guilty soldiers had to answer to their chain of command they used the “he was hitting on me” defense.
We were talking about a girl he had the hots for and I was telling him to go for it. He’d found out earlier that I was gay he told me to get the f**** away from him so I walked over to a group of friends. I was extremely upset, asking what his problem was. He came walking up behind me grabbing me by that shoulder and said “Get the f*** out c*** sucker. I told him to back off and I turned away from him. He grabbed me by the shoulder and said “don’t ignore me you f**** queer.” He then punched me in the face and I fell to the floor.
What was it like for you to be confronted with a knife after the first attack? Was that when you realized you needed to leave the military for fear of your own safety?
Before I was attacked the first time I went to my command and asked if my sexuality would be a problem because I was being harassed and thought something should be done. They assured me that my being gay had nothing to do with being a soldier and I would be perfectly fine as long as I kept it to myself. The same weekend I was attacked, I was moved to another unit where everyone knew why my nose was broken. Everyone there was very accepting of my being in the military and gay. They really didn’t care. Only one person had a problem with my being gay. One day I was in the barracks hanging out and he came up to me, pulled a knife on me and said if I didn’t get out of his barracks he was going to cut me up. I just let it roll off thinking he was just an idiot trying to act bad. He continued making remarks to other soldiers saying he wanted to see me cut up into little pieces. He would even cut his arm saying the blood on the floor was my blood and he couldn’t wait to see more all over (freak maybe he shouldn’t be in the army). So once I heard this I went to my commanded and requested a discharge.
After the jump, Lawson talks about the secret society of gays in the military and his future plans.
Is there a sort of secret support system for closeted gays in the army?
Yes. While in the military, once (other gay) soldiers found out that I was gay too, they came to me asking for support and how they could deal with the sexual harassment. So we created e-mail accounts so those who were still closeted could keep in touch and not have to give away their personal information. I hope to open a web sit very soon, but currently lack the resources.
What advice do you have for gays currently serving in the military?
Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself if you are being harassed. For now keep your secret a secret. If it gets out go to JAG and protect your self and your rights.
Talk a little bit about the homophobia you’ve witnessed in the army?
The only time I ever noticed homophobia was when I was closeted and people made comments about how they didn’t understand why we made this choice. Once I was out to the military I was able to sit and talk to soldiers and explain
what it was like to be gay. Some had never even met a gay person before so they had lots of questions for me.
Have any politicians come forward in support of your plight?
Jim Kolb has been of great assistance and has been very supportive of me. Also, Eric Marcus, a writer of many support books, has come to my aid and Alexander Nicholas from Csll to duty tour which explains the importance of getting rid of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has been a great means of support.
What are your thoughts on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”
I can’t stand it. It puts a wall around soldiers. If you’re going to sit in a foxhole and guard someone’s life, you need to be able to trust them. How can you trust someone who is forced to lie to you?
Will you be working alongside any politicians to make sure things like this don’t happen in the future?
At this time I cannot say but there are a few people who I plan on working with to help prevent this from happening again.
What has been the most difficult thing about returning to civilian life?
Finding a job, and sleep. I can’t get myself out of bed any earlier then 9.
What will you miss most about the army?
Working out every day at 4:30 a.m. It really got you pumped up for the day.
Finally, what are your plans and aspirations for the immediate future? Any long-term goals?
Well, I am going back to Tucson, Arizona. Where I live now there really is no place for a young gay teen to find work or have a very good social life. Plus I will be closer to those soldiers still closeted and I can work with them and be there to assist them. I also want to get into school, study political science and business. I plan on working to rid the army of its anti-gay policies. I know the military is ready for an openly gay soldier. Just because I ran into idiots who have things of their own to deal with doesn’t mean the rest of the military is like that. I’m sure when women first entered the military they where harassed and look where they are now.