In wake of repeal, a look back at how ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ failed Mara Boyd

In an inspired last-ditch effort, a bipartisan group of Washington lawmakers this week succeeded in repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy that has barred gay soldiers from serving openly for the last 17 years.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell reflected a confused transitional moment in U.S. history. It was written by military brass referencing no serious empirical data. It asked soldiers to lie to each other and to their commanding officers. And it resulted in tens of thousands of discharges and hundreds of millions of wasted dollars on education, combat training and legal fees. Even though the policy’s end came too late to prevent the career disasters that befell gay service members such as CU Boulder Air Force ROTC Cadet Mara Boyd, it may have come in time to see many of those careers resurrected.

Boyd joined the collegiate officer training program as a sophomore at CU. She completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and finished in the top 10 percent of the class. She hated being in the closet. She told the Colorado Independent’s Wendy Norris last year that it seemed to go against everything she was putting into her training.

“I was in a state of anguish about not being able to lead by example and have integrity.”

Boyd said she felt tangled up by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She wanted to ask about the policy but felt that to some degree even asking about the policy was a version of telling that she was gay.

“I was starting my third year in the program, [but] we had never discussed [the policy] in depth. One of the Catch 22s is if [you] need to know about the law, [you] can’t go to [your] commander and say, ‘You know, I’d like to discuss Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”

Boyd began to see her career dreams unravel.

“I knew I wouldn’t be able to lie and I wouldn’t be able to cover,” Boyd said. “As the generations pass and as gay and lesbian youth come out and are coming out at younger ages and have better resources, then the lying piece is a lot tougher. Some of the older generation are much more accustomed to having to lie and be closeted and hide that piece in their everyday life.

“I think it’s a burden for everyone no matter what age. It just really ate away at me.”

Norris relates the story of how Boyd’s career ended and how the military asked her to repay $30,000 to the government for the cost of tuition and books.

At the start of her senior year, with just 12 cadets remaining in the original class of 100, Boyd told her commanding officer, then-Lt. Col. George Ballinger, that she was a lesbian. According to Air Force ROTC protocol she was required to write a memo outing herself, an exercise Boyd recalls as “a bit absurd.”

She signed the declaration as the “character development officer,” a position to which her fellow cadets had just nominated her…

Ballinger followed military protocol and launched an investigation that resulted in Boyd’s suspension from the program… According to both Boyd and local news accounts at the time, Ballinger reluctantly pursued the probe, which would take nearly a year to complete.

In June 2003, the highly regarded cadet was drummed out of the officer training program and deemed “unfit for service” because of homosexual conduct. To add insult to injury, the government also demanded she repay her college scholarships and book stipends, now totaling $30,000… for her sophomore and junior years. Despite the efforts of Colorado University administrators and then-Rep. Mark Udall in asking the Air Force ROTC to forgive Boyd’s debt, Brig. Gen. Michael Hankins, who supervised the nationwide programs denied the move. Hankins declined to comment on the matter.

Boyd returned to CU and completed her degree. She’s still paying off the tuition. She told Norris that if DADT were ever repealed she might re-enlist.

“I’ll consider joining up. If the ban is lifted, I will really want to be a part of that transition in the military, to finish a commitment that I didn’t get to finish. I still have that emptiness of not having been able to see it through.

“I’d like to be a part of it as a part of the gay community and also to return to my military family.”

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