Except that if someone asks or he decides to tell, Hackbarth can finally talk freely about his significant other. They’ve been together for nine years — and his name is Mike.
After almost 18 years, the Pentagon on Tuesday plans to formally repeal the ban on gays in uniform, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” permitting troops for the first time to publicly reveal that they’re gay without fear of official retribution. Enlistees who tell military recruiters, or troops discharged under the ban who are eager to reenlist, will be eligible to join up if they are qualified. And the Defense Department says it will have zero tolerance for anti-gay behavior, as it does for religious, racial and gender discrimination.
For Hackbarth, 44, Tuesday’s repeal presents some long-awaited opportunities. First, he can finally tell one of his male coworkers the real reason why he wants him to stop making gay jokes.
“It’ll be an eye opener for him, when I can turn to him and say, look, this is the situation and I don’t appreciate any of it,” Hackbarth said.
He can also stop playing what gay troops call “the pronoun game,” or referring to a fictitious “she” or “her” in his life.
Hackbarth’s 22-year military career almost ended in 1996 when an angry former boyfriend threatened to out him to commanders.
When the Department of Defense officially repeals the ban on Tuesday some servicemen and women may choose to draw attention to themselves, but many may not. As Ed O’Keefe explained:
Dozens of conversations with gay rights advocates and current and former troops suggest that they’re not expecting a wave of “coming out” announcements or gestures by active-duty or reserve troops. Some troops and activists said, however, that at least a few service members are likely to use “Repeal Day” as a way to draw attention to themselves.
Some troops started celebrating the change in policy over the weekend. According to one soldier who e-mailed from Kuwait after ending a tour of duty in Iraq, “We fully expect to see an official repeal come in time for our landing in the United States.”
The soldier, who asked that he not be identified publicly before the ban’s official end, said he celebrated the impending change with his new boyfriend, who is also a soldier, by drinking non-alcoholic champagne bought from a Starbucks at Kuwait’s Camp Virginia.
“There’s actually quite a few conversations about it here and there,” the soldier said.
As far as coming out publicly, “I’m not planning on anything flashy,” he said. “I don’t plan on letting a lot of people know, as I still want to keep that part of my life personal.”