By Nicole Veenstra
Reichen Lehmkuhl first realized he was gay when he was a sophomore at the Air Force Academy, after having an intimate moment with his best friend at the time. But Lehmkuhl’s sexuality remained a secret because of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy.
Lehmkuhl, a gay rights activist, former Air Force Captain and winner of The Amazing Race, currently travels the country educating audiences about what goes on in the military behind closed doors.
On April 15, he shared his experiences with the Rider community. He spoke about DADT and read from his book, Here’s What We’ll Say, about growing up, coming out and being in the military amidst it all.
After Lehmkuhl discovered his sexuality, he formed a group with other gay men at the Academy called “UnderGround.” Since they were not allowed to reveal their sexual orientation to anyone, the men stuck together and lived double lives.
“Whenever we as cadets went out, we had to hide,” he said. “I was completely in the closet during the day.”
Lehmkuhl was in the Air Force for five years before being honorably discharged in the early 2000s.
“I swore that when I got out of the military that I would fight it from the outside. That I would quietly serve my time and then when I got out I would go crazy,” Lehmkuhl said. “And I’ve gone crazy.”
Despite his fire, however, he admits that at first he was a little skeptical about speaking to people about what he went through as a gay man in the military under the DADT policy. That is, until someone told him, “You’re in the public eye now and you have a voice. It is kind of your responsibility.”
This helped him realize that the DADT policy may have initially seemed helpful to gay people in the military when it was enacted by President Clinton in 1993, but has since done nothing to benefit them. More than 14,000 gay men and women have been discharged, or “removed,” under the DADT policy.
Lehmkuhl also discussed what happens when someone is found to be gay in the military. He described it as “humiliating and embarrassing.” The person is taken from his or her room immediately. An investigation of his or her personal belongings follows, along with parental notification and a mental evaluation to see whether or not he or she is able to function in the real world. The disgust Lehmkuhl felt towards the military because of this has inspired him even further to try and make a difference.
Throughout his entire presentation, Lehmkuhl made it obvious just how absurd he thinks DADT is, as well as how badly the politicians have handled it. He also talked about his disappointment in President Obama’s efforts to end the policy, especially after he expressed his negative feelings toward it in several speeches before being elected.
Determined to do all he can to end DADT, Lehmkuhl even wrote a letter to the president.
“I wholeheartedly miss serving my country and cannot seem to grasp the concept that sexuality continues to weigh down more than courage [and] integrity,” he wrote.