In 1998, This LGBT Activist Joined The Navy With Something To Prove | Texas Public Radio

In 1998, This LGBT Activist Joined The Navy With Something To Prove

Aug 10, 2018

In 1998, the "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy was still in effect. This Clinton administration policy was the United States’ official stance on military service by gays, bisexuals, and lesbians, and was not repealed until September 20, 2011. This policy did not deter LGBT activist ­­­­­Joseph "Joedy" Yglesias from enlisting.

In addition to his love for his country and the benefits afforded by the military, one of the main reasons why Yglesias joined the Navy in 1998 was to prove to people that the LGBT community could serve.

Yglesias knew he had the tenacity and intelligence to be able to serve in the Navy. "I wanted to prove to people — not only people in the military but maybe even to myself and to my father — that I could serve in the military honorably," recalled Yglesias.

Although he was confident in his ability to succeed in his new environment, he knew he’d face many challenges as a gay man.

Yglesias remembered getting outed for the first time:

"I was a seaman and this guy was a third-class, and he had been asking me to hang out and stuff. I had no idea he was married; I guess his wife went through his phone and she called the command and they came and asked me about it. I knew what my rights were, so I never admitted to being gay at that point. … I never really messed around with another military guy after that."

The prejudice he experienced in the military was one of the main reasons he felt he needed to keep his guard up.

Some of the most rewarding parts of Yglesias’ career have been when someone he knew was a bigot would come to him and say: "I really didn’t like gay people [and] I had this notion about what you guys were about, but after working with you — you have changed my mind."

"That has happened more than once and it has always stuck with me," said Yglesias.

Recorded on Feb. 12, 2018, in San Antonio, Texas.

[transcript below]

Rebecca Molina: So first of all, when did you join and why?

Joseph "Joedy" Yglesias: I joined the Navy in 1998. There were a lot of reasons why I joined. I obviously love my country, and I certainly considered the benefits that the military afforded and affords people still. But one of the main reasons why I joined was because of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and I was keenly aware of President Clinton's change in the policy. At the time I was a, I considered myself, an LGBT activist. A lot of activists were disappointed with the policy, and I felt like President Clinton did what he could do at the time with the political climate that was there. It was a crack in the wall. Once I understood the policy, I felt like I had the tenacity and intelligence to be able to enlist in the Navy. I wanted to prove to people — not only people in the military but maybe even to myself and to my father — that I could serve in the military honorably. That's why I joined and when.

Molina: So when you joined with these intentions, did it go the way you thought it was going to go?

Yglesias: I certainly expected to be able to be successful but I also expected there to be challenges. Right off the bat, as soon as I got to my first command, I got my first outing. It was not one that I wanted. I was a seaman and this guy was a third-class, and he had been just asking me to hang out and stuff. I had no idea he was married; I guess his wife went through his phone and she called the command and they came and asked me about it. I knew what my rights were so I never admitted to being gay at that point. But it helped me to understand the gravity of the situations that I could get myself in, and I never really messed around with another military guy after that. At that time, I worked at the Pentagon and I was barely a seaman and I was scared to death of what was going to happen to me. But nothing really happened. I was fortunate enough to work around a lot of intelligent people who, I felt, had my back as far as the LBGT issue went. Later on, you know in my career, there are several times that I came across prejudice and bigotry. I can say that the most rewarding part of my career has been when someone who I knew was a bigot would come to me at the end of my tour duty and say: "hey, you know, I really did not like gay people or I had this notion about what you guys were about, and after working with you, you have changed my mind." That has happened more than once and it has always stuck with me.