By Huong T. Nguyen
NCLR Guest Columnist
Whoa! That’s my life, not news. Don’t print it.
But the school newspaper reporter argues: “We’re going to, with or without your consent. Your story is important to the debate about ROTC’s presence on campus in view of the school’s nondiscrimination policy.”
Okay, I’ll give you the story, but I need some time to tell my family first.
How can I tell my Vietnamese family that their daughter is gay AND an utter failure? One or the other would be hard enough. But both? At the same time? And, to do so using vocabulary of a 6 year old? That sounds like a bad Asian-American afternoon special.
Eight months ago, I had a career, a scholarship, and a dream. I had a family of fellow soldiers who I admired and respected. Almost every morning, I woke at the crack of dawn to train with them and on most nights went to sleep thinking about how to do it better the next day. I had a sense of purpose, belonging, and a mission in life.
Today, I am lost. I have none of those things. No scholarship. No way to pay for tuition. No way to go to school. All I have now is the looming threat of repaying the scholarship money I received so far and, the risk of a dishonorable discharge—a scarlet letter that would forever stain my career. All this because I told the truth.
But what I didn’t expected is how much I miss my military family, and simply being a soldier. You see, I left the ROTC program abruptly. One day, I was in line to lead the cadet battalion. The next day, I was gone, with no explanation. My fellow cadets did not reach out to me because they apparently didn’t know what had happened. I, ashamed and hurt, did not contact them.
The school newspaper story is printed, causing a media crush, with TV, radio and print all wanting a little piece of my story. I just want to tell them, “All you want is a punchy three-second sound bite, but I’m no poster child for any cause. I don’t want to sue the military or kick ROTC off campus. All I want is to crawl under a rock with the girl and listen to Morrissey until my fate is decided.”
There is a silver lining to all this madness, though. It’s the discovery that my fellow cadets have not abandoned me after all. This touches me deeply, and makes my burden so much more bearable. Soldiers, serious about their commitment, know that casualties are inevitable in any war. They also know that it’s vitally important to conduct themselves with integrity and honor in the midst of chaos. And, they know to never leave a fallen comrade behind.
One letter to the school newspaper stands out.
I have seen letters and statements from many different groups concerning Huong Nguyen’s suspension from UCLA’s ROTC due to her bisexuality. As a fourth-year ROTC cadet, I’d like to add my opinion to the pile.
I support Nguyen in her bid to remain in UCLA’s ROTC program and be commissioned as an Army officer. I was a friend of Nguyen and trained with her last year up until she left the program, and would have written this letter last May had I known the true reason for her departure.
Nguyen took seriously the military officer’s commitment to personal integrity and made her sexual orientation known in keeping with that commitment—rather than be dishonest about her off-duty lifestyle. Everyone I have talked to in ROTC respects Nguyen for her leadership abilities, dedication and military competence and would welcome her back if she wins reinstatement to the program.
I want to say further that I personally support not only Nguyen, but all Americans denied the chance to serve in defense of their country because of their sexual orientation.
I don’t stand to lose my commission for having a girlfriend or for being seen with her; there’s no reason gays should have to conceal their social lives to avoid discharge from the military.
I have known several gay men and women in six years of active Army duty (and I’m sure I knew many more who didn’t choose to tell me), and I never noticed that they were any more or less competent and trustworthy than anyone else.
I agree with Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who said that a soldier has to shoot straight, not be straight.
Good luck, Huong. I’d be honored and fortunate to serve alongside you in uniform one day.
NCLR Guest Columnist Huong T. Nguyen has shared her military dismissal under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” through her weekly diary blog series. Read Part One: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way, Part Two: Light Bulb, Part Three: A New Identity, Part Four: The Education of Private Nguyen, Part Five: The Girl, Part Six: No Air, Part Seven: The Truth Will Set You Free, Part Eight: The Trial, Part Nine: The Story, Part 10: There’s A Place For Us, Part 11: The Repeal: No One Left Behind,and Finale: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: In the Olden Days.
Nguyen is an attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she resides with her wife and two children.