December 2, 2010
By: Joe Siegel/TRT Reporter
With the ongoing effort to repeal the military’s anti-gay Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the news, The Rainbow Times sat down with two Rhode Island LGBT veterans to discuss their experiences, ordeals when enlisting, and how they feel about the current policy.
Barbara Humma, from Warwick, served in the Navy from 1976 through 1985. Humma was attending nursing school in California when she decided to join. She had uncles who had served in the Navy and “saw it as an opportunity to further my career.”
Humma, who was 22 when she enlisted, knew she was attracted to women. However, she had kept her sexual orientation a secret.
The Navy recruiter asked Humma if she was “homosexual.”
“I said no but I knew I was lying,” Humma recalled. “It bothered me.”
During her time in the Navy, she met many gay officers and went to gay clubs. In those days, people did not discuss their sexual orientation.
“The military is a closed environment,” Humma said. “It wouldn’t have been easier (as a gay man or lesbian) to be out.”
Humma did not encounter a lot of homophobia in the hospital where she worked as a corpsman. Humma conducted physicals and other tests for Marines who were about to ship out for overseas tours. She later became an operating room technician.
Humma remembers hearing about military personnel who were discharged from the service for being gay.
Humma opposes Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and pointed out that other countries allow gays and lesbians to serve openly.
“They’re all equal,” Humma noted.
Humma enjoyed her time in the Navy and feels proud of her service.
“I would do it again,” Humma added.
Tom Koch served in the Air Force from 1984 until 1988. Koch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, so a stint in the military was the chance to provide him with some career guidance. He was only 18 when he and his twin brother enlisted.
“I was happy to join the military,” Koch said.
Koch was unsure of his sexuality at the time and remembers being asked by the recruiter whether he had had sex with another man. He said he “squirmed” at the question and said no.
Koch was assigned to a medical clinic in Oklahoma, where he worked with a doctor who he knew was gay.
“He was very well-respected,” Koch said. “He didn’t go to a lot of effort to appear straight.”
There were other men on the base who Koch suspected were gay as well. However, Koch never heard any homophobic comments.
“I think a lot of people really don’t care” about sexual orientation,” Koch said, explaining military personnel were focused on doing their jobs.
However, Koch did not date women during his four years in the Air Force and had not accepted his own sexuality.
“I was fearful of anyone who was too much like me,” Koch noted.
Koch admits to being angry at President Obama for not doing more to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He wants the discharges of highly qualified gay and lesbian soldiers to stop.
“This is a civil rights issue,” Koch added.