Soldier Faces Uncertain Future After DADT Repeal
To hide his sexuality, Parri Litton, 27, goes alone to Army social functions, leaving behind family members who know that he’s gay. “I keep my military life separate from my personal life,” said Litton, an intelligence specialist serving in the United States Army Reserves in Queens. In his personal life, he is an openly gay man who volunteers on the community advisory board of the New York City Blood Center’s HIV Vaccine Trials Unit. In the military, he is a soldier who has lived in fear under the policy known as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” which restricts gay men and women from serving openly in the military.
Since enlisting in December 2003, Litton has witnessed discrimination in the military based on sexual orientation. He recalled how his best friend in the military, a lesbian, faced harassment for her sexual identity and appearance. As a result, she often ate lunch alone while on duty, refusing to interact with other soldiers in her company. “It really hurts because she doesn’t feel like she’s a part of her unit,” Litton said. “Other women would ask [her], ‘Why are you so butch?’”
On December 22, 2010, President Obama repealed DADT. Over 13,000 gay and lesbian service members have been discharged since DADT was introduced in 1993, with 261 discharges in 2010 alone. For gay soldiers like Litton, the move left uncertainties about their future in the armed forces.
The Pentagon released their plan for the implementation of the DADT repeal on January 28, with a target date for the process to be complete by fall of 2011. The plan calls for a redevelopment of protocol in the armed forces regarding sexual harassment polices as well as sensitivity training.
According to Litton, the Army provides educational training to soldiers on drug awareness, sexual harassment, racism, and other social issues every year. “In mid-February, a higher-up came to the barracks to talk about how everyone has to have the [DADT repeal] training by August 1. The [military’s] governing rules now are going to be changed because of DADT, rules that were put in place within the military that discriminate against gays,” he added.
Litton’s eight-year contract with the U.S. Army Reserves ends this December. “I went into the U.S. Army because of the job they offered,” he said. “The incentives at that time were pretty good; they pay for school, and it gives you options for financial employment.”
As an intelligence specialist, Litton is trained to work with civilian populations gathering information, providing necessary resources, and creating strategic allies. But as a gay man, he has had to wait seven years to serve his country openly and without fear of reprimand.
Litton knows what it’s like to have his sexual identity questioned and scrutinized. “When I was a teenager, I knew I was gay,” he said. “My family would guess but they didn’t know for sure.”
Litton’s sexuality was revealed to his family one Thanksgiving dinner by a cousin he confided in. At first his mother, Nancy James, had reservations about his sexual identity.
“My mother is not a very abrasive person,” Litton said. “She understood and accepted me, but I don’t think she would have chosen this for me.”
She eventually learned to accept her son’s sexual orientation, but is concerned about his well-being as a gay man in the military.
“I worry about how he’s going to be treated when he’s over there,” James said. “People are very ignorant and he needs to just be able to do his job.”
Litton is not sure whether repealing DADT is a good idea. However, he supports the repeal if it means he can keep his job. Experience has led him to believe that it’s not policy that has to change, but rather the mentality of the U.S. military as a whole.
“It’s going to take time for military personnel to be accepting of gays and lesbians,” Litton said. “Just like it took time for people to accept blacks and women in the military. This is just the process of evolving.”