Being a gay soldier under "don't ask, don't tell" left damaging effects, says Iraq vet

Veteran and author Rob Smith describes hiding his identity in the Army and his activist work for all LGBT troops

Published September 13, 2017 7:59AM (EDT)

President Donald Trump wants to ban trans people from serving in the military "in any capacity," even though there are already thousands of trans people currently enlisted.

Imagine putting your life on the line for your country, to then be blatantly discriminated against? Iraq War veteran and LGBT activist Rob Smith has lived that experience. In his new book "Confessions of a Don't Ask, Don't Tell Soldier," he describes, through diary-like stories from the field, how he survived deployment as a black, gay man in the Army serving under the policy.

Smith spoke with Salon's Amanda Marcotte on "Salon Talks" about how he endured his tenure in the Army and how his experience motivates his activist work today.

On the dilemmas and hardship of serving under "don't ask, don't tell":

It was living under that tension of if somebody were to find this out, then what's going to happen to my livelihood? What's going to happen to how I eat? How do I pay my bills? What's going to happen to my college education? It can all be gone in a second. And it was really damaging.

It was a very hard and a very intense experience, but it still gave me a lot of the tools that I use to this day to get through my daily life. But it is still very aggressive, very hypermasculine, very homophobic—not exactly the best place for a chubby, black, gay kid to be.

On changing the face of LGBT activism:

The reason why I wrote this book, the reason why I did that activist work, the reason why I continue to speak and lecture and write, is because it's very important to me, as a gay man, but also as a gay black man, to be a face of this. I feel like sometimes if I don't aggressively push myself out there, then the faces generally just become so white and so male and so upperclass, and we're seeing the same thing over and over again. I really wanted to break through that.

Watch the full “Salon Talks” conversation with Rob Smith on Facebook.

Tune into “Salon Talks” daily at noon ET / 9 a.m. PT and 4 p.m. ET /1 p.m. PT, streaming live on Salon and on Facebook.

By Rachel Leah

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