WASHINGTON — Finding out that 1st Lt. Josh Seefried is gay won’t be a shock to most of his co-workers at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. He has already come out to some of them, and dropped not-so-subtle hints for others.
“You can only bring your ‘roommate’ to so many functions before people start to figure it out,” the 25-year-old Air Force finance officer said.
But now that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law barring openly gay troops from serving in the military has been repealed, even some close friends who know Seefried’s personal life will be stunned to find out that he has an even bigger secret.
For more than a year, Seefried has been using the pseudonym “J.D. Smith” as an organizer with OutServe, speaking on behalf of the group’s 4,000-plus gay active-duty and veteran members.
He has briefed officials at the White House and been a lobbying force within the Pentagon. He has been a regular in the press, including several national TV and radio spots. And he and the other OutServe founders have positioned the group as a critical bridge between closeted troops and the professional military establishment in the months following the repeal.
“I’m living a triple ‘double life,’ I guess,” Seefried said. “When I go into work now, my life will be completely changed. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting. And that’s how it will be for a lot of gay troops.”
He spent four years in the Air Force Academy, quietly allowing only a few close friends in on his secret. He gritted his teeth when other cadets casually dropped anti-gay slurs. He said he was blackmailed and intimidated by a fellow airman who learned of his boyfriend, but had little recourse to solve the problem.
But he also found fellow gay troops who offered support and shared his desire to serve their country, regardless of the law.
Seefried saw himself as a career officer, but before repeal became reality he didn’t think he could last 20 years carrying the weight of a double life.
“One of the things that drew me to the military is that it had such a good family atmosphere,” he said. “But I couldn’t be part of that. I always had to be the single guy looking in from the outside. Now, I’m feeling like I’m connected again.”
Seefried is also one of 101 OutServe members publicly acknowledging this week that they are gay in a special edition of the group’s monthly magazine. Next month, he’ll release a book titled “Our Time,” chronicling stories of gay troops and veterans served in secret before repeal.
And OutServe is hosting a convention in Las Vegas in October to talk about what to expect in the months after repeal, in terms of integration and professional development for gay troops currently serving and potential recruits considering enlisting.
Seefried said the decision by OutServe members to talk publicly about their personal lives is part of a larger effort to show that gay troops are already part of military culture. He notes with concern that even though British forces have allowed gay troops to serve for years, few if any stories exist about openly homosexual members of the Royal Marines.
“That’s not changing the culture,” he said. “That’s what we want to avoid.
“If people know a co-worker who is gay, the idea isn’t as scary anymore. It’s getting people used to the idea that we already serve.”
Those outing themselves in the magazine include an explosive ordnance disposal technician stationed in North Carolina, a lieutenant colonel in Virginia, a drill sergeant in Georgia and a combat medic in New Mexico.
It includes troops from each of the services, representing bases around the globe. And it includes pictures of each person.
New Pentagon rules regarding gays in the military neither encourage or discourage troops from coming out to co-workers. Instead, the policy states that sexual orientation cannot be used as a reason to dismiss troops, and that military personnel are to treat each other with respect, regardless of their personal lives.
But advocacy groups have warned that talking about same-sex relationships to straight troops accustomed to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rules still may be tricky. Seefried admits he was reluctant at first to come out on the day of repeal, because he wanted to wait and see how some peers would react to the larger issue.
“But I felt like I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t,” he said. “We’ve said all along we don’t think that open service will be a distraction or an issue. And I don’t think it will be. So we’re acting on that belief.”
He expects the repeal day to be similar to the Y2K scare in 1999: “A lot of hype, without much to worry about.”
And he expects his own life will soon return to normal, with a few important exceptions. He and his partner — a fellow airman — will continue to attend military functions together, but now without the “roommate” pretense.
“I’m sure I’ll still catch myself saying ‘roommate’ for a while,” he said. “But it’s nice not have to worry about that anymore.”