LGBT military speaker reflects on serving openly

By Bonnie Koenig DLA Aviation Public Affairs

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As part of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, Defense Logistics Agency Aviation’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity in conjunction with the Business Process Support Directorate’s Special Emphasis Program Committee sponsored a “Brown Bag” luncheon June 15 in the McKeever Auditorium on Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia.

 

Featured guest speaker Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Zachary Corallo spoke on serving openly and how “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” affected his life. Corallo, assigned to DLA Aviation in Richmond in June 2014, serves as an inventory manager with the activity’s Customer Operations Directorate.  He spoke to employees on struggles growing up in Missouri, being one of two gay people attending his high school, family and personal relationships, entering the military, and quietly serving and gaining respect in the military.

 

Corallo entered the military in July 2003, has currently served 13 years, including two major deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism.  Nine of Corallo’s service years were under the umbrella of the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy which he said was a great first step in changing policy for gays in the military, but the policy was also problematic. The Department of Defense repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prohibited homosexuals from serving openly in the military in 2011.

 

Corallo said under the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy he served cautiously by being quiet, observant, and he gained trust by working hard to make himself a respected, valuable and dependable comrade.

 

He said in the military he didn’t have to tell people, they just knew or didn’t care that he was gay.  He said it wasn’t an issue, but he still kept it to himself because even though he gained trust and had professional relationships Corallo always feared that a new person on board ship may be judgmental or if it was revealed, under the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy, he would be forced out of the military. 

 

He said some of the many challenges under the policy were finding trusted friendships, witnessing policy abuses of people getting relieved for being gay or outing themselves to get out of the military, and witnessing straight sailors who abused the policy by saying they were gay just to get out of their service commitment.

 

He said even when the policy was repealed, and his career was somewhat protected, it was difficult to be open because of suspected judgement. He said it is something that comes up on each assignment, but  Corallo said people at DLA Aviation have not shown judgement and have welcomed him and his husband into the DLA Aviation family.

 

Corallo said in 1993, before the policy was implemented, a survey was randomly given to military service members asking if they would be willing to serve with openly gay military personnel. The survey showed 16 percent said yes.  “Fast forward to 2011, the survey was conducted again and this time 75 percent said they would be willing to serve with openly gay military members,” said Corallo.

 

He said during nine years of his military career, he was never able to advocate for his rights and asked, “How can you do that when you are not allowed to talk about being gay under the ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ policy?”

 

Corallo said 12,000 military have been discharged because of the policy and now that the policy has been repealed, the LGBT military can serve without fear of sacrificing their career.

 

He said he is thankful his husband can serve beside him and get the same benefits as any other military spouse. “I am very thankful the ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ policy has been repealed and I am still in my uniform today,” said Corallo.

 

He added it is important to come forward on issues like this, so the rights of the LGBT community can be realized.