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Politics

Gaston County Marine Veteran Advocates For LGBT Equality In North Carolina

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Elyssa Fahndrich
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GASTONIA (AP) — Timothy Caudill’s resume includes four years of active and four years inactive reserve time serving America as a Marine, including a seven-month deployment in the Middle East.

After leaving the Marine Corps in November 2011, the 2005 Forestview High graduate spent time as a staffer for California Democratic U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, working to help veterans like himself get the benefits they earned.

Now back in Gaston County, the 34-year-old Caudill will take on a new challenge as chair of Gaston County Democrats for Equality, a group representing members of the LGBT community related to political, social and equality issues.

“We are here to support the community of Gaston County,” said Caudill. “We want to help make it the best place possible and to heal the community from years of political polarization, not to further the divide.”

LGBT Activism

Caudill jointed the Marines after high school and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — attacks which saw the World Trade Center’s twin towers destroyed and the Pentagon heavily damaged.

“After 9/11 shook all of our lives, I felt that serving my country was far more important than any personal desire,” Caudill said, “so I leaned heavily into the more traditional sense of sexuality. However, part of my identity started to take a toll on my mental health.”

Caudill began volunteering at a LGBT community center after leaving the Marines.

“As years went on, my identity crisis came to a head and surpassed and today I identify as a veteran and as a member of the LGBT community,” he said.

He wants to help the LGBT community, he said, because he remembers the hateful speech he has had to endure, including people telling him to “go to hell” or that he would “die of AIDS.”

Military Life

Caudill had done little traveling and felt his life experiences could fit in a “small bubble” up until he joined the Marines.

“I joined the Marine Corps and I had a ship out date within a month,” he said.

He would be far from his idea of a “small bubble” after being deployed to the Middle East.

“I really liked that I got to meet the King of Jordan (Abdullah II) and got invited to do a multi-country special forces competition,” Caudill said. “It was a super unique experience since 99% of those deployed don’t get to experience things like that.”

But leaving the regimented military life and returning to the daily activities of a civilian proved difficult for Caudill. To him, it felt like being pushed.

“Going from active duty to being a civilian is one of the most challenging things anyone can go through,” he says. “You’re going from a highly socialized environment where everyone is well-behaved and well-trained on a daily basis and the civilian world is a bit psychotic with how people treat each other.”

Life Transition

Caudill was happy to land in a job helping veterans as part of Rep. Peters’ constituent services staff after leaving the military.

“It was eye-opening because I was representing a congressman to Veterans Affairs,” Caudill said. “I did a lot of work with constituents to help them get the benefits that they need.”

Caudill’s focus would change just before he would leave his position helping veterans.

“Two nights before my last day with the fellowship as a staffer, this man randomly tried to stab my friend, but I jumped in the way to protect him,” Caudill said. “I was stabbed nine times. Four muscles were severely damaged or separated. I was on bed rest for three months.”

Instead of becoming bitter about what had happened, Caudill learned something about his attacker. The man who had stabbed him was homeless and on drugs, Caudill said.

“I started speaking out about drug abuse and mental health in the gay community,” he said. “We try to pretend like it isn’t there, but it impacts every area of our community.”

Caudill has degrees in exercise physiology and political science and government from San Diego City and Mesa colleges. He also has a bachelor’s degree from National University in organizational leadership and organizational behavioral studies with an associate’s of arts degree in education from Gaston College.

He now works at Cavendish Brewery.

“It is in my nature to be of service,” Caudill said. “As a gay man and a USMC veteran, it is important to me now more than ever to bring people together.

“I want to participate in this amazing democracy that so many have fought and died for.”

To get involved with the Gaston County Democrats for Equality, email the organization at LGBTGCD@gmail.com.

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