Navy yeoman remembers his time as a gay serviceman in the 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' era
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps's Military Voices Initiative, recording and sharing the stories of service members and their families. This week, we'll hear from Navy Yeoman Jacob Tate. When Yeoman Tate joined the military in 2010, "don't ask, don't tell," a policy that prohibited openly LGBTQ people from serving, was still in effect. He came to StoryCorps with his husband, Carson, to remember.
CARSON PURSIFULL: So what was it like basically deciding to take a job where you had to go back in the closet?
JACOB TATE: I mean, I think you would use the phrase straight-passing. And so I just really didn't talk about my life to a lot of people, and I sort of learned to cope with it.
PURSIFULL: So not a walk in the park?
TATE: Not a walk in the park, but it allowed me to continue to get out of my comfort zone. And God willing, I get to go to sleep and wake up and try it all again. Tomorrow's always a new day. And I'll make it look cute.
PURSIFULL: Yeah. So what was it like dating a civilian who doesn't know anything about the military world?
TATE: You're a naturally inquisitive person, so when we first started dating, it was fun to answer all of your questions that you had. I like that you had such an interest.
PURSIFULL: Don't worry. Those were only the questions that Google couldn't answer. You're in the Navy, but what is it that you do?
TATE: I am a yeoman.
PURSIFULL: What is a yeoman?
TATE: Think of the yeoman as your friendly HR office.
PURSIFULL: You know my grandpa was in the Navy.
PURSIFULL: When I told him that you were a yeoman, he said, oh, they're the people who you have to be best friends with. They control whether your leave gets counted or not.
PURSIFULL: So when we had been dating maybe six months, my dad ended up having a heart attack.
PURSIFULL: You had never met my parents before, and you're standing in the hospital with me. What was going through your mind?
TATE: I just needed to be there for you. I was like, I don't even know where our relationship is going, but I just know right now this is where I need to be and where I'm meant to be. My No. 1 priority was making sure that you were going to be OK. You know, I'm really proud of the fact that we got married because that wasn't something that was always possible. I'm just really proud that I was able to meet a wonderful, caring guy and fall in love with him. We're just always in it together.
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SIMON: Yeoman Jacob Tate, who's been in the military for 12 years, and Carson Pursifull in Washington, D.C. The don't ask, don't tell policy ended in September 2011. Their interview's archived at the American Folklife Center at the U.S. Library of Congress.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.