2 Sep 2014

The Face of Don't Ask Don't Tell

From Nine To Noon, 10:13 am on 2 September 2014

Stephen Snyder Hil

When the Obama administration repealed the US military Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy, Stephen Snyder-Hill (formerly Stephen Hill) felt safe. As a soldier who was gay he no longer had to worry about losing his job and everything he had worked for if his sexuality was revealed.

The Don't Ask Don't Tell policy barred openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service. It was repealed on September 20th 2011. Stephen Snyder-Hill was serving in Tikrit, Iraq.

However several of candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination were campaigning for the policy to be restored, including Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum.

Stephen Snyder-Hill realised his new found freedom might be short lived, and decided to submit a video question from Tikrit, to a Fox News republican debate. It was a tough decision because it meant coming out on national television.

His question was presented at the live broadcast debate, to Senator Rick Santorum.

"In 2010, when I was deployed to Iraq, I had to lie about who I was, because I am a gay soldier and I didn’t want to lose my job. My question is, under one of your presidencies, do you intend to circumvent the progress that has been made with gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?"

The response was loud boos from the audience. Rick Santorum replied that no matter what, he would reinstate the policy and that soldiers should keep their sexuality to themselves. To that, the audience cheered.

Stephen Snyder-Hill was horrified. "All the thought and preparation and courage to send it, and I was actually booed in front of millions of people on live TV. But rather than feeling anger, I instantly felt shame come over me. What had I done to deserve this?"

That moment thrust Stephen and his husband Josh permanently into the spotlight – and he realised he had a key role to play in fighting for the rights of gay people in the military.

Gay role model

"I never meant to be a gay role model, and I never thought I’d see myself being talked about on TV, in blogs, and as the subject of late-night laughs. But now you can Google “gay soldier booed,” and my face and name pop up all over the place".

Two years later that defining moment at the Republican debate was even the subject of an episode of the HBO Series The Newsroom.

Stephen Snyder-Hill decided to tell his story in his own words, and his book Soldier of Change has just been published by the University of Nebraska Press.

He talks to Kathryn Ryan about his 20-year journey as a gay man in the army and his role at the forefront of the US gay rights movement.