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War Stories: Booed gay soldier chronicles life in the closet to gay rights activist

Friday, December 6, 2013
Joshua and Stephen Snyder-Hill

Joshua and Stephen Snyder-Hill

When Stephen Snyder-Hill and his U.S. Army unit were taking fire during the 1991 war in Iraq, the then-18-year-old private glanced down at a picture he carried of his brother with a girlfriend.

“I decided if I died that day, I would never have loved somebody,” he said.

The realization began a journey of self-acceptance, coming out, reconciling religious beliefs, standing up for himself and fellow LGBT service members, and fighting for marriage equality.

And, famously, it led to boos from Republican presidential-debate-goers that gave him a platform for his advocacy.

Snyder-Hill, now a married, 43-year-old U.S. Army Reserve major who lives with his husband in Columbus, will tell his story in a book to be published next year.

snyder-hill-book-cover“Soldier of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement” is about his experiences coming out, serving in the military under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, fighting to change Pentagon policies even after its repeal, and becoming a gay activist.

Snyder-Hill was thrust into the national spotlight in September 2011 when he asked debating Republican presidential candidates via YouTube whether they wanted to reinstate the military’s just-ended ban on openly gay service members. He was serving in Iraq at the time, but he was booed loudly. And not one GOP candidate — there were nine running at the time — stood up for a gay man who was serving his country in a war zone.

Sadly, it wasn’t the first time Snyder-Hill felt that disrespect.

Back when he was a student at Ohio State University in the mid-1990s, a letter in the campus paper joked that gay people headed to a protest march in Washington made it less likely anyone in Columbus would get AIDS that weekend. Snyder-Hill wrote his own letter telling the homophobe how he fought for his right to share that thought.

During his flight to Iraq, he recalled, one of his fellow soldiers made an anti-gay wisecrack.

“When I started … one of my friends had said, ‘You should be writing this down,’” Snyder-Hill said. “I thought of all the things that pushed me to the point of asking that question.”

Before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and the Department of Defense extended family benefits to LGBT service members, Snyder-Hill and his husband, Joshua, sued the Pentagon over its unequal treatment. They also are co-chairs of Freedom Ohio’s effort to overturn Ohio’s 2004 marriage ban.

The couple were grand marshals of Columbus’s Pride parade this past June and hosted a bus trip to Washington, D.C., for couples to get married on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Snyder-Hill said he began writing Soldier of Change while serving in Iraq and finished it after returning home to Columbus. It will be published by Potomac Books, which specializes in military-related subjects.

The forward to the book will be written by actor, activist and social-media maven George Takei.

© Outlook Columbus. An LGBTQ Nation media partner.
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50 more reader comments:

  1. Fight on

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 4:03pm
  2. I want this book.

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 4:15pm
  3. A wonderful inspiring story

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 4:17pm
  4. There’s a saying, “There’s no atheists in foxholes.” There should be no homophobes either. Every human is a sacred creation & should be honored as such.

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 4:19pm
  5. Well, in the middle of combat, with bullets flying and everything, you still have to fear a gay guy raping you, because that's what their lifestyle is about.

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 4:55pm
  6. That is ignorant bullshit, and may indicate imagined desirability to boot.

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:07pm
  7. I think Kurenai was being facetious. At least, I took it as satire.

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:26pm
  8. Congrats and May Great Spirit Bless you and yours this Holiday Season…Thanks for serving and standing up for us ALL. Peace, Redbird

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 4:19pm
  9. If he was 18 in 1991 he would not be 43 now! Just saying. An impressive story and I look forward to the book and thank you for your service to our country!

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 4:41pm
  10. Anyone that boos an American soldier needs to get their sorry ass out of America!

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 4:53pm
  11. BOOOOOOOOO!!! He is not a real soldier. He is making a mockery out of our military. He is making us look unprofessional and weak. The MEN in my family are all real soldiers.

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 4:54pm
  12. Yes, because people who love who they truly love is mocking the Military. Because sexuality determines if someone is weak and unprofessional. Michele Hawker is trying too hard. #basicbitch

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:06pm
  13. Michele Hawker, aww I'm sorry that you believe that gay men are any less heroic in a false war than straight men because they happen to biologically disposed to sexually like those of the same gender, how is it to be brainwashed into being a bigot?

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:12pm
  14. What the fuck?? because they are gay they are not real soldiers shut the fuck up you selfish man!! what the hell has loving someone got to do with being a real solider! they are giving there time and risking there life to make sure you sleep safely in your bed at night. god forbid you need saving one day by a 'weak' solider! you are the one making a mockery out go the military with your discrimination!! its people like who who start war's in the 1st place. you cannot help who you love.

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:21pm
  15. And how long did you serve Michelle Hawker? Let me help you out here..if you DID serve your country..then you are a traitor to your military brothers and sisters for that comment and should know better, if you NEVER served, then STFU, either way you are a bigoted stupid unpatriotic bitch, period!

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:32pm
  16. ROFLMAO, I am right so you resort to name calling and diversion tactics. Just too funny. TY for proving my point, and for the laugh.

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:44pm
  17. Michele, I hope that when you finally come out of the closet, people are kinder to you than you have been to others. To everyone else: people with this kind of hate in their hearts are often struggling with their own sexuality. Pity her, do not return the hate.

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 8:09pm
  18. Michele, I would really like to know why you hate gays (and please don't quote the bible) Do you KNOW a gay person? And what will you do if someone in your family turns out to be gay? Kick him/her out?

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 8:44pm
  19. Michele , yea uhuh... dumb @ss..

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 10:10pm
  20. one more thing... BOO to you, and your 'men' whatever brother ... if he stands in the same position as you that is... if sexuality defines strength, then there is something really wrong with that.

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 10:11pm
  21. So Michele . Implying gay me aren't real men proves you are a hypocrite , or are you justifying your implication while pointing fingers at people calling you names ?

    Replied on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 12:47am
  22. It's honestly a sham,e people like Michele exist. Given the fact these men and women sacrifice themselves for us regardless of sexual orientation is enough for me to give them nothing but respect. Michele go ahead an move to Russia. You will fit in better with the rest of the biggots and Anti-Americans there

    Replied on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 1:36am
  23. Get out of the military. Go back into the closet and play house on your own time. Quit bringing down out military.

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 4:55pm
  24. Why don't you get the hell out of the country you worthless pos! They fought which is (I'm betting on it!) is more than you have ever done!

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:36pm
  25. I am German and know a lot of great American servicemen and their families. While I think that Michele Hawker's comments don't make a lot of sense I do believe that name-calling isn't helpful. What I would like to know though is this: why is she afraid of gays? (Looking at the USA from across the big puddle I do wonder sometimes what makes people so homophobic)

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 8:16pm
  26. Who let these hicks comment on here?

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:00pm
  27. Bravo!

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:03pm
  28. good for him!

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:04pm
  29. I’m active military, straight, and would proudly die defending equal rights wether they’re military or not!

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:05pm
  30. Michele you are a sick bitch. Any man or woman who serves this country is a true American. He Unlike YOU who sit in your cushy little bigoted self serving home. Fought in a war to protect your freedom and you have the nerve to call him unprofessional and weak.
    Just how many wars and bullets have you taken to defend this world!
    You are a disgrace to this country! Now pack you Gucci Bags and get the hell out of this country.

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:12pm
  31. I'll help her pack the worthless (would love to insert the C word here, but won't simply because she's ignorant!).

    Replied on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:35pm
  32. way to go Stephen!!!

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:43pm
  33. Courage comes in many ways. Thank you for your courage on 2 fronts. Proud you are an American.

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:57pm
  34. Michele you are a stupid CUNT

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 7:12pm
  35. God Bless you and Thank you for your service

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 7:37pm
  36. Live & B you. You have mire family then you know. Thank you for your bravery. <3

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 7:59pm
  37. Respect <3

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 9:25pm
  38. Great article. However the nonstop running ads in the side bar babbling at me make me not want to bother reading news blurbs from LBBTQ Nation any more.

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 9:25pm
  39. Regardless of sexuality a soldier is a soldier. The pride of our nation. Where gay and straight people fight for the freedoms that are given to you. Given to you so that you can sit down on facebook everyday. So that you can sit around your house and watch TV and talk to your family every day. They are over there risking there lives everyday, they are shot at. They aren’t afraid of getting a nail broken, or there phone dropped on the floor. Their afraid of getting an arm or leg blown off, possible even both. They are the courage of our nation, the pillar that keeps our nation standing. Just because one’s gay doesn’t mean that he’ any less of a hero for our nation. Learn respect for the men and women, gay and straight, and men of many races give to you so that you can live a happy life.

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 10:08pm
  40. I hope there aren’t too many more people rude as @ michele lol… Logic : sexuality = strength… fail…

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 10:16pm
  41. @Michele hawker.. U are ignorant.. And that’s not name calling simply a fact.

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 10:20pm
  42. Michele, leave this planet, quit bringing down our species.
    Do you realize how stupid you actually sound? Pretty sad really….

    Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 10:43pm
  43. Michelle, which ugly lady on the picture are you?

    Posted on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 12:34am
  44. Way to go, bro. Kudos for your courage, especially here in ohio. We need you.

    Posted on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 1:33am
  45. :D

    Posted on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 2:35am
  46. Michele, I’m active duty Navy and openly bisexual. I’m also very well liked and respected amongst my peers. Do tell me how I’m making our nation’s military weaker. Do tell how you think you know what we in the military and the LGBT community are all about. Don’t you dare tell me that the men in your family are real Soldiers. You have no idea what a real Soldier is, and you have no right whatsoever to speak about our military that you are not a part of. People like you are becoming the minority in this country, and you sound like fools every time you speak. You judge us as if we are worthless and not fit to live as equal members of society. I’ve spent the past five years of my life serving my country, and I’m in the process of reenlisting for another six years. I have more than earned the right to be a full and equal citizen. And I proudly wear the uniform so that ALL my fellow Americans can have that right. Freedom is what this country is all about, and if you have a problem with that concept, then it is YOU who is un-American and making us weaker. People like Stephen Snyder-Hill and Kristin Beck are indeed real heroes who exemplify exactly what it means to serve. Michele, if you have a problem with the LGBT community, then I kindly invite you to leave this country. I’m sure there’s a nice little corner of Antarctica that would be perfect for you.

    Posted on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 2:53am
  47. those sorry asses who booed–go sign up

    Posted on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 4:00am
  48. Can’t fix stupid. This young man served for people he doesn’t even know! He was a soldier. God bless his love for America, they sure don’t love him. A change is needed in our country! Stop Hating!! Its a sin too!!

    Posted on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 5:35pm
  49. cant wait to read it.

    Posted on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 6:20pm
  50. Wth!!! You boooo someone who served for your continued FREEDOM. GET THE FUCK OUT!!! Disgraceful!!!!

    Posted on Saturday, December 7, 2013 at 6:30pm