Soldier of Change: From the closet to the forefront of the gay rights movement

Stephen Snyder-Hill
Stephen Snyder-Hill

Stephen Snyder-Hill gained national attention in 2011 when he submitted a question via YouTube to a GOP debate while he served from Iraq. In his question, he asked about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the candidates’ intentions to either uphold its repeal, or reinstate it. Immediately after asking the question, boos could be heard from within the crowd. While the boos came from a handful of people, what spoke even more was that no candidate thanked a currently overseas, in the field soldier for his service. Steve can now can be found by simply searching “booed soldier.”

His memoir, “Soldier of Change,” captures not only the media frenzy that followed the repeal of “Don’Ask, Don’t Tell,” placing Snyder-Hill at the forefront of this modern civil rights movement, but also his twenty-year journey as a gay man in the Army: from self-loathing to self-acceptance to the most important battle of his life — protecting the disenfranchised. Since that time, Snyder-Hill has traveled the country with his husband, giving interviews on major news networks and speaking at universities, community centers, and pride parades, becoming a champion of LGBT equality.

This column is an excerpt from “Soldier of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement” by Stephen Snyder-Hill, by permission of Potomac Books, an Imprint of the University of Nebraska Press.

© 2014 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.

This Looks Like a Gay Dude’s House

The guys in my unit constantly asked about my fictitious girlfriend. They wanted to know if she was hot, how old she was, what she looked like, where she worked, if we were going to get married. At one time I used a picture of an Asian friend of mine who was kissing me while I was playing pool. They even made up a nickname for her, “Miso” (apparently for “me so horny”).

My boyfriend had his own place but stayed with me almost all of the time. One evening my boyfriend and I were in the privacy of my own home, sleeping. My phone rang in the middle of the night. Three of my army buddies were drunk and wanted to stop by to play my arcade game, which I had built from scratch. I told them I didn’t think it was a good idea, but they insisted.

Snyder-Hill-CoverThey said, “We’re on our way,” and then hung up. I panicked. I woke up my boyfriend and asked him to leave. Like we were in a fire drill, we both jumped up out of bed. He quickly got dressed, and I ran around the house hiding pictures of us. I was forced to clean my own house in the middle of the night, thanks to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT).

I felt so bad for my boyfriend. How dirty would it make you feel to be told to leave in the middle of the night? He was a trooper, didn’t even flinch, and went fast so we wouldn’t get caught. This practice of hiding stuff was not uncommon, and I had gotten quite proficient at it.

Right before he got ready to kiss me goodbye and tell me he would see me later, my drunk soldier friends called me again.

They said they had changed their minds and wouldn’t be coming over. That made the whole thing even worse.

“You guys are going to get your asses kicked,” I threatened. “What, did we piss off Miso? Is she mad?” said the snarky voice on the phone.

My boyfriend heard the whole conversation. When I hung up, he said, “It’s best if I just go to my house.” So I went upstairs and cried about the whole situation. I never felt like a bigger piece of shit than I did that night for disrespecting him and living my life like this.

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I really hated my life. I hated living like I was in prison. It was hurting my relationship. And it was all so fucking stupid. Was this a “special privilege”? Was this about sex? I was not asking to have sex in the military. If given the chance of a rebuttal after Mr. Santorum answered my question with his “sex has no place in the military” and “gay people want special privileges” rhetoric, I would have told him that story.

In addition to the drunken drive-by that almost happened, I’ve had several other close calls in the DADT witch hunt. Over the years I had become good friends with a guy in my unit named Troy. While John was deployed, Troy and I palled around together a lot. I always thought that if I would ever come out to anyone in the military, it would be Troy. Then he asked me something that made me rethink this….

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