Lee Reinhart, the first openly gay man to re-enlist in Illinois since the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, talks about his discharge, his fight for the repeal and why he's re-enlisting.
Lee Reinhart on Monday will become the first openly gay man to re-enlist in Illinois since the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.
Reinhart served in the Navy for four years before joining the Coast Guard, where he was discharged after four months for being gay.
He said he never hid his sexual orientation during his time with the Navy, but was discharged from the Coast Guard because of an 18-year-old policy banning gay and lesbian soldiers from disclosing their sexual identities.
Last month President Barack Obama and Congress ended Don't Ask Don't Tell, giving many soldiers another chance to serve, including Reinhart.
"It means a great deal to me," he said of his decision to return. "After the events of 9/11, I knew I had something to give back to my country, because I had already served. I knew I had the capabilities of doing that. At that time I was making a career decision, only to have it short-lived within four months."
One Coast Guard commander in particular did not approve of Reinhart, he said.
An investigation began after a pit stop in Portland during a three-month deployment. Reinhart and another male shipmate took some female shipmates to a gay bar, he said, and his companions went back and talked about the great time they had.
"I didn't go with my guards up as much as I did when I first entered the Navy," he said.
Reinhart spoke with legislators while the repeal was being discussed. He talked at length to decision makers about DADT's subjectivity, and how each commander's feelings could greatly differ. Reinhart, for example, had a great experience in the navy.
"It's not like I kept anything secret," he said. "It wasn't like I was in the closet altogether, it just wasn't talked about or discussed."
A re-enlistment party takes place at 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Center on Halsted, at 3656 N. Halsted, second floor.
"Though the years as we worked to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell," Reinhart said, "I never knew for sure if I would actually personally have an opportunity to re-enlist. To have this day for myself, it's quite an honor and I'm very grateful."