Gay model Reichen Lehmkuhl has revealed the perils of the US military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy after documenting the bullying and homophobic remarks he had to deal with while hiding is sexuality in the US Air Force.
The boyfriend of N’Sync’s Lance Bass, was a captain in the Air Force, but had to keep his sexuality secret amongst an ‘institutionalised acceptance of homophobia.’
Lehmkuhl told ABC News that it was always his dream to serve his country but was exposed to homophobic bullying which included a sexual assault, leaving him feeling suicidal.
He said: “There was definitely an institutionalised acceptance of people being homophobic and telling gay jokes and making homophobic remarks, to the point of, ‘Kill gay people.’”
When colleagues began to suspect Lehmkuhl”s sexual orientation, they stripped him and forced him into sexual acts with other cadets, he revealed.
“A bag was put over my head,” he said. “I was stripped of my clothes. I was forced to do things sexually with two other male cadets.”
“That’s when you start having suicidal thoughts, and that’s when you start saying, ‘Oh my God. I am so stuck in this situation. I can’t go to anyone.’”
His story comes as the US prepares to vote on the Military Readiness Enhancement Act next month, a bill to repeal the law and allow gays to serve openly in the armed forces.
He was 16-years-old when he received his nomination from US Congressman Barney Frank for admission to the United States Air Force Academy.
Lehmkuhl graduated in 1996, served five years and attained the rank of Captain before his honourable discharge.
He is now a leading advocate of the Servicemembers Legal Defence Team, opposing the current ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy of the US military.
President Bill Clinton had promised to open the military to gay and lesbian people during his successful 1992 campaign for President, but caved into pressure from the Army – the compromise was the current policy.
It remains illegal to be a member of the US Armed Forces and be gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Since 1993, 11,082 members of the Marines, Navy, Army, Coast Guard and Air Force have been discharged.
Lehmkuhl, speaking about the policy, said: “In my opinion, it’s the last legal human rights abuse the US allows. It’s still a criminal offence to be gay in the US Armed Forces. It’s an abomination.
“This book chronicles the secret society we created to survive as gay cadets in the academy.
“I’m making a political statement. I wrote this book to end the ban on gay people serving in the US Armed Forces… It’s just this one thing that needs to be fixed.”
He hopes his experiences, documented in his new book, Here’s What We’ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and The US Air Force Academy.