Submarines, G-d and ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’

As someone who was discharged before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was law, I have an axe to grind with those who claim gays and lesbians can’t control themselves in any environment. I served onboard submarines as evidenced by my poem, “Sub Sailor’s Views on Glasnost,” that is featured in a Smithsonian’s museum exhibit on submarine duty in the Cold War.

I believe the most poignant part of my story is I was ordered by my executive officer to be the Protestant Lay Reader, or “volunteer preacher,” on the submarine while we were on patrol in the North Atlantic. My journey to become the preacher was circuitous because, although I had offered to play the keyboards for the services, I did not want to be the protestant pastor. I was worried I might some day be discovered as being gay, and I didn’t want my judgment or motivations called into question when it came to any controversy as to whether or not I should have been preaching. Don’t get me wrong, I had come to terms with my sexual orientation with my G-d, but I knew the military’s stand, and most Christian theology back then had not evolved to where it is today. Even now, of course, being gay is still incompatible with Christianity with all but the most progressive of Christian denominations. Fortunately, I belong to several open and affirming churches through the United Church of Christ and Episcopalian faith, so I’m still deeply involved in my faith. Of course, I could not tell my executive officer I thought I might be gay, so my excuse, “I think I party too much…” was a non-starter. He told me if I could not find anyone else to preach then I would be it. That is how it is done in the military. You are ordered to do something and you do it.

I asked every protestant onboard the submarine if they would preach and was denied by all of them. The Saturday before our first service I could barely sleep, and that is unusual on a submarine where they work you to death. I spent a lot of that night in prayer, and had a dream that G-d wanted me to preach, and I announced in the dream, “Here I am!” and I became the ship’s Protestant Lay Reader.

This issue is so much bigger than me, but I do think it’s important for all of us who are gay and lesbian who have worn the uniform to tell our unique stories and the different ways we served our country. One day the military will look back and wonder why some were so bigoted and foolish when it came to integrating our military. In my case, I believe it is important to note for those people who have a big problem with “the gays” serving in the military for religious reasons that if it had not been for a gay man, there would not have been Protestant services onboard our submarine and we would not have been praising G-d from the depths of the ocean.

Of course, I’m sure those who were sleeping safely in their beds that morning I answered that call were unaware, but my G-d noticed my willingness when I had asked every single protestant onboard to be the Protestant Lay Reader and they would not do it. A gay man was the only one willing to step up and serve Him in the capacity of my submarine’s Protestant Lay Reader. It doesn’t matter what my sexual orientation happened to be, but no one can ever take my service as Protestant Lay Reader away from me. I earned it by default, yes, but I earned it. Of course, it was no picnic for me, either, but I did it because I was not going to just walk away after making that dramatic commitment in that dream of mine! Besides, the XO had ordered me and next to G-d, I didn’t want him chewing me out, either.

Finally, when I was eventually outed, I was approached by so many of my shipmates on my submarine and each one of them told me, “Petty Officer Beauchamp, if you are what it means to ‘be gay’ then I have no problem serving with you.” My commanding officer also wrote me a very nice letter about my service wishing me well. I then understood what the military is realizing today, and that is the only thing that prevents the successful integration of gays and lesbians in the military is a homophobic demand to force our troops and sailors to lie about an integral part of who they are as human beings.

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  • wcraigreed

    One of my best friends (not to mention my first boss) on my first submarine was gay. I didn’t know until years into my tour. Having served as a submariner and navy diver on two boats during the Cold War, I learned to accept everyone as a comrade no matter their rank, religion, beliefs or lifestyle. Anyone who earned a set of dolphins by qualifying as a submariner deserves my respect, regardless of whether I agree with their opinions or philosophies, be they political or sexual. It’s not my place to judge or scorn, and if one does have a belief in God, hiding behind one’s religion to inflict scorn and cruelity doesn’t seem to fit with any interpretation of the Bible I know of. That said, I’ve always found it prudent not to share intimate details about my beliefs with those that are not close friends, and to maintain a cordial and professional relationship with those I work with. But that’s just me. You can read more about this topic in my new book: Red November, Inside the Secret U.S. – Soviet Submarine War.

  • NomadBear

    Thanks for explaining that. I was just wondering if there was some convention on here that I hadn’t noticed before. I agree that God/G-d can present and be called whatever God/G-d wants. And we are all free to choose if we believe, how we believe, and in what/whom we believe. And if we do believe, what we call the one (perhaps our God/G-d) we believe in.
    Thanks again. :)

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ cowboyneok

    I write “God” as “G-d” because I prefer to write it that way as a sign that I realize “God” can be whoever or whatever G-d wants to be. I do not define “G-d” I chose to write “Him” in that instance because I wanted to refer to God that way in that instance. That does not mean I think G-d has a sex because I don’t see it that way. I just preferred to write it that way… It is simply something personal with me and you are welcome to believe any way you want in your own particular journey. ;)

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ cowboyneok

    finish my quote “with all but the most progressive of Christian denominations.”

  • nicho

    Even now, of course, being gay is still incompatible with Christianity

    That’s not true. Some preachers say it is, but I don’t find them particularly Christian to begin with.

    Being gay may be incompatible with the doctrines of some denominations who call themselves “Christian,” but not everyone who calls themselves a Christian really is.

    There is no incompatibility between the authentic teachings of Jesus or the authentic writings of Paul and being gay. None. Even then, most of the famous references to “homosexuality” in the NT are gross mistranslations — because there is no word for “homosexual” in biblical Greek. They didn’t even have the concept — so there is no word for it. Anyone who shows you a bible with the word “homosexual” in it has a very very faulty translation. (For the record, I can’t think of one English translation of the bible worth the money to pay for it. Even the King James version has over 30,000 known mistranslations.)

  • http://insideoutandbackwards.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/creepy-clown-nun.jpg Ritorna Vincitor

    Yes, Pete, in order to keep his photo on the wall of my cell I had to photoshop out the flag and put in a backdrop of our motherhouse cloister at Saint Néant Ennuyeux.

  • NomadBear

    Very sorry, folks. New to commenting, but why is the word “God” written as “G-d?” Am I missing something?
    This beautiful and moving post included the full word “Him” which is a synonym for God, so I’m even more curious.
    Sorry for my taking this discussion off track, just curious. Please inform me.
    And, not to be politically correct but because I mean it, thank you for your service Timothy.
    Ken

  • PeteWa

    wow am I ever glad I came back to this thread!

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ cowboyneok

    hysterical.

  • Butch1

    Yes, I thought that approach hit home. How can a person have honor when they are forced to live a lie?!

  • Butch1

    Ditto!

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ cowboyneok

    I truly hope so.

  • http://insideoutandbackwards.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/creepy-clown-nun.jpg Ritorna Vincitor

    Oh don’t say that, Cowboy. Now I have to get down on my face in front of my sisters during tomorrow’s Chapter of Faults and denounce myself for engaging in a special friendship. You have no idea how strict our Order is. My knees are still raw from scrubbing floors the time Mother Abbes caught me whispering to your photo in your sailor’s cap during Grand Silence. The only reason my penance didn’t include scrubbing pots was because I told Her Reverence that your uniform was actually a habit and that you belong to a very butch Order from Marseille. If anyone asks, your name is Soeur Gouine Hommasse.

  • Jimmy D Johnson

    I was told once, “Everyone knows your gay” and I freaked out. It was and old retired Sgt. Major. The he said, “but no one cares”. I’ve thought of that for many years now.

  • oddfellow69

    You are a true minister of the good news as Christ presented it.

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ cowboyneok

    I was so impressed with Admiral Mullen and his rightly stating it is a matter of integrity. To force soldiers or sailors to LIE but then demand they be brutally honest about everything else was just a ridiculous and morally and ethically wrong policy.

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ cowboyneok

    “We sincerely doubt that William Kristol of The Weekly Standard or the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon personally know ANY enlisted servicemembers”

    Ya know, if they do know some, they:

    A. Are so ideologically in tune with them that they wouldn’t like any gay or lesbian no matter who or what they represented.
    B. Are homophobes and struggling with their own issues
    C. Probably don’t care or already know someone who is gay in the military and don’t understand what the big deal is.

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ cowboyneok

    LOL! dirty mind! LOL!

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ cowboyneok

    Thanks Pete.

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ cowboyneok

    Mwah! xoxo

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ cowboyneok

    Butch… ;)

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ cowboyneok

    Thanks, hon. You know I love ya.

  • http://insideoutandbackwards.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/creepy-clown-nun.jpg Ritorna Vincitor

    Yes indeed, as do we. Our Timothy is really something.

  • Keith

    Amen! Repealing DADT will make our military stronger…not weaker. I don’t think the military will see a big change like they think they will. For many it will be a non factor, but the homophobes will finally be forced to act professionally for once, and they don’t like that. They like spewing hateful things like queer and faggot, but that will have to stop and that pisses them off. It’s long overdue, the bigots can’t work for any big company and get away with that, and it damn well shouldn’t be allowed in a professional military.

  • http://thecrustybastard.blogspot.com/ the crustybastard

    Clergy do more than lay people.

    /sorry.

  • http://operationyellowelephant.blogspot.com/ Operation Yellow Elephant

    Tim, thank you for your service, for doing the right thing and for sharing your story with America.

    We sincerely doubt that William Kristol of The Weekly Standard or the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon personally know ANY enlisted servicemembers

  • Butch1

    Jonah would have approved. ;-)

  • Butch1

    Well said, Tim. I wonder how the Armed Forces would handle all those who are gay or lesbian, if they just came out all at the same time? We would be over with this DADT in a flash. People would see how many of us there are and how important we are to the mission. By constantly playing this game of “you have to lie to us so we can continue living in our fantasy world of no gays and lesbians,” they will not be forced to change their thinking and they will continue to put down gays and bash them when ever they can.

    The problem of course, has never been with us. But, I am starting to think that we are holding ourselves back with DADT by staying in the closet whilst in the service. We all need to come out and force them to either discharge us all or stop this ridiculous and unconstitutional law making us second-class citizens. That is going to take leadership or our folks will continue to be sorted out and discharged. If they worked as a group, it would draw the attention we need to stop this once and for all, in my opinion.

  • http://insideoutandbackwards.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/creepy-clown-nun.jpg Ritorna Vincitor

    Such a poignant image, Timothy. The gay sailor leading his mates in prayer within the belly of the whale deep beneath the sea. And ultimately you were driven out. But you belonged.

  • PeteWa

    Interesting.
    As always, your perspective and experience is appreciated.

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