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U.S. Coast Guard Academy Spectrum Diversity Council

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The past few decades have seen a dramatic change in the demographics of the U.S. Coast Guard and its DoD service cousins as minorities began moving into equal roles in command and leadership. One of the last barriers began dropping with the institution of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in the 1990s, further changing when DADT was dropped in 2011, enabling gays to serve openly.

About 30 years ago, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy created the Diversity Council, where both cadets and faculty could address whatever issues minorities still faced, at the Academy and in their future careers as Coast Guard officers. In 2012, the latest component of that effort was created, the Spectrum Diversity Council, a gay/straight alliance that is one of six such groups within the larger Diversity Council.

Ensign Chip Hall, who served as co-president of Spectrum during his final year at the Academy (2011-12), authored the original memo to Academy officials seeking its creation.

“The Superintendent approved a DADT working group and asked that the Spectrum Council be put off until after DADT ended. We worked to advise the Academy on what issues the cadets saw, then resubmitted the memo to create the Council the day after repeal, on Sept. 21, 2011; the Superintendent approved it on Dec. 1,” he recalled.

Coast Guard Lt. James Couch speaks to cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Sept. 24, 2012, during a special dinner commemorating the one year anniversary of the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall

Coast Guard Lt. James Couch speaks to cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Sept. 24, 2012, during a special dinner commemorating the one year anniversary of the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall

“Our most important goal was to build a support network for gays and lesbians at the Academy, many of whom were forced to hide themselves under DADT. It also is intended to educate the cadet corps and open people’s minds that they are and will be serving next to gay and lesbian officers.”

Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz said Spectrum “will allow the
Coast Guard Academy and its cadets to broaden their experience and expose them to situations that will help develop them as leaders of character. As ensigns and future service leaders, these cadets will face a rapidly changing world that demands a more inclusive perspective.”

Cadet 1st Class John Mack, Spectrum co-president for the current (2012-13) academic year, said their efforts during the Council’s first full year on campus is as much directed at the entire Academy and active Coast Guard as it is to gay and lesbian cadets.

“The goals we have set are educating the Corps of Cadets about what it means to be gay or lesbian and that it does not affect their performance in the fleet. We also want to talk to our gay and lesbian cadets about what it means to be gay and how to deal with conflicts,” he said, adding the end of DADT did not create the problems some may have expected.

“People are more accepting now and I don’t think it is that big an issue, which really speaks to the core values of the Coast Guard and the Cadet Corps. But we do want to work with active duty members, hoping they might speak to us about how the active Coast Guard is dealing with these issues.”

Those goals are in keeping with the overall intent of all six groups within the larger Diversity Council, he added: “The whole idea of the Diversity Council is to bring all minority groups together to rally around one goal of diversity and how to unite the Coast Guard into one united force.”

Coast Guard Cmdr. James Kammel speaks to cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Sept. 24, 2012, during a special dinner commemorating the one year anniversary of the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall

Coast Guard Cmdr. James Kammel speaks to cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Sept. 24, 2012, during a special dinner commemorating the one year anniversary of the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall

As he prepared to enter service as a newly commissioned officer, however, Hall saw an ongoing need to help both straights and gays come to terms with the new paradigm.

“Just because something isn’t talked about doesn’t mean there aren’t issues. In any group of people, you will have some who are not as open. So part of the reason for Spectrum is to open those people’s minds, even if they have negative views of homosexuality,” he said.

“Diversity isn’t skin deep and any cadet can be a member of any of these groups. While both John and I are gay, I would say the majority of Spectrum members are not. It serves as a support group for those seeking more understanding or just to be with friends.”

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee supporting the end of DADT in December 2010, the Coast Guard commandant essentially presaged Spectrum’s creation in calling for a service-wide change of environment and attitudes.

“Allowing gay and lesbian Americans to serve in the Coast Guard openly will remove a significant barrier to those who are capably serving, but who have been forced to hide or even lie about their sexual orientation,” Adm. Robert J. Papp told lawmakers. “Forcing these Coast Guardsmen to compromise our core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty to continue to serve is a choice they should not have to make.”

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...