You Can Ask & They Can Tell
"Do you have a discount for members of the military?" was not a question that you would have expected to hear at a gay nightclub or Circuit party. Until now. These days, promoters and producers of some the nation's biggest parties are courting Uncle Sam's gay dollar - and they aren't losing the house either. Our gay boys in uniform are starting to show up in force and at ease.
Hard bodied Marines. Crew cut soldiers. Lean Airman. Drunken sailors. Let's be honest, they fit right in at Circuit events. They look good standing at the end of the bar. They dance shirtless for hours - and we love them for it. Only difference is, now they can do it in the open.
Promoters are responding to the Pentagon's full-on embrace of the repeal of the hated "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which mandated that gay military personnel could be gay - as long as they didn't act on it and no one found out about it. Today, the United States has joined the rest of the developed world, and gay service people are serving out and proud next to their straight counterparts (who, for the record, couldn't care less and apparently never did).
Jackhammer, a popular Chicago bar, recently asked patrons - active duty and civilian - to "throw on your war paint, don your military gear and get into the trenches for the biggest dance party on the North Side." Steam Bathhouse in Portland, Oregon, offers a military discount to our boys in uniform wanting to get out of their uniforms and into a steam room. Even LGBT advocacy organizations like Service members United are getting in on the action. Last July, they threw a Gay Military Weekend at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where gay servicemen got a discount to party at Aqua Bar & Grill and take advantage of the beaches. Attention!
Listen to one service member gush about that attention: "They love us!" said Jeremy Whitlow, 22. "I have a blast whenever I go out and, especially when on vacation, if guys find out you are in the military, they really want to talk about what service life is like. It's almost like we are ambassadors or something."
Whitlow recently joined the Navy. He enlisted last May when DADT was still in effect. But he never really felt any of the pressure associated with the law. "When DADT was still around, I was in boot camp and then I went to school to learn my job," he explained. "By the time I got to my first command, it was well past September and we were already allowed to serve openly."
He is currently stationed aboard a ship on the East Coast. "It's funny because a lot of my friends that aren't gay have gone to gay bars with me," Whitlow said. "The drink prices are cheaper, and a few of them even told me the music is better." (Note to Jeremy and his friends: The music is better.)
Out and Proud - At Last
Although not all gay servicemen and women are ready to be completely open at their command, they are happy to be out and proud in the club.
"Being able to party and to be catered to is a great release," said Alma (not her real name), a Tech Sergeant in the Air Force. "There is a lot of stigma that goes along with being a female in the military. I've had to deal with sexual harassment, and, let's just be honest, if you are a woman in uniform, a lot of people assume you are a lesbian." Alma, who identifies as a bisexual, said, "I might not be out to my command-but I am definitely out to my gay bar."
For veterans who served under DADT and lived through years of having to look over their shoulder whenever they entered or left a bar or club, the newfound freedom is a welcome addition to what life in uniform means for gays and lesbians.
"I never used to show my military I.D. to get into clubs," said William Klein, 32, a former marine of 10 years. "That was just a big no-no."
Instead, Klein, who re-entered civilian life in 2010, used to use his driver's license and leave his government-issued card in the car. As a Marine serving during "Don't Ask Don't Tell," Klein says life was different for gay service members who wanted to party "out in town"; i.e., away from the prying eyes of fellow Marines.
"The gay bars were always pretty cool about everything," says Klein, who served at a Naval base in San Diego for four years. "But you never really knew if military police were on a witch hunt and had someone in the bar trying to out active duty or reserve guys. It may sound paranoid but hey, that did happen to a few guys during DADT. I took my career seriously, as most service-members do. I wasn't about to lose my benefits because I got spotted with my military I.D. in a gay bar."
Klein successfully served out his career without incident. But he readily and eagerly acknowledges that things have changed for the better. "New Year's Eve was great," said the former Marine now living in Seattle. "There were guys out in uniform and getting to pass up the line and let in for free. They deserve it. They are heroes. I'm proud of them, and I still have a lot of friends serving who are gay. They tell me how amazing it is to have the community's respect and support. Now," he adds with a smile, "they flash their military I.D. and maybe even get a free drink because of it."
That Get-Up at the Military Party Might Be Real
It's not just the bars and clubs that are noticing a visible rise in out and open gay military clientele. The Circuit scene is abuzz with the troops.
"Throughout the years, we've always had a steady contingent of servicemen attending White Party," said Jeffrey Sanker, gay party promoter extraordinaire and founder of L.A.-based White Party Entertainment, Inc.
Sanker acknowledges that the White Party's growing number of gay service members is "most likely because Palm Springs is located so close to several military bases, including Twentynine Palms, Camp Pendleton and San Diego."
"In the past," he continued, "we always made sure to respect their privacy and let them enjoy the opportunity to just 'be themselves' out on a spring break getaway." Gay party promoters have always played to uniform and military fetish. At last year's White Party Palm Springs, Sanker and crew held a Boxers or Briefs Boot Camp Party.
"Attention White Party Recruits! Your orders for Friday night are to report directly ..." You can imagine how the rest went.
This year will be different, said Sanker. Promoters no longer have to flirt with the line of promotion directed at service members and their admirers. Now, they can just call it what it is: hot!
"Obviously this year will be a bit different, and we all are looking forward to openly welcoming attendees from the Armed Forces," he said, adding, "especially those who have returned from tours of duty in the Mideast and elsewhere overseas."
Of course, there's that little matter of money. Rich Campbell, who runs Atlantis Events, says there have always been service people on his cruises, albeit out of uniform and quiet about it. "It wouldn't surprise me if we see a lot more coming in the next few years," he said. "I have friends who have said they wanted to go on my cruises. I said, 'Now you can.' They reply, 'Yeah, if only I could afford it on a government salary!'"