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Lesbian cadet fights to repeal ‘don’t ask,’ return to West Point

By remaining silent, Katherine Miller said, “I realized that I wasn’t becoming the leader of character that I wanted to be.’’ By remaining silent, Katherine Miller said, “I realized that I wasn’t becoming the leader of character that I wanted to be.’’ (John Seewer/Associated Press)
By John Seewer
Associated Press / November 28, 2010

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FINDLAY, Ohio — Katherine Miller got pretty good at hiding her sexuality in high school, brushing off questions about her weekend plans and referring to her girlfriend, Kristin, as “Kris.’’

She figured she could pull it off at the US Military Academy at West Point, too. After all, “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ sounded a lot like how she had gotten through her teen years.

But something changed when she arrived at West Point two years ago. She felt the sting of guilt with every lie that violated the academy’s honor code. Then, near the end of her first year, she found herself in a classroom discussion about gays in the military, listening to friends say gays disgusted them.

“I couldn’t work up the courage to foster an argument against what they were saying for fear of being targeted as a gay myself,’’ Miller said in an interview last week. “I had to be silent. That’s not what I wanted to become.’’

What she has become is an unlikely activist for repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military. She resigned from the academy in August and within days was one of the most prominent faces of the debate. Her greatest hope now is that she can return to the place she left.

For that to happen, President Obama must make good on his promise to gay rights groups that he would push to repeal the 1993 law by the end of the year. The US House already has signed off on the idea, and the Senate is preparing to debate it in the coming weeks.

The Defense Department will release a report Tuesday that will shape what Congress decides. The study has examined whether lifting the ban can be done without disrupting the armed services and current war efforts and includes a survey of about 400,000 troops.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff both have said they would rather see Congress change the law than have it struck down by the courts and risk losing control of how changes are put in place.

Admiral Mike Mullen told ABC’s “This Week’’ that asking people to lie goes against the integrity of the armed forces.

Miller, 21, grew up in rural northwest Ohio, where she was captain of her high school softball team and voted most likely to become president.

She started dreaming of going to West Point around the time she turned 16 — more than a year before she accepted that she was gay. Even after that, the “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy was no more than a passing concern.

She wanted to be a leader at the academy, someone with honor. She excelled, ranking near the top of her class of more than 1,100 cadets going into their third year. But Miller was hiding in fear. “I realized that I wasn’t becoming the leader of character that I wanted to be,’’ she said.

Other gay cadets in her small circle of friends encouraged her to stick it out. Conforming, after all, is a tenet taught in the military. “I just chose not to live my life that way. I’m pretty stubborn in my values. I needed to get out and declare who I was,’’ she said.

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