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Alan Steinman was born in Newark, Ohio on February 7, 1945. He graduated from MIT in 1966 and went on to receive his M.D. from the Stanford School of Medicine in 1971. In 1972, he completed post-graduate studies in medicine and surgery at the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine.

Uncertain of where he wanted to specialize, Alan joined the military and trained in the Navy’s School of Aerospace Medicine. From there, he became a flight surgeon with the US Coast Guard, ultimately earning the rank of Rear Admiral and becoming the Coast Guard’s chief medical and chief safety officer. Alan is internationally renowned for his expertise in hypothermia, cold water survival, and environmental medicine. He helped create the Coast Guard’s EMT school, and developed key disease prevention protocols as the Coast Guard’s Chief of the Wellness Programs. In 1997, Alan received a Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal for his work, and retired from duty. 

Throughout his military career, Alan had chosen to prioritize service to his nation over his own sexual orientation. For several years after retiring, external events and obligations, especially the 9/11 terrorist attack, prevented Alan from coming out. But in 2003, on the tenth anniversary of the passage of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), Alan officially came out in a New York Times op-ed denouncing DADT. He was the highest ranking military official ever to have come out. From that point forward, Alan campaigned tirelessly against DADT until its repeal in 2011.

At that point, some might have regarded the issue of military inclusiveness to be finished. Not Alan. In 2014, he co-authored an article entitled Medical Aspects of Transgender Service, arguing for the rights of transgender people to serve in the military. Alan’s involvement in the issue was instrumental in the American Medical Association’s decision to officially endorse transgender military service. 

Today, Alan lives with his husband Dallas, a former Navy enlisted man, in a soaring wood-and-glass home overlooking Washington’s Puget Sound. Alan, Dallas, and Dallas’s sister Nicole are jointly raising Nicole’s son Ethan. Alan remembers legally adopting Ethan as one of the greatest days of his life. As for Ethan, he loves telling his middle-school classmates about Alan’s activism, and educating them about the new, more inclusive America that Alan helped create.
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] A big favor-
Alan Steinman: Same thing.
Mason Funk: Tell me, state and spell out your first and last name.
Alan Steinman: My name is Alan Steinman, spelled A-L-A-N, last name S-T-E-I-N-M-A-N. And I was born in Newark, Ohio, on February 7, 1945.
Mason Funk: Okay, great. Now, we're not gonna spend a ton of time on your childhood. But it sounds sort of uneventful. And you say that from a relatively early age, you knew you were gay.
Alan Steinman: [00:00:30] Yes.
Mason Funk: It doesn't sound like that was any big, traumatic, agonizing realization. But I don't wanna skip over that, if there's something important to say about that period of your life.
Alan Steinman: There really isn't. I mean, I just realized I was gay, to whom I was sexually attracted. And it was no big deal to me, other than obviously at that point in time, and then, when was it? 1940s, or late '40s and early '50s, you still had this basically homophobic mindset in the country.
Alan Steinman: [00:01:00] So you knew it was the worst thing you could be, to be gay. And so you had to be in the closet. So I just sort of said, okay, I'm in the closet. Nobody knows.
Mason Funk: But did you feel no sense of shame, or all the things that a lot young gay kids feel? When you see that you are fundamentally out of step with what seems to be the prevailing ideology of the culture?
Alan Steinman: [00:01:30] Oh, not at all. I don't know why, but I just knew that, you learn that very quickly as a young boy, growing up in the United States, still today, that the culture of the school yard is quite homophobic. But I didn't feel alien, or ashamed, or anything. It was just who I was, and I just fit in. So it wasn't a problem at all.
Mason Funk: [00:02:00] Right. So that was probably important, you fit in, so nobody was bullying you, or outing you, or suggesting you might be gay?
Alan Steinman: No, not at all. And the circle of friends I had in high school, were such that we, nobody was dating women anyway. They weren't gay. So there was no pressure from that standpoint, even in high school. Now, when I went to college, that was another matter. I was in a fraternity. And so then, of course, you had parties every weekend,
Alan Steinman: [00:02:30] and I had to have dates. And so that's when that particular problem began.
Mason Funk: And how did you manage that?
Alan Steinman: I had dates. So they were sort of, obviously they were asexual dates, but, so I did that. And again, there was no suspicion, there was no homophobia come up. I wasn't the subject of any bullying, or anything of that nature.
Mason Funk: [00:03:00] Okay. Tell me a little about your parents.
Alan Steinman: My father was an organic chemist, with a PhD, and started his own companies in Los Angeles. My mom was a housewife. I have three brothers. And so we had a pretty nice childhood. I mean, I had a nice childhood. There were no stresses or traumas, that I can remember.
Mason Funk: So your family moved out to Los Angeles?
Alan Steinman: Yes, from where I was born in Ohio. They moved out there when I was two.
Alan Steinman: [00:03:30] So I don't remember much of that. I have vague memories of a train ride, but that's about it. And so I basically grew up in Los Angeles.
Mason Funk: Okie-dokie. Okay, okay. Excellent. What was I gonna ask you? Oh, did it ever occur to you, you know, I should try to life with women, and maybe I should get married, and just try to be like everybody else.
Alan Steinman: No. The thought never crossed my mind at all to do that. Even when I had to continue to pretend to be straight,
Alan Steinman: [00:04:00] the biggest problem for that became when I joined the military. Since I was in the Coast Guard as a young officer and single among most of the other officers who were married, I was constantly being fixed up with women in the hope that I would develop a girlfriend. And we constantly had officer parties that I had to go to. So again, it's almost like being in the fraternity again. I had to have all these dates with various women.
Alan Steinman: [00:04:30] And the problem with that was, in the Coast Guard you have relatively small units. I was a Coast Guard flight surgeon, so the Coast Guard air stations that I was at were relatively small, maybe 50-60, not even that many, 20-30 officers total. So it was a relatively small community. And that pertained until I was assigned to Washington, D.C. in headquarters, which was huge.
Alan Steinman: [00:05:00] It was like 4,000 people, and people spread out all over the D.C. area. When that happened, that alleviated all of the dating pressure to try and appear straight. So you didn't have the unit parties anymore that you had to bring dates to. There's a funny story about that though. When I got to be a senior officer in the Coast Guard, a senior physician, a captain, an O6,
Alan Steinman: [00:05:30] I was eligible to be promoted to the office of the equivalent of the Surgeon General. Admirals in the military and generals in the military have lots of social obligations that they have to meet. So this was going to be a problem. If I got selected to be the Director of Health and Safety, was the title that then the Coast Guard used for its Surgeon General. So I knew I had to have a female companion of some nature. And this is pre-internet.
Alan Steinman: [00:06:00] So in Washington, D.C., there is sort of a high-end magazine called the Washingtonian, in the back of which there are all these classified ads that are divided up into four parts, men seeking men, men seeking women, women seeking women, women seeking men. So I put an ad in the men seeking women section that said something like, "Gay male executive seeks female for companionship and meeting social obligations," or something like that.
Alan Steinman: [00:06:30] The way it worked was, you put this ad in, and however responded would respond to a post office box. And the Washingtonian would then forward that to you. So they were kind of a middle man, so you wouldn't be exposed. So I got, I don't know, 8 or 10 letters from various women, including a guy who was a prisoner in the Virginia prison, who told me that he was going to get out soon, and wanted to know if I wanted to have a relationship with him.
Alan Steinman: [00:07:00] But I got this one letter from, this beautifully written letter, clearly somebody who was really unusual and very smart, and you could just tell from her writing. And she was the only one I contacted. And we met over dinner at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City. And we talked about what our various stories were. And she thought it was a really interesting idea, where she would be my beard.
Alan Steinman: [00:07:30] Her story was that, her name by the way is Mireille Key, and she and I are still very good friends to this day. But her story was she was happily married with two kids, and one day her husband came home and said, guess what, I want to start seeing guys. And this was like in the late '70s. It created a huge rift in their marriage, but they managed to make it work. They stayed together,
Alan Steinman: [00:08:00] and stayed married. And he dated guys, and so unfortunately what happened was, this was as I say the late '70s, he got infected with the AIDS virus and ultimately died in the early '80s. And Mireillea began working with the NAMES Project and the AIDS Quilt in Washington, D.C. And that's where she was when I met her. So she became my girlfriend, my significant other.
Alan Steinman: [00:08:30] Fortunately I was selected to be the Director of Health and Safety, and so she went with me at all of the social functions as my lady friend. And that was just fine with everybody. We didn't misrepresent it, she was my friend. That's how I always introduced her. So that's kind of a funny story of trying to live as a gay senior military officer in a straight world. This even pre-dates Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Mason Funk: [00:09:00] That's a cool story. I love picturing seeing that first dinner at the Ritz.
Alan Steinman: It was funny.
Mason Funk: Let me backtrack a little bit. I'm going to be a little bit chronological. And one of things I wanted to ask you about was after medical school why you decided to join the Coast Guard. And kind of incorporate my question into your answers.
Alan Steinman: [00:09:30] Okay, so why I joined the Coast Guard. I was looking for some kind of national service. Technically, it's the Public Health Service, because the Public Health Service provides their medical officers and dental officers to the Coast Guard. So I had applied to the Public Health Service for a residency. A residency is a deferment from the military. And the Public Health Service had you list all of their programs in numerical order, and there's something like 75 different programs that the Public Health Service is part of.
Alan Steinman: [00:10:00] Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Mental Health, all of that. Wherever there are Public Health Service officers, the FDA, and included in that is the Coast Guard. I forget what my list was. And the Coast Guard I think at the time was number four. So they didn't pick me up, they didn't select me for their residency deferment program, but they said, would you like to come on active duty after you finish your medical training.
Alan Steinman: [00:10:30] And I said, sure. So then they said, all right, rank these 75 different programs. So I put the Coast Guard as number one, and they selected me for that. So that's how I ended up in the Coast Guard, not intending to make it a career. It was just kind of to temporize so I could have some time to decide what medical specialty I really wanted to do. I couldn't decide between internal medicine or surgical sub-specialty. And I thought this would be an interesting way to give me some time to think about it.
Alan Steinman: [00:11:00] But when I ended up in the Coast Guard, I absolutely loved it. I loved the mission, I loved the people. I was a family practice doc at various places. And it just was a match made in heaven. I loved it, they liked me. So I had this wonderful career in the Coast Guard that lasted 25 years.
Mason Funk: I know you became a specialist in particular in things like at-sea rescue missions, and hypothermia, and sea survival.
Alan Steinman: [00:11:30] Right.
Mason Funk: Which all sounds very dramatic. And I wondered if there's a couple of incidents in your career that stand out for you as just memorable moments when you were able to help someone who was in stress and duress in a sort of an at-sea rescue type setting.
Alan Steinman: Sure. There's a couple actually I can tell you about. So I did a lot of flying on Coast Guard helicopters as a medevac physician.
Alan Steinman: [00:12:00] One I remember, I was lowered down to a shrimp fishing boat for somebody who had a broken leg. And they lowered me into, the deck space on this fishing boat was really small. And the Coast Guard pilots and the air crewmen are really superb in handling the aircraft and putting me or the rescue basket where it needs to go. So I was being lowered on the hoist cable without a basket.
Alan Steinman: [00:12:30] And they lowered me into a big pile of shrimp. So I had to wade through this pile of shrimp, go down below decks, find the patient, examine him, and put a split on his leg. And then with the rest of the crew, trying to get him back up on the surface of the boat so that they could lower down a Stokes litter, and put him in it, and then hoist him up, and then come back and hoist me up. So that was one memorable one,
Alan Steinman: [00:13:00] just the fact that it was such a difficult situation to be in, not to mention the big pile of shrimp that you had to deal with. The other one that was funny was, when I was at Cape Cod Air Station in the late '70s.
Mason Funk: Start that over again.
Alan Steinman: When I was at Cape Cod Air Station, there was a medevac request from a Russian freighter.
Alan Steinman: [00:13:30] And this was at a time when of course the Soviet Union was not our friends at all. And the State Department was not going to allow this Russian freighter to dock anywhere in a U.S. port. So they allowed it to approach Boston harbor, and my job was to go out as the flight surgeon and examine this person. The report was, this was a guy who had broken his back, a Russian sailor who had a broken back.
Alan Steinman: [00:14:00] It was a huge ship, so there was no problem with the hoist. They lowered me down to the deck, and I thought I was going to go examine this sailor with a broken back. But instead, I was met by their political officer, who escorted me to the captain's cabin, where I met the captain. And I figured, okay, so this is a courtesy to say hello to the captain. But now, he wanted to have drinks, and he wanted me to have a meal with him in his cabin.
Alan Steinman: [00:14:30] And he was this huge bear of a guy. So I'm trying to say, no, no, I've got to go see this patient. I can't speak Russian, and he can't speak English. So clearly there was this sort of communication problem going on. And suddenly he walks over to me and picks me up, sits me down at his table, and says something like, eat. And meanwhile the stewards are bringing food in, and they're bringing vodka in. And he wants to have a toast. So I'm in there for like 30 minutes trying.
Alan Steinman: [00:15:00] Finally he lets me go to see the patient, which is down below decks, through various passageways I'm going through where they had this guy. And he's laying in a bunk bed on a plywood board. So I examine him, and determine that he really doesn't have a broken back. He just hurt his back, and the best I could determine, it was going to be a sprain rather than a fracture. But he clearly needed to have an x-ray, but it wasn't such that he was paralyzed or had any neurologic damage.
Alan Steinman: [00:15:30] So we were going to take him to Mass General so he could get seen. So I go back up on deck and have the Coast Guard helicopter lower down the Stokes litter. And I'm followed by a parade of Russian sailors. And they take the litter down and they follow me back to his room, and put the litter down on the floor. And they look at him laying on this plywood board. And I'm trying to indicate we need to get him into the litter.
Alan Steinman: [00:16:00] So they take the board and they pick it up with him on it, and lay it on top of the litter. And of course the edges of the board are overlapping like three or four feet on each side. And that's not going to work, we're not going to be able to get him through the passageways, not are we going to be able to hoist him. So the sailors see what the problem was, and their solution was to break the board around this guy. So they go, crack, crack, crack, stuffing this plywood board next to him. And there we go. So he's in the litter.
Alan Steinman: [00:16:30] So we begin to go back through the passageways, and I strap him in as best I can. So they're tipping him this way and that way, and this way and that way, going through various hatches. And we finally get him up to the deck. And I signal the Coast Guard helicopter, and they lower the hoist cable, and they pick him up. And then they fly away with him. I said, wait, what about me, come back. So there I am on the deck, with these Russians,
Alan Steinman: [00:17:00] as the helicopter's flying away to the hospital in Mass General, in Boston harbor. So that was kind of funny. They wanted to take pictures with me. So we have all these, I don't know, I never saw the pictures. They're coming up, group pictures and smiling, hugging and all this. And eventually the helicopter comes back and gets me. So I was-
Mason Funk: Did they forget you, or were they just in a hurry-
Alan Steinman: Well, they wanted to take the patient, because they knew I was okay. I mean, it was not a problem, I'm on this ship and they're going to come back and get me. But I had no communication with them, we didn't have radio comms at the time. Yeah, that was back before we-
Mason Funk: [00:17:30] Wow.
Alan Steinman: Yeah, so that was a couple funny stories.
Mason Funk: Yeah, they're awesome, those are awesome. She's doing a little adjustment there.
Lulu Gargiulo: Thought I'd move this so you have more flailing room. Just kidding.
Mason Funk: I know this is probably a big question. Through these experiences of various types of rescues, was there some knowledge about yourself
Mason Funk: [00:18:00] that you took away from these experiences, from these many years of becoming this expert in at-sea rescue, and hypothermia, and sea survival? Was there something that you gleaned that somehow served you well over, throughout your life?
Alan Steinman: I can't really think of anything personally. I mean it was just who I was. But what I will say, is kind of off the topic a little bit, was the Coast Guard supported all of that.
Alan Steinman: [00:18:30] I became a researcher in hypothermia, and the Coast Guard supported all of that research, which was unusual for the military. So they allowed me to do this primary research on water immersion and hypothermia, and flotation devices, and life rafts, and those kind of things. So I was really pleased that the Coast Guard was so supportive, because my compatriots in the Navy, which is a huge bureaucracy, and they have their own research arm in the Navy, as well as the Army and the Air Force too.
Alan Steinman: [00:19:00] The regular doc in the Navy or Air Force or Army there's no way they could do that kind of thing. So the Coast Guard was quite supportive of that.
Mason Funk: Sorry, Lou, a quick question. Can his mic come down any further?
Lulu Gargiulo: It can, and I'll do it.
Alan Steinman: I'm going to take some water.
Mason Funk: Okay. Yeah why don't I do it so you can watch the frame.
Lulu Gargiulo: Okay.
Alan Steinman: And I'll take this opportunity to have a drink.
Lulu Gargiulo: Have a little sip of-
Alan Steinman: A sip of water.
Mason Funk: Okay, so just tell me when I'm in.
Alan Steinman: I should not look at the camera.
Lulu Gargiulo: [00:19:30] You're in.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Lulu Gargiulo: And you're out.
Mason Funk: Okie-dokie.
Lulu Gargiulo: That's great, and you could even swing it a little closer to him if you want.
Mason Funk: I think it's good, it's pointing right at his mouth. So I think we're good, okay.
Lulu Gargiulo: Okay.
Alan Steinman: So I don't know what you were looking for in that answer. I don't-
Mason Funk: I didn't have anything specific in mind. I'm probably more randomizing a little bit, because that's what I do.
Alan Steinman: Sorry, I couldn't give you a good answer to that.
Mason Funk: That's okay. It's just like a fishing expedition. Because to me, it sounds so dramatic and exciting. I love the ocean,
Mason Funk: [00:20:00] you know, shows like The Deadliest Catch. I'm a sucker for those shows. And the opportunity I get, like I one time tried to develop a show about flight paramedics in Alaska.
Alan Steinman: Oh good.
Mason Funk: And we actually went up and like a three or four day shoot following some of them around. Even though they weren't over water, with these tiny planes taking off and flying to these remote Indian villages.
Alan Steinman: Oh yeah, right.
Mason Funk: So I just love that kind of stuff.
Alan Steinman: Yeah, remote medicine. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Watching these guys go into these little tiny homes, and have to inject a tiny needle into an infant that's in distress, like an IV,
Mason Funk: [00:20:30] whatever. So I just find that stuff really compelling. So that's why I was just fishing around to see if there was some life lesson that you took away from those experiences. And I'm sure there was. Maybe-
Alan Steinman: I can't think of any. I mean it was just, sorry.
Mason Funk: Okay. Well let's carry on. You've already, the next question I'm going to skip because you've already addressed it. But I just wanted to touch back in regarding the closet that you were living in during these years.
Mason Funk: [00:21:00] Were there ever times when it felt oppressive, when it felt like you were losing patience with this life you had chosen of being a closeted military officer?
Alan Steinman: Yes, absolutely.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] stop that?
Alan Steinman: Towards the end of my tour as the Director of Health and Safety-
Mason Funk: So give us a timeframe.
Alan Steinman: This is 1996 timeframe, 1997.
Mason Funk: Okay. So let's start over and include the date in your answer.
Alan Steinman: [00:21:30] Okay. So the question was, was there ever a time when I got tired of living in the closet. The answer is, of course. Towards the end of my tour of duty as the Director of Health and Safety for the Coast Guard, 1996, 1997 timeframe, I really wanted to be a gay man. I wanted to be who I was, and I could not in the military at that time. Now at that time, Don't Ask, Don't Tell was in place. It went into place in 1993.
Alan Steinman: [00:22:00] So I basically served as an admiral throughout the whole of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And there was no way I could come out without it being some massive news event, because you know how controversial the whole Don't Ask, Don't Tell situation was. So you can imagine if a flag officer was found to be gay. And I was terrified of being discovered. So I went to the commandant, and I said, Admiral,
Alan Steinman: [00:22:30] I'm going to retire at the end of my four year tour. And he said, why, you can stay, you're doing a great job. You don't need to retire. I said, ah, I think I want to do something else with my life. I didn't tell him I was gay. Had I told him, he would have been okay. He was the kind of guy that would be perfectly okay, he just would have said something like, don't embarrass the Coast Guard. I don't think he would have activated the Don't Ask, Don't Tell or anything, the law. But I didn't tell him at the time.
Alan Steinman: [00:23:00] So I retired, and basically then I was able to have my sexual adolescence that other young men in this country do in their teenage years when I was in my 50s. And it was, you can imagine, the whole gay community for someone who hasn't been in it, quite, I don't know what the right adjective is. But there's a whole vocabulary,
Alan Steinman: [00:23:30] and the whole sex thing. Everything had to be learned. So it was quite the experience basically. I call it my sexual adolescence. And then I met my, eventually, my now husband. And we became partners, and we moved out here, and when gay marriage was legal in the Washington state, we got married.
Mason Funk: Okay, we'll get to that. We skipped over some-
Alan Steinman: [00:24:00] Okay, yeah we did a lot.
Mason Funk: Well, yeah. Because I want to, when you were in, and I don't know if you feel uncomfortable talking about this, but when you were still in the military, that's 25 years, were you effectively not sexually active?
Alan Steinman: Right.
Mason Funk: You're weren't.
Alan Steinman: Right.
Mason Funk: You were just, why were you not, I mean honestly, why were you not sexually active, just being very careful not to get caught? And incorporate my question into your answer.
Alan Steinman: [00:24:30] Yeah, let me phrase this, so this is not going to be part of the documentary.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Alan Steinman: Okay? And I'll tell you the answer, and then I can come back to answer it for the camera. Okay, is that a deal?
Mason Funk: Yeah. Because eventually you'll see a transcript.
Alan Steinman: Yeah, okay.
Mason Funk: [inaudible] to strike this.
Alan Steinman: So I was. Actually I began to be sexually active in, I don't know, in 1995 or 1996, while I was still a flag officer. But the whole time we were fighting for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, you can imagine how that would have been portrayed in the media
Alan Steinman: [00:25:00] if a senior military officer was deliberately violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the national laws. So the story I usually say is I was celibate until I retired in 1997. But the point of fact was I lost my celibacy somewhere around 1995, 1996, before I retired. So how would you like me to, do you want me to do the myth part of it, or? Because it's only a difference of two years, but-
Mason Funk: [00:25:30] Yeah, I guess, and are you not at liberty to talk about this, even though it's effectively water under the bridge? And I completely understand if you say no, I just don't want to-
Alan Steinman: So, what I worry about is other flag officers in the Coast Guard seeing this, and being put off by it somehow. I mean yeah, it's like 20 years now, I shouldn't be worried about it I guess. And it's not like I was the Lone Ranger, so many other people are sexually active in the military.
Mason Funk: [00:26:00] That's what I'm kind of getting at. Because you may have become sexually active in '95 or '96, but effectively for 20 years you were not sexually active.
Alan Steinman: Correct.
Mason Funk: That's a huge choice you made.
Alan Steinman: Yes, that was-
Mason Funk: And that's what I guess, so even without referencing when you became sexually active-
Alan Steinman: Okay, yeah, we can talk about that.
Mason Funk: What I'm curious about is, in an environment where plenty of people were closeted and sexually active, and just very careful, you made a very different choice.
Alan Steinman: [00:26:30] Right.
Mason Funk: And that's what I'd love to hear about.
Alan Steinman: Okay.
Mason Funk: And that doesn't actually alter your narrative [crosstalk].
Alan Steinman: Right, I can talk about that.
Mason Funk: So why were you not sexually active, when you could have been sexually active and just been very careful?
Alan Steinman: I was not sexually active because I was so deep in the closet, and a senior officer in the military, that to have been sexually active, to have been discovered would have been a massive media event, particularly in the era of Don't Ask, Don't Tell,
Alan Steinman: [00:27:00] when it was such a controversial law when it was passed. So it was a media circus when I came as it was 10 years later after that. But you can imagine then. So I was so careful to be in the closet. And basically you're right, I was celibate basically throughout that whole period. So I had no sexual life at all. Obviously I didn't like that, but the constraints of being in the closet. My closet was so tight,
Alan Steinman: [00:27:30] I didn't even know anybody else who was gay in the military. So I certainly didn't seek out anybody in the gay community. Now of course I met people in the gay community from my work with Mireille in the Names Project, the AIDS Quilt, but certainly not in the military. I didn't know anybody who was gay in the military. So they didn't know I was gay either. So yeah, it was hard. But you're right, it was a decision I made. It was basically career over personal growth,
Alan Steinman: [00:28:00] I guess, or personal satisfaction. And I'm proud of the achievements I did in the Coast Guard, a number of things that benefited the nation in the Coast Guard. And the men and women in the Coast Guard while I was the Director of Health and Safety. So that was the price I paid. Would I do it again, I don't know. Knowing what I know now, it's an interesting question. But at the time, that was the choice I made.
Mason Funk: [00:28:30] That's great. I think that just helps to illuminate a certain ethos of what you were serving in. In a sense, putting the country before yourself. Which I think is important. And that also helps to understand why you went through this so-called sexual adolescence.
Alan Steinman: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Because you had all this pent-up energy.
Alan Steinman: Right.
Mason Funk: So tell us, you're reliving, and tell us some stories. I mean, as prurient as you were able to get, as you want to get. But I mean, flesh it out for us, because to call it a sexual adolescence sounds very sort of textbook.
Alan Steinman: [00:29:00] Yeah, well all right. So a sexual adolescence, so whatever a teenager does now, or back even then, when they're exploring their sexuality, I had to do in my 50s. So part of that was pre-internet, and part of it was the internet was in force. So I was dating people through AOL chat rooms basically. So AOL had a whole raft of gay chat rooms.
Alan Steinman: [00:29:30] I don't have to go through all the different sub-categories of gayness, but they had chat rooms for every one of them. But most of the time I stayed in the military chat rooms, so I was dating military people. There were military male for male chat rooms. Among the people I dated was a Navy SEAL who was on active duty at the time.
Alan Steinman: [00:30:00] I obviously met my current husband, who was active duty at the time in the Navy. There's a funny story about that too. I don't know if you want to go into that story.
Mason Funk: Sure. [crosstalk]
Alan Steinman: I wish Dallas were here, he'd react to this. So Dallas was in the Navy at the-
Mason Funk: Tell us who Dallas is.
Alan Steinman: Dallas is my husband, Dallas Powers is my husband. When we first met, he was on active duty in the Navy, stationed in Virginia Beach where he was living.
Alan Steinman: [00:30:30] But he was also in the military chat rooms. So he would come up and stay at my apartment in Arlington where I lived. And again, I didn't want him to know that I was an admiral. Had he looked in my closets, he would have seen all these uniforms. And had he looked at my car, he would have seen Coast Guard parking stickers on it and that kind of thing. So I had to hide all that stuff from him.
Alan Steinman: [00:31:00] And when we would get up in the morning and go our separate ways, we would go down the elevator, and he would go back to Virginia Beach and I told him I was going to work as a doc, and I was wearing a suit. So we would get out of the elevator and go our separate ways. When he was gone, I'd get back in the elevator, go up back up to my apartment, and change to normal clothes. Finally, we'd been dating so long, I don't know it was months we're going through this charade, and he'd seen some things. He is a very observant man.
Alan Steinman: [00:31:30] He saw my car, and he saw how I had covered up something, but didn't know what it was, and didn't pry and look underneath whatever it was. But he knew something was weird about that. So finally after a couple months, I said, Dallas, we've got to talk. And I said, you know, I've got to tell you something. I say, I'm an admiral. And he was an enlisted man at the time, he was an enlisted Navy sailor. And he didn't believe me. So I had to show him my ID card. Then he believed me. And we had a laugh about it.
Alan Steinman: [00:32:00] So that was a funny story, how we met. But it was through a chat room, basically that's how I was dating.
Mason Funk: So for the uninitiated, like myself, walk us through what it means to a Navy enlisted man to find out that he's dating an admiral.
Alan Steinman: In the military-
Mason Funk: Start over again.
Alan Steinman: So what it would have been like for an enlisted sailor to date an admiral would be unprecedented,
Alan Steinman: [00:32:30] because the military, very strict hierarchy of ranks. So for starters, officers are not permitted to, the word in the military is called fraternize, not permitted to fraternize with enlisted people at all. Certainly not dating, certainly not gay dating. Because of course gay sex was a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it's sodomy.
Alan Steinman: [00:33:00] It was specifically listed as sodomy. Which, by the way, in the military at the time meant any sexual contact other than sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. Which, by the way, meant straight people are engaging in sodomy all the time with oral sex, but they rarely prosecuted that. So that was one thing, you know, that the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibited gay sex. The military's regulations prohibited any kind of socializing between officers and enlisted. And here I was the senior officer,
Alan Steinman: [00:33:30] and he was an enlisted sailor. So it was just, it would have been bad. There's another funny story that happened. Before I met Dallas, I was dating another guy who was active duty Air Force. And we happened to be in an Air Force exchange somewhere in D.C., looking at stuff. And somebody walked up to me and said, good afternoon, Admiral.
Alan Steinman: [00:34:00] And this guy didn't know I was an admiral. Of course I had kept it from him too. Oh my God. So that was an interesting little turn of events that happened. That was the problem. When you're that high ranking, people know who you are, but you don't know who they are. So I was constantly terrified that, had I been seen in Dupont Circle for example, which at the time was the gay area of D.C.,
Alan Steinman: [00:34:30] someone would see me there. And I wouldn't know who they are, but they would see me. There were many times I was walking through the airport coming back from a trip, and someone would say, hey, how are you doing? So that was the problem with being a senior officer in a small fish bowl. Basically everybody knows who you are, but you have no idea what's going on. I was really afraid of being outed, so that was a problem.
Mason Funk: [00:35:00] Again, it really helps us to understand the importance of, you know, people tend to think that being closeted is a bad thing. But for you, it was a really significant choice.
Alan Steinman: Yeah.
Mason Funk: To serve your country, you were in this high ranking role. You couldn't just willy nilly [crosstalk]-
Alan Steinman: I could not, right. Yeah, I could not. I mean, you can imagine what would have happened. Had I been outed as a flag officer,
Alan Steinman: [00:35:30] given the political situation at the time, the Coast Guard would have had no choice but to prosecute me. Because they can't allow an admiral, you can't show special favors to senior officers. And the conservative newspapers would have had a field day with it. So it was a trying time. And then it was all alleviated, of course, when I retired. So it wasn't a problem after that.
Mason Funk: [00:36:00] This is all great stuff. Like I say, the stories are where it's at, because people relate to stories. It just makes it very, very real.
Alan Steinman: I can tell you more stories, but I don't know if I want-
Mason Funk: Oops, okay.
Alan Steinman: I mean, it's an interesting, because in this story I'm going to be slamming the subsequent Commodore of the Coast Guard.
Mason Funk: Oh.
Alan Steinman: I don't know if you want that in the-
Mason Funk: [00:36:30] It's up to you. You can tell it and change your mind, but-
Alan Steinman: If it ends up in the documentary and somebody sees it. The guy was a homophobe basically. So when I came out, it was-
Mason Funk: Let me clarify one thing. This isn't going to be a documentary, per se. It's going to be an archive.
Alan Steinman: Oh, all right.
Mason Funk: So your interview-
Alan Steinman: Yeah, they probably won't see it.
Mason Funk: Anything you don't cut out will live. It will become part of the public record. So it's up to you. But just so you know, this is not going to be like cut into a documentary.
Alan Steinman: Okay.
Mason Funk: So your interview is going to live in its entirety, except for what you delete.
Alan Steinman: [00:37:00] Okay. So I don't know if you're interested in what, that part of it.
Mason Funk: It depends on, I mean I'm all ears if you want to tell the story.
Alan Steinman: I'll tell you the story.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Alan Steinman: So I came out, there was a big media hoopla because I suddenly became-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, give me the year.
Alan Steinman: Okay, I think 2003.
Mason Funk: Okay, so restart it.
Alan Steinman: So in 2003, I came out with two other retired Army generals. The three of us came out together as part of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
Alan Steinman: [00:37:30] So it was easier for the three of us to do it together than one at a time. And it became a huge news story.
Mason Funk: I'm sorry, but I would rather have you just say, "In 2003 I came out, and I became the highest."
Alan Steinman: Yeah, okay.
Mason Funk: Just-
Alan Steinman: Just skip all the other stuff, all right.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Alan Steinman: In 2003, I came out, and I was the highest ranking officer to self-identify as gay at the time. And it was a huge news story everywhere.
Alan Steinman: [00:38:00] I was living in DuPont, Washington, at the time. So it was obviously a story in the Seattle Times, they had a front page story. The commandant of the Coast Guard at the time, however, was I've been told was a homophobe. And he was not pleased at all that I came out, and was overheard to say from my sources that I was a disgrace to the Coast Guard and a disgrace to the nation.
Alan Steinman: [00:38:30] So he put out the word that I was persona non grata in Coast Guard events. Meanwhile, one of my closest friends who was a straight enlisted guy, retired as a master chief bosun mate. And we were very good friends, he was one of my hypothermia subjects when I was still doing research. And he invited me to his retirement ceremony in Seattle,
Alan Steinman: [00:39:00] where the admiral in charge of the Coast Guard in Seattle was going to be officiating. So I show up, sit in the front row with my friend and his wife and kids, and this guy sees me. And of course in the military, when you see a fellow admiral in the audience, you acknowledge them as part of your introductory remarks. So he did,
Alan Steinman: [00:39:30] but you could tell there was a frost in the room. And I sort of chuckled at it. But we went through it all. But that was kind of difficult for me, because I loved the Coast Guard. It was just this one guy though. The rest of Coast Guard most likely didn't care, and still don't care.
Mason Funk: But what was it like, to zero in on his comment, again as someone who gave them 25 years of your life, to hear him call you a disgrace to the Coast Guard and a disgrace to the nation.
Alan Steinman: [00:40:00] And a disgrace to the nation. Well, of course that technically it was hearsay, but, I'm sorry about the, let me start over again.
Mason Funk: No worries.
Alan Steinman: What was it like to hear those comments that were reported to me? It was hurtful, obviously it was hurtful.
Mason Funk: When you say it, repeat the comment.
Alan Steinman: So the comment, to hear that the commandant of the Coast Guard, that particular individual, was overhead to say that I was a disgrace to the Coast Guard and a disgrace to the nation was very hurtful, particularly after I had given so much of my life to the Coast Guard.
Alan Steinman: [00:40:30] But I understood this was this guy. He's not speaking for the entire Coast Guard. Certainly the people I knew in the Coast Guard didn't care. The flag officers who I served with, shrug. They knew who I was, and it wasn't a big deal. So even though the comments were hurtful, and that period of time until he retired was relatively hurtful, it didn't stick with me.
Mason Funk: [00:41:00] Okay, so let's backtrack a little bit. Because we have skipped over 1993, the actual announcement and institution of DADT. I want to hear from you, as the person who you were at that time, maybe you had even begun to entertain thoughts like, maybe someday I'll be able to come out, you know, and keep my career. And then 1993, and Clinton's elected, and everyone thinks he's stated that he's in favor of allowing gays in the military. Then there's this huge event when this compromise is announced. So tell us a little bit about,
Mason Funk: [00:41:30] I remember June 1993 like it was yesterday. Set the stage, not in huge detail, because that could take a long time, but what I'm mainly trying to get at is what did you think, what was your reaction both as an officer and as a person, to this announcement?
Alan Steinman: Of course I was really pleased that the President was going to be in favor of allowing gays to serve openly.
Mason Funk: Set the timeframe, mention-
Alan Steinman: The timeframe is late 1992 or into the 1993 timeframe. He had been elected, he had just-
Mason Funk: [00:42:00] I'm sorry to interrupt, but mention President Clinton.
Alan Steinman: President Clinton-
Mason Funk: Okay, so say, "In 1992, President Clinton was elected."
Alan Steinman: Okay. In 1992, President Clinton was elected. And he had promised one of his first acts to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military. And there was not a law at the time, it was simply military regulation. He was opposed by a massive amount of congressmen and senators, and chaplain corps, and was forced to retreat unfortunately.
Alan Steinman: [00:42:30] And we ended up with this so called compromise that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was. But it became a law, it was a law that said, you can serve in the military but only if you're silent, celibate, and invisible. Those are my words, that's not what's in the law. Silent, celibate, and invisible is the way I described it. So the law was really a ban. You could not be out in any way.
Alan Steinman: [00:43:00] You could not tell anybody, anywhere, any time, even your family or your friends that you were gay. Otherwise, you put yourself at risk of being thrown out of the military. So in effect, it was a ban, but the silver lining was, for the very first time in our history, they allowed gays to serve in the military, theoretically, as long as you were silent, celibate, and invisible. So that's the timeframe, that's what happened.
Alan Steinman: [00:43:30] I had just been appointed as the Director of Health and Safety at the time, so I was a brand new rookie admiral. And every Wednesday in the Coast Guard headquarters, we would have a flag officer's meeting with the commandant, the vice-commandant, the chief of staff, and all the heads of the department sitting around a big table in a secure conference room, talking about policies and news events of the day. So this was an event that was going to be discussed. But the commandant of the Coast Guard who had appointed me said,
Alan Steinman: [00:44:00] as he banged the table with his hand, we will be in lock step with the military, the Defense Department, on this issue, end of discussion. Now I had hoped that, because we were not in the Defense Department at the time, we were in the Department of Transportation, that the Coast Guard could do its own thing. That we would, it was a Pollyanna kind of hope, because the Coast Guard cherishes its military role. It's one of the five branches of the armed forces.
Alan Steinman: [00:44:30] And we work very closely with the Navy and the other branches of the military. So it was kind of a pipe dream that it could happen. But the commandant put that to rest immediately, saying, we will be in lock step with the Defense Department on this issue. And then one of the admirals said, that's for our active duty people, but what about our civilians? And the commandant said, I have no problem with gay civilians in the Coast Guard. And we became the first federal agency to put a policy in place that says,
Alan Steinman: [00:45:00] you can be gay in the Coast Guard as a civilian, and there are no problems. We actually put that into regulation, way before any other federal agency did that. So I was really proud of the Coast Guard for that, even though for my own personal sake, I still had to stay in the closet. But at least the Coast Guard did that for their civilian workforce, which was kind of cool.
Mason Funk: And the Coast Guard could do that, and it wasn't regarded as a kind of a betrayal of their status?
Alan Steinman: [00:45:30] Theoretically, they could have done that, but I don't think the Senate would have allowed them to do it. The lead force in the Senate was Senator Sam Nunn from Georgia. I believe he was the Chairman of the Armed Forces Subcommittee. I think he was also an ex-Coastie himself. So there was no way that Sam Nunn would have allowed the Coast Guard, there would have been budgetary threats.
Mason Funk: I mean, but the Coast Guard could say that their civilians could be openly gay?
Alan Steinman: Oh yeah, there was no problem with that. Yeah, the law dealt only with active duty people.
Mason Funk: Oh, I see.
Alan Steinman: [00:46:00] And the Coast Guard theoretically could have gone its own way, because the law, I have to go back and look at the law, whether it said armed forces. If it said armed forces, then the Coast Guard would be included in that. But I think there was a chance that the Coast Guard could have gone independently. But it was never going to happen.
Mason Funk: So how did you, was the ultimate upshot that you felt like, well this is good news because they just said that civilians, of which I'm one, can be openly gay. But you said, no but I can't,
Mason Funk: [00:46:30] because I'm this high ranking officer, I'm the admiral. I'm effectively the Surgeon General of the Coast Guard. So it was kind of a moot point to you?
Alan Steinman: Well, by the time, the handwriting was on the wall already. You could see that this was never going to happen given the way the Senate was, and the way the House of Representatives was. So it wasn't a shock that we're not going to be allowed to serve openly. I mean it had been happening over weeks and months of discussion.
Alan Steinman: [00:47:00] So it was just status quo basically. You're still in the closet, you're still illegal to be open. It was just carry on, so I carried on. There was a shot at it, but things got worse actually. Then the military began actively kicking people out.
Mason Funk: Sorry, is that the driveway? I heard two beeps.
Alan Steinman: Yeah, it probably was the driveway. You want to wait until Dallas comes in?
Mason Funk: If that's in fact them, then we should just hold on.
Alan Steinman: [00:47:30] Yeah, let me go see. It normally goes beep, beep, beep, beep.
Mason Funk: I didn't hear that. It was two loud beeps. It almost sounded like [inaudible].
Lulu Gargiulo: It sounded like a microwave just got done cooking.
Mason Funk: Right.
Lulu Gargiulo: I'm just going to keep rolling.
Mason Funk: You know, it actually might be a good time to start dumping that card.
Lulu Gargiulo: Really?
Mason Funk: Yeah. We've been going for almost an hour.
Lulu Gargiulo: [00:48:00] Yeah. The only reason I ask that is because of the amount of cards you have.
Alan Steinman: We can't tell if it was you. Your car isn't [inaudible] onto the park, so we've been looking.
Mason Funk: But I still think it's worth dumping.
Lulu Gargiulo: Okay.
Mason Funk: Yeah, because we have five cards. There's no way we're going to fill up more than two more cards.
Lulu Gargiulo: No.
Mason Funk: So it's good.
Lulu Gargiulo: But then I'm still confused as to, then at the end of the day you transfer them again-
Mason Funk: I finish transferring the cards, and then overnight I make the second copy.
Lulu Gargiulo: Second copy. Okay.
Mason Funk: So I think we should-
Lulu Gargiulo: Maybe stopping then. [crosstalk]
Mason Funk: It's not them?
Alan Steinman: [00:48:30] It's not him.
Mason Funk: Okay. What were you-
Lulu Gargiulo: I was going to do just a little room tone on this card.
Mason Funk: Okay. We're going to do a little technical thing. Just have a seat, we're going to record the sound of the room with nobody talking for technical purposes.
Lulu Gargiulo: And we're being very quiet.
Mason Funk: You're going to call it?
Lulu Gargiulo: This room tone for the next 20 seconds or something ...
Lulu Gargiulo: [00:49:00] Okay, that's it.
Mason Funk: Okay. Now we're going to cut it. I'm going to start transferring that card.
Alan Steinman: I forgot where we were.
Mason Funk: Well, I think we had finished the-
Alan Steinman: Oh, the Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Yeah.
Mason Funk: We're ready to go on to a new topic.
Alan Steinman: [00:49:30] Don't Ask, Don't Tell is in place, motor on.
Mason Funk: What's that?
Alan Steinman: Don't Ask, Don't Tell is in place now.
Mason Funk: Yes, exactly.
Alan Steinman: And motor on.
Mason Funk: So I want to detour a little bit. Talking about fishing exhibitions. But here's my question. I wrote this, because again, I'm kind of captivated by this whole world of sea survival. I wonder if there are any lessons that,
Mason Funk: [00:50:00] it's sort of like the old phrase, keep calm and carry on. If you were to take some strategies and best practices you learned from the world of medical care for people who are experiencing hypothermia, near drowning, et cetera, can you extrapolate any lessons from that world that apply to the quest for LGBTQ equality?
Alan Steinman: [00:50:30] Sure. Let me repeat the question.
Mason Funk: I spent such a long time asking the question, you're probably like, yeah, I know what you're asking.
Alan Steinman: Okay. So the question is, is there any similarities to people going through, for example, a sea survival situation to the quest for LGBT equality. And I would say, yes there is. There's a very good one. One of the most important things about surviving, whether it's sea survival or land survival, or anywhere, is mental toughness. The will to survive, the will to carry on and persist.
Alan Steinman: [00:51:00] People who give up too quickly usually die. And the people who are willing to fight, because they have loved ones that they're going to leave orphaned or widowed, they fight and they survive. And so it is with the LGBT community. We have persisted in our fight for equality for many, many decades, and are succeeding.
Alan Steinman: [00:51:30] And I think we'll continue to succeed. I don't think there's any going back. So yeah there's definitely some similarities there in that particular aspect of persistence, and fighting, and the will to survive.
Mason Funk: So first of all, on the side of people who in sea rescue situations, or who are injured basically, they have to fight to survive. What are the top things that make somebody decide to fight as opposed to give up?
Alan Steinman: [00:52:00] Usually it's their family. They're thinking about leaving their loved ones and how horrible that's going to be. They didn't get to say, I love say, or say goodbye. The survivors I've interviewed, that's one of the strongest motivators is doing it for their family. Living, surviving so they don't leave their family bereft. I'd say that was the most important factor.
Mason Funk: [00:52:30] And then when it comes to the LGBTQ community, where do you think our community kind of found the will, for example, through the AIDS epidemic, or through any number of other crises? Where do you think we found the will to persist when others, who knows who, but others might have desisted?
Alan Steinman: I don't know. I don't know that there's any choice. I mean, it's a matter of our survival. As a community,
Alan Steinman: [00:53:00] I guess we came to the conclusion, we don't want to have to be persecuted anymore, be discriminated against anymore. And we found some success when we began to get straight allies, when those allies found that they had gay, and lesbian, or bisexual, or transgender family members, or friends, or co-workers. I think that factor is so important, is the key factor on how we've managed to progress in this nation in the LGBT community.
Alan Steinman: [00:53:30] And there's no going back. You can't just suddenly disown your family members, or your friends, or your co-workers. Once you find that you have a gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender person in your life, the concept of LGBT ceases to be what I call the boogeyman. The boogeyman factor goes away. It's really easy to do it in absentia, or do it as an abstract, citing the Bible, whatever you want to use
Alan Steinman: [00:54:00] as a hammer to hammer the LGBT community. But you can't do that when you have a family member who is LGBT. It no longer works. In my own example, and I think in the military in particular, that's what happened in the military. Back in '93 when Don't Ask, Don't Tell came into effect, and there was this tremendous resistance inside the Pentagon, particularly from the chaplain corps, but it was just a homophobia of growing up a male in this society,
Alan Steinman: [00:54:30] and of course the military is 85% male. That's where it was. But as the years went by, and there were gay people in the military who just decided they're not going to stay in the closet, more and more people in the military found that they had gay battle buddies, shipmates, roommates, or whatever it was. And it was okay, this person wasn't the boogeyman. This person is not evil, this person is not promiscuous, not going to hit on them, not going to sexually attack them.
Alan Steinman: [00:55:00] And where that struck me first was in 2005. The Palm Center did a survey, a poll, of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans. Among the questions they asked was, do you know for certain whether there is a gay person in your unit, in your own unit? And 25% of them said they did.
Alan Steinman: [00:55:30] And then they asked another question. Instead of knowing for certain, do you suspect or highly suspect that there are gay people in your unit? And another 45% said they suspected there was. Well, that's 70% of the military saying they either know or suspect there are gay people, not just somewhere in the military, but in their own unit. And a quarter of them said they know who that person is. And most of those people said there was more than one. So I looked at those data, and I said, whoa, wait a second. Why don't we run with this?
Alan Steinman: [00:56:00] This completely undermines the entire foundation of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which was based on the assumption that any known gay person is going to disrupt unit morale, unit cohesion, and degrade combat readiness. And here is a quarter of the military saying that's not true. That there's nothing wrong with our combat readiness now, or unit morale, or unit cohesion, and yet 25% of these folks say they know somebody who is gay.
Alan Steinman: [00:56:30] So as the years went by, that number probably, we don't know, increased until finally when the Defense Department itself, under Obama's guidance and Secretary Gates, and Admiral Mullen, when they testified in the Senate, said they're going to do a study on it. I was fairly confident if they polled the military, they would find those results. And sure enough, that's exactly what they found. So I was pretty confident that, when so many known gays are serving in the military, where is the problem?
Alan Steinman: [00:57:00] And I think that factor for Don't Ask, Don't Tell anyway, helped repeal the law. And the same with same sex marriage. You go back in the years when same sex marriage was being debated that overwhelmingly the country was opposed. But as the years went by, Massachusetts legalized it, and people found that they had gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender relatives. The opposition started to go away until you had this cascade of states
Alan Steinman: [00:57:30] legalizing same sex marriage until finally the force of law, and of course it came to the Supreme Court decision. And there we are today. So I think knowing somebody, the mere fact that people came out to their friends and relatives and co-workers, broke the dam of homophobia in this country. And I don't see how we go back. Clearly the right wing would like us to go back.
Alan Steinman: [00:58:00] There are evangelical religious people, both in Christian and Muslim and Jews, Orthodox, who would like to go back to where we were before. But I don't see how you can go back. I mean, you can't undo your relative, or your friends, or your co-workers.
Mason Funk: Do you see, one person I interviewed said that he still felt like, it's not that he's not in favor of gay marriage or marriage equality, but he felt like the fact that it came down through the courts was actually bad. That it was going to undermine us in the long run.
Mason Funk: [00:58:30] That it wasn't, the states weren't allowed to decide. It went through the legislature. He says people are going to always feel like something was sort of handed out and imposed on them. What's your take on that?
Alan Steinman: Well I disagree. I mean, there have been so many seminal laws in this country that have come down from the Supreme Court. If you wait for every state, you'd be waiting a long time for Mississippi or Alabama to legalize same sex marriage.
Alan Steinman: [00:59:00] So if you wait for the population to vote, it's going to be too long. Why should your civil rights be put up to a vote? You see that happening in Australia right now. Australia still doesn't have same sex marriage, and their legislature is going to put it up to a vote right now. I think they're going to find in the vote that there's an overwhelming number of Aussies are in favor of same sex marriage. But yeah, it could come down,
Alan Steinman: [00:59:30] if you wait for legislatures to do it, you could be waiting a long time, particularly when there's 50 different states. So of course the Supreme Court ruled that it was a Constitutional right under the 14th Amendment. So there we are.
Mason Funk: Great, okay, excellent. Now, we're going to go back to where I was here.
Alan Steinman: That was a long way away from survival.
Mason Funk: [inaudible]
Alan Steinman: [01:00:00] I'm sorry, I hit your mic.
Mason Funk: Sometimes I try to interrupt people, but I could tell like, okay, we're going to good places.
Alan Steinman: Okay, good, all right.
Mason Funk: Going back to your so-called sexual adolescence in your 50s, the question I have that I wrote here was, I'm focusing a little bit on wisdom and lessons learned that you feel like you can convey to other people. Was there something that you learned personally in the process of going through that late sexual adolescence
Mason Funk: [01:00:30] that are maybe transferable to someone who is maybe going through their own sexual adolescence in their teens, or in their 20s, or in their 30s? Were any bumps, like hard knocks, lessons learned the hard way, or things that you feel like you can share?
Alan Steinman: I think for today's youth the major factor that they should be aware of is safe sex. That's part of the problem we're having in the gay male community now.
Alan Steinman: [01:01:00] When I was going through my sexual adolescence, of course we had gone through the whole AIDS crisis, and it was still fresh. So obviously as a physician, I knew what safe sex was all about. So that was never a problem for me. But I think moving away from that era, I think we are forgetting those lessons, and are apt to have a resurgence of STDs. We're having a resurgence of STDs in the gay community because of that, the gay male community in particular because of that.
Alan Steinman: [01:01:30] But for other life lessons, it's hard for me to say, because I wasn't a teenager doing it at the time, and during my teenage years it wasn't an issue. So I can't project myself back into my teenage years and know what the 50 year old Alan Steinman should say to the 16 year old Alan Steinman. So that's about as best I can do on that answer I think.
Mason Funk: [01:02:00] That's great. No I guess that was one of those fishing expeditions. I understand. Let's talk about, well actually I have a couple questions. When you met Dallas, did that hasten your retirement? Did that hasten your decision to say, I think I'm ready to hang this up and be able to come out and live openly?
Alan Steinman: Not really. I just was tired of the stress of having to be in the closet and not being authentic. So it was a lot of-
Mason Funk: [01:02:30] Tell me that, if I had just asked a different question. What prompted you to finally decide to retire in order to be able to come out?
Alan Steinman: I decided to retire because I wanted to live my life as a gay man, who I was, who I knew I was since I was 12 or 13. I mean, so 50 years was enough. That's more than enough. So I think even though I could have stayed longer, I think it was enough time. I had accomplished everything I wanted to do in my military career in the Coast Guard.
Alan Steinman: [01:03:00] So now it was time to focus on my own mental well being and physical well being. I wanted to be an authentic gay citizen, and not have to worry about legal ramifications or keeping the closet door so tightly closed.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I can only imagine after that length of time.
Alan Steinman: Yeah.
Mason Funk: And the seriousness with which you took that role. That's a lot to carry.
Mason Funk: [01:03:30] So tell us the story about essentially why did you decide, you could have just retired and gone on about your life. But you decided to become an activist. Why?
Alan Steinman: I knew when I retired that I could make a contribution, certainly in the military gay world, to getting the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law repealed. Because I was an admiral.
Alan Steinman: [01:04:00] I would have a certain amount of authority in the minds of the people who had to make that legal decision in the legislatures. That here is a senior officer who is gay, and it's not a big deal. So I knew that I could use my rank on behalf of fighting for equality for the gay community, particularly in the military. So that's why
Alan Steinman: [01:04:30] I began working with SLDN, and in fact all HRC, and all the gay activist organizations to try and make that happen.
Mason Funk: And what was your vision, what did you do? Did you take their lead, or how did you decide kind of what to do?
Alan Steinman: The lead organization at the time was Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, SLDN for short. Has now become OutServe-SLDN,
Alan Steinman: [01:05:00] they've evolved into that, but at the time it was SLDN. So after I had finished four years serving on a Senate oversight committee on Gulf War illnesses, which still prevented me from coming out just because it would have been a major distraction for the work we were doing. When that was over, I decided to come out. Unfortunately 911 happened, and I sought the advice of some of my friends
Alan Steinman: [01:05:30] who were flag officers in the Coast Guard about my coming out. I was advised, don't do it at that time, 2001 timeframe, because it would be not only just a distraction, but it would be used against you. And any good that you might try and hope to do for the gay military community would just be hurt by you as a flag officer creating this huge distraction at a time the nation is mobilizing for a military response and what not because of 911. So I thought that was good advice,
Alan Steinman: [01:06:00] and so I did not for another two years. Then we came up on the 10th anniversary of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, in November of 2003. And that was the time, let me backup a little bit. I had contacted SLDN at the time that I decided to come out, and they invited me to make public appearances, and go on media, and write, and write articles. And that's why I sought the counsel of my friends, who said not to do it, who were in the military,
Alan Steinman: [01:06:30] and said, these are the results it's going to be if you do this in the military. SLDN of course wanted badly for a flag officer, a senior military officer, to be an ally, because they knew how important that would be in the political fight. But the political fight needed the military to go along with it. I knew that we're never going to get the law repealed unless the military ultimately said it would be okay. And doing it at the time of 911 would have been not only not okay,
Alan Steinman: [01:07:00] it would have been worse than not okay. It would have been the exact 180 degrees opposite. So I didn't do it then. But two years later, the heat was off, we were still engaged in war, but it wasn't like if you said something, it would be like you're hurting the military at the time. SLDN proposed that the 10th anniversary was an excellent to come out and make a statement. And so basically that's what we did.
Alan Steinman: [01:07:30] We wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, we came out. And that began my career as a public activist on the issue.
Mason Funk: So what did you say, in brief, in that op-ed? Set it up for me.
Alan Steinman: Basically it was I and two Army generals came out together.
Mason Funk: Just set it up for me, "when I came out, I came out in an op-ed in the New York Times."
Alan Steinman: Okay, so basically I came out in an op-ed in the New York Times,
Alan Steinman: [01:08:00] making the point that there are gay people throughout the military, at every job, every rank. I am an example of that. And there is no need for the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law to remain in place because we, those of us who are gay in the military, are not a threat to unit morale, unit cohesion, and combat readiness. That was the point we were making. And we wanted to initiate a discussion about revisiting the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law, because it had been long dormant in terms of political dormant,
Alan Steinman: [01:08:30] certainly nobody in the legislature was thinking about it. So we wanted to rekindle a discussion about Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and so that's what I did.
Mason Funk: How do you think, in terms of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and it is useful if every time you mention them you state what the acronym stands for, even though it takes a few seconds. Looking at them as an activist organization with a very specific cause,
Mason Funk: [01:09:00] what lessons would you saw you observed from how they pursued this cause? What they did well, and this is obviously not to smash them or criticize them, but what did they do well, what worked, and what didn't work in that long journey to repeal?
Alan Steinman: What worked in the long journey to repeal for what I observed in SLDN, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network,
Alan Steinman: [01:09:30] was the outreach to the legislatures and to the Pentagon. This was a long, laborious process that you had to change hearts and minds. And so the more personal stories that we could put before Congress, and put before the Pentagon, the easier it became. So you had people in the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network organization who were quite skilled at lobbying Congress.
Alan Steinman: [01:10:00] And then behind the scenes work with particular legislators who they knew to be key in getting the job done. And that's ultimately what happened. I'm shortening 10 years of, more than that, 10 years that I was participating in it, of fighting to get it done. But it was that behind the scenes work with the military, and the Senate,
Alan Steinman: [01:10:30] and the House of Representatives, but particularly the military. You had to have military buy-in to have this thing happen. And where that happened, I think, most dramatically for the public, and certainly for me watching it happen, was when Admiral Mullen in a Senate hearing on Don't Ask, Don't Tell said, speaking for myself, and me personally, he saw no reason why we would ask
Alan Steinman: [01:11:00] men and women of the military to put their lives on the line, and not allow them to serve openly and honorably as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. That was a stunning moment. It was so stunning that Senator McCain, who was leading the opposition in the Senate, got up and walked out of the hearing. It was amazing. But that moment, that was when the military bought in.
Alan Steinman: [01:11:30] And I think that was really the beginning. Prior to that, President Obama had said he was going to work with the military and Congress to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell because it was the right thing to do. But he didn't say, we're going to repeal it next year. He said, I'm going to work with them. There was a lot of people in the gay community didn't pick up on that distinction. He didn't say we're going to repeal it this year, which was an election year. He said I'm going to work with the Pentagon and the Congress to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Mason Funk: [01:12:00] It is a striking moment for Senator McCain, obviously a famous war hero.
Alan Steinman: Right.
Mason Funk: Not according to our current President, but notwithstanding that. To have stood up and walked out on a high ranking member of the military, because this high ranking member of the military made a statement. And I just wonder, is that not disrespectful?
Alan Steinman: [01:12:30] Well, it's, not only did he walk out on the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but he walked out on the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, who was sitting next to Admiral Mullen at the same table. McCain was upset with the poll that the Defense Department had done with members of the military, the active duty workforce, and their families, which I thought was unprecedented. But McCain wanted the Secretary of Defense to ask the question,
Alan Steinman: [01:13:00] should we allow gays to serve openly in the military, yes or no. And they didn't ask that question. So McCain was angry at that. So McCain challenged the Secretary of Defense, why didn't you ask that question? And the Secretary of Defense says, it would be unprecedented in military history for the command to ask the workforce what they want to do. And it's true. And that was the point, I think, that McCain realized he was wrong,
Alan Steinman: [01:13:30] and probably angrily got up and walked out. But yeah, of course it was disrespectful. I never understood why Senator McCain was so opposed. I never understood the vehemence that he brought to the table on this issue. And he almost single-handedly stopped it from happening. It was nip and tuck to the very, very end. But I never understood that.
Mason Funk: That's interesting. It's an interesting footnote on his career, especially given recent events.
Lulu Gargiulo: [01:14:00] I just want to point out, it's been moving.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I see it.
Lulu Gargiulo: Okay.
Mason Funk: It's going to be, let me just-
Lulu Gargiulo: I'm moving?
Mason Funk: You're not moving, it's fine. We have a bar of sunlight on the column behind you, but it's going to move off that column any second now.
Alan Steinman: Okay.
Mason Funk: Then we'll be fine.
Lulu Gargiulo: It will take about, well no, it's going to move around the corner there.
Mason Funk: That's fine.
Lulu Gargiulo: Actually, maybe it won't. Maybe it will [inaudible].
Mason Funk: It will be all right.
Alan Steinman: Let me look at it.
Mason Funk: I love that little footnote, wow.
Alan Steinman: Go Google it.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Alan Steinman: Google the Senate hearing.
Mason Funk: [01:14:30] Yeah.
Alan Steinman: It's also in the HBO documentary. Oh yeah, you ought to watch that.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] I need to watch that too.
Alan Steinman: You can watch the documentary, yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. So let's talk about these, four actually, individuals. Because I don't like to leave them to until the very end lest we overlook them. Aaron Belkin.
Alan Steinman: Aaron Belkin, all right. Aaron Belkin is a professor of political science, originally at the University of California, Santa Barbara, when I first met him. And then went to the University of San Francisco,
Alan Steinman: [01:15:00] I believe, as a professor. He approached this issue from an academic standpoint. And he's a brilliant philosopher on this issue as well.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Repeat this issue, we're not going to know what issue you're talking about.
Alan Steinman: Okay.
Mason Funk: And skip the little preface about him. Just kind of maybe cut to the chase.
Alan Steinman: All right, sorry. So Aaron Belkin is a professor of political science who is one of the key movers
Alan Steinman: [01:15:30] and shakers on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell issue. And he approaches, because he's a professor, from an academic standpoint. And he provided academic research to Congress and to the military showing why Don't Ask, Don't Tell is not only unnecessary, but is harmful to the military. I consider Dr. Belkin to be one of the main reasons why Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed. He has my total admiration, he's amazing.
Alan Steinman: [01:16:00] And his persistence and skill, particularly not even being a military guy himself, was so important to the success of the effort to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Mason Funk: Great, great. Now you also listed General John, and I don't know how to say his last name. Shalik-
Alan Steinman: General John Shalikashvili. General John Shalikashvili was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time Don't Ask, Don't Tell was being debated back in 1993.
Alan Steinman: [01:16:30] So of course he inherited the law when it was passed, and ultimately retired from the Army as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and moved to a little town called Steilacoom, Washington, which interestingly was about 30 miles from where I was living in DuPont, Washington. And we had a mutual friend who knew us both, of course,
Alan Steinman: [01:17:00] a mutual friend, and I asked the friend whether he could introduce me to General Shalikashvili. Because hearkening back to what I said before, I knew the military had to have buy-in, or we're never going to get this law repealed. I wanted to be able to make a pitch to the General who was the former General of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. So our friend set up a meeting with me and him and General Shalikashvili in his living room, in his house in Steilacoom.
Alan Steinman: [01:17:30] And we had this lovely conversation about Don't Ask, Don't Tell and gays in the military. And my one goal in that meeting was to carry on the conversation. I didn't want it to be a one shot deal. So my recollection of that initial meeting was his comment. He says, well I know this would be really good for the gay community, but when I put on my military hat, I'm not sure it's going to be good for the military community. So when we left, I asked him if we could meet some more,
Alan Steinman: [01:18:00] and he said sure. So a few months later, we had a meeting, I went there with Dixon Osburn who was the head of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and Dixon and I and the General had a conversation about Don't Ask, Don't Tell once again. Dixon is not a military guy. So again, he doesn't bring military credibility with him, but he knows the issue, and he knew the politics of the issue inside out.
Alan Steinman: [01:18:30] So I listened mainly to the conversation between General Shalikashvili and Dixon. And I could see, I could sense in the General that he's receptive to our arguments, not convinced but he's receptive to the arguments. So at the end of that meeting, I asked the General could I come back again. He said sure. So a few months after that, I brought Aaron Belkin with me. And Aaron of course knows the academic history,
Alan Steinman: [01:19:00] and of course knew all the politics as well. We had a conversation. Of course, Aaron is a professor, and he's not military, he has no military background. But again, Aaron brought arguments that the General thought were interesting. And so at the end of that meeting, I said, can we carry this conversation on? And he said sure. It was about that time that I got involved with a project called the Call to Duty Tour,
Alan Steinman: [01:19:30] which was arranged by a former Army soldier named Alex Nicholson. It was his idea to go around the country with a group of veterans speaking about Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and focusing our attention on the conservative red states of America, to show them who gay people are. What is the face of gay military? And so for three months, we traveled from New England down to the South,
Alan Steinman: [01:20:00] through the Midwest, out to the Southwest, ending up here in Seattle, speaking at I don't know 20, 25 different college campuses. And giving television interviews and media interviews and whatnot with former gay soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. I was the sole Coastie. So I give that by way of background. I asked General Shalikashvili, would you be interested in sitting down with some former service members
Alan Steinman: [01:20:30] who are gay to get their perspective on it? And one of the things I remember from General Shalikashvili, his statement was, well one of the reasons that we'll never be able to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell is submarines. You can't be gay on a submarine, it's just too close quarters. The other submarine sailors are going to be uncomfortable, and they're not going to want to interact with an openly gay sailor. Well it turns out one of our Call to Duty Tour members was a former submariner.
Alan Steinman: [01:21:00] Actually not former, he was a current, he was active duty submariner at the time that we met with General Shalikashvili. Which is another little funny story. So I had to sort of negotiate with the General that this conversation is going to be confidential. And of course he's not going to turn him in. So we went to meet General Shalikashvili in his living room, with me and five or six of the Call to Duty Tour members.
Alan Steinman: [01:21:30] And it was a turning point for the General. When he heard their stories, I think he was taken aback, because every one of them was openly gay with their fellow service members, and it wasn't a big deal. But he was particularly interested in the submariner. He leaned forward in his chair, and for 30 minutes he and the submariner talked about life on a submarine. And this guy was,
Alan Steinman: [01:22:00] this was a big bulky muscular guy, who was the quintessential sailor. And he said, everybody on that boat knew I was gay. And to me, that means obviously the commanding officer must have known he was gay. But you can't acknowledge it. But it was no big deal. There they are, he does his job. He says, you're not judged by who you sleep with on your off duty time. You're judged by how well you do your job and keep all of us alive, and protect our nation.
Alan Steinman: [01:22:30] That's what it means to be a submariner. And I think he changed the General's mind, almost single-handedly. But I think the General was impressed with all the stories he had heard. So a few months after that, Aaron Belkin had the idea of trying to get General Shalikashvili to write an op-ed for the New York Times. I said, oh no, it's too early. He's not ready yet. It's too early, don't do it.
Alan Steinman: [01:23:00] And of course Aaron is very impetuous, and he ignored my advice. And he approached the General, and the General said sure, I'll write it. And he did. And in his op-ed, he specifically mentions our meeting in his living room, and he specifically mentions the submariner as helping to change his mind. And he concluded in that op-ed that, I think the time has come for us to revisit this issue, and I think our nation has grown and matured enough
Alan Steinman: [01:23:30] that we can allow gays and lesbians to serve openly and it not be a problem. So that was like a nuclear bomb going off on the issue. That was one of the seminal moments for the whole Don't Ask, Don't Tell story, was General Shalikashvili, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the New York Times says, we can repeal this law and it's not going to hurt the nation or the military. Amazing. That's why I listed him as one of the key figures. Unfortunately,
Alan Steinman: [01:24:00] [Shali] has passed away, but I wanted his memory, I wanted his family to know and the nation to know what role he played, how important that was in getting the law repealed.
Mason Funk: That's a great story, and also a really interesting story about strategy. I think there's wisdom in there about, again, it's like water on a stone. And you have to pick your moments,
Mason Funk: [01:24:30] pace it out, and impatience isn't going to win the day. And I wonder if you can just sort of, this is my sense of your story, but if you could maybe talk about what you feel like is the strategic lesson you could pull from that.
Alan Steinman: Well, you had the former leader of the military, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The most senior member of the military saying that it's okay, it's not going to be a problem.
Alan Steinman: [01:25:00] So how then do you then continue to say that a known gay is going to be a problem, when the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says nah, I met with openly gay people, and it's not a problem. It was a stunning development. A little side story, by the way, that I told the same story to the HBO people, but General Shalikashvili was still alive. And I told them they can't use it because we had agreed that that meeting is not going to be talked about as long as he's still alive.
Alan Steinman: [01:25:30] But since he's passed away, and it's been 10 years now, I think we can talk about it now. They were very upset, they wanted to use it, but I said no, not on a public TV station.
Mason Funk: Wow. Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I'm glad we have that. Now you mentioned also Congressman Pat, I have to say, we're going to probably need to try to keep our answers a little short, although that story was important to play out beat by beat.
Alan Steinman: [01:26:00] Okay.
Mason Funk: But I'm just aware of the time a little bit. So, Patrick Murphy. Oh, there it is.
Alan Steinman: There's Dallas, okay.
Mason Funk: Bump, bump, bump, bump. Okay.
Alan Steinman: So there's Dallas, you want to-
Lulu Gargiulo: Shall I pause it?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Alan Steinman: Yeah. A short Patrick Murphy. Am I so crying.
Lulu Gargiulo: And we are-
Mason Funk: Okay, no worries. That's happened before. So tell us about Congressman Patrick Murphy.
Alan Steinman: So Congressman Patrick Murphy was a blue dog Democrat from Pennsylvania who played a hugely significant role in the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Alan Steinman: [01:26:30] He was a lead legislature in the House of Representatives to introduce a bill to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the House, and got it done. So the House was on board, the President was on board, we just needed the Senate. So Patrick Murphy is a straight married Roman Catholic father of two, former Army Captain.
Alan Steinman: [01:27:00] And you could not ask for a better straight ally. So beloved was Congressman Murphy by all of us in the gay military community, that when President Obama, on December 22, signed the bill to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and had all the significant legislators up on the stage with him, Congressman Murphy got the longest and loudest standing ovation from all of us in the audience.
Alan Steinman: [01:27:30] Because we knew what role he had played, and how hard he had fought. I think even President Obama was taken aback with the love that was pouring out from all of us towards Congressman Murphy. So that's why I wanted to highlight his role here. I think he lost his election actually because of his participation in repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He was not re-elected. But he didn't care, he said that
Alan Steinman: [01:28:00] when his kids ask him what he did on this issue, he wanted to be able to say that he did the right thing, even if it cost him re-election. And he did, the guy's amazing, still amazing.
Mason Funk: So what do you think it was for him? I'd love to have him speak for himself, but where did this come from for him?
Alan Steinman: First of all, he knew it was the right thing to do. He didn't see any value to the law. I think he knew there were gay troops in his own unit.
Alan Steinman: [01:28:30] And so for him, getting rid of this law was something that was going to benefit the nation, and certainly benefit the military. So I think that was the driving force, and he just was an amazing advocate for us. If I had to list the two strongest straight allies that had the most importance in getting Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed,
Alan Steinman: [01:29:00] I'd put General Shalikashvili and Patrick Murphy on top of the list.
Mason Funk: The distinction you made is a really important one. In a way, people had to be convinced that it wasn't going to just not hurt the nation and not hurt the military, they had to be convinced it was actually going to benefit the nation and the military. How do you think the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell actually benefited the nation and the military?
Alan Steinman: [01:29:30] Let me speak to the nation first, because I think that's probably the most important thing. So when the military moves forward on an issue, particularly something as controversial as allowing gays and lesbians to serve honorably and openly, how then can you possibly justify any discrimination in any other aspect of society? If gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders can put their lives on the line to defend this nation,
Alan Steinman: [01:30:00] how do you justify discrimination on housing, marriage, jobs, or any other aspect of society? So I think that was the critical moment. When the military says, it's going to be okay, we can do this, it's not going to hurt us, how does the rest of the country then continue to try and discriminate against LGBT people? Now as far as the military's concerned, I mean you just open up the military to another 4%, 5%, 6%
Alan Steinman: [01:30:30] of the U.S. population in terms of available workforce. Certainly there were tens of thousands of gays and lesbians serving in the military, and doing so honorably already. And that was clear from the survey they did. So the justification for the law was completely gone by that point. There is no disruption in unit morale, unit cohesion, or combat readiness.
Mason Funk: [01:31:00] This morning we interviewed a very, very fierce, very tough lesbian activist in Seattle named Lamar Van Dyke. Literally, she adopted the name Van Dyke because they were a bunch of dykes who drove around in vans in the 1970s and raised hell.
Alan Steinman: Cool.
Mason Funk: And I want to accurately represent her point of view regarding gays in the military, but essentially it was like, why in the hell would we,
Mason Funk: [01:31:30] the queer community, clamor for the right to join the military to go around the world and kill people? She said, what a waste of energy. And like I say, I don't want to either disrespect you or her, but I think I'm accurately representing her point of view. It was pretty blunt. So why do you feel effectively, given that opinion, what's your sense of I guess the opposite opinion?
Mason Funk: [01:32:00] Why it was so important for LGBTQ people to clamor for the right to serve in the military?
Alan Steinman: Well first of all, you start with patriotism. The gays, and lesbians, and bisexuals, and transgenders want to serve in the military for exactly the same reasons as their straight and cisgendered counterparts do. The same reasons exactly, no difference. And it's important that the members of the LGBT community participate in all aspects of society, particularly in national defense.
Alan Steinman: [01:32:30] Unless you're willing to argue we don't need a military to help protect the country or the people, then we have to have a military. And so if we have to have a military, we need a military for national defense, then by golly LGBT people should be part of it, because we're part of society. That's how I would counter that argument.
Mason Funk: Okay, great. I didn't think it was going to be difficult for you. I just wanted to hear kind of what particular take you had. Okay, excellent. All right, now the last person we wanted to talk about was Alex Nicholson.
Alan Steinman: [01:33:00] Yeah.
Mason Funk: Again, kind of keeping it relatively short, but for the record, who was Alex Nicholson and why is he important?
Alan Steinman: Alex Nicholson was a soldier in the Army who was a linguist. He could speak five languages, including Arabic. And he was kicked out when one of his fellow soldiers found out he was gay by reading one of his emails
Alan Steinman: [01:33:30] which he had written in Portuguese, interestingly enough. And it was in the middle of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell era, so the Army dutifully kicked him out. Well Alex didn't want to take this lying down. So he wanted to fight back. And it was his idea, I've talked about already, to do this Call to Duty Tour, and change hearts and minds all across the nation. So we did that, then he had another project called 10,000 Flags on the Mall,
Alan Steinman: [01:34:00] representing at the time 10,000 people kicked out of the military for being gay under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And we put 10,000 little American flags on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C., and held a huge event with it. And it was a brilliant marketing strategy. Alex was filled with, he had wonderful marketing sense. Then he founded another organization called Service Members United, and continued to work behind the scenes with legislators
Alan Steinman: [01:34:30] and the White House to ultimately work towards getting Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed. And he published his own book about what those behind the scenes things were like. So I want to give Alex some credit. I think he's a remarkable young man, and he has a big role in getting Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed.
Mason Funk: Cool, that's great. That sounds like someone, he's probably way too young for us to interview him.
Alan Steinman: He's I think in his mid 30s.
Mason Funk: [01:35:00] Yeah, but it's maybe someone to be on our leadership council. He sounds like he'd be a good-
Alan Steinman: Yeah, he would be good.
Mason Funk: Especially with that marketing savvy. Yeah, that's somebody that we need lots of. So I think, this is kind of a broad question, but when you look back with regard to the repeal effort, what do you think was most effective, and what was least effective?
Mason Funk: [01:35:30] In terms of for future generations mounting a campaign to change something, what would you say, okay, this is what I would replicate, this is what I would say don't waste your time? Do you have a couple of examples in there?
Alan Steinman: Yeah. One was getting your personal stories, coming out, getting your personal stories.
Mason Funk: So, phrase the question. I'm sorry.
Alan Steinman: I'm sorry. One of the most effective things for, I'm going to start over again. What was the noun you used?
Mason Funk: [01:36:00] What worked?
Alan Steinman: Yeah, okay. One of the, let me start over again.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Alan Steinman: Among, I'm thinking, now I've got the, I'm sorry, I'm flashing on the Spanish inquisition skit from Monty Python. I'll come in again. All right. Amongst our weaponry, our diverse elements. All right.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Alan Steinman: [01:36:30] I think two of the most important things that were most effective in getting Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed was getting our stories, and making people realize how many known gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are serving in the military right now without it being a problem. The other one was attacking the religious question, getting chaplains and religious leaders to support gays serving in the military.
Alan Steinman: [01:37:00] Because the religious question and the vehement opposition to this day of certain evangelical Christians to gays serving, or gays even existing in this country, was important. So that fight was taken not publicly so much, but it was taken into the Pentagon. We had members of the chaplain corps speak to their compatriots in the Pentagon, and let it be known that
Alan Steinman: [01:37:30] not all religious leaders are opposed to gays serving, and that there are chaplains who fully support their gay, lesbian, and bisexual members serving in the military. So that was kind of a behind the scenes but very effective weapon. Now what didn't work? Let me think about that.
Alan Steinman: [01:38:00] Surprisingly, one of the things that didn't work was holding up for example the experiences of our foreign military allies, almost all of whom allow gays and lesbians to serve. We thought that would be a killer argument. General Shalikashvili said, don't even waste your time. The people in the Pentagon don't care, I think what the example he used, the people in the Pentagon don't care what the Danish Navy is doing.
Alan Steinman: [01:38:30] So despite the fact that we had all these military allies, and civilian fire departments, and civilian police departments, and the FBI, and the CIA, and the DIA all allow gays and lesbians and bisexuals to serve openly, it didn't make any difference. They weren't the military, so that wasn't a winning argument.
Mason Funk: Interesting, yeah. I can easily imagine how people said, don't talk to us about Denmark. My God, they're a bunch of centralists.
Alan Steinman: [01:39:00] Yeah. Why use Denmark? I mean you can talk about the UK, and Australia, and Canada, and France, Germany. UK, I mean they were fighting shoulder to shoulder with us in Iraq. They were responsible for southern Iraq in the original Iraq war. And they allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, and they do not have a problem with it, years before the U.S. finally repealed their law. But it didn't make any difference to the Pentagon. They don't care. It was the same issue with transgender right now. It was not a winning argument for our military.
Alan Steinman: [01:39:30] The winning argument for the transgender issue was medical. When we showed that medically it's not a problem, and the American Medical Association publicly came out and said it's not a problem for transgenders serving, that was the main reason why the military had banned transgenders. It was a medically disqualifying diagnosis. So they changed their minds on that, and that's where we are today.
Mason Funk: [01:40:00] Interesting. So on that topic, as you know, and I actually double-checked the internet to see exactly what President Trump tweeted. Which was obviously that it was a disruption, and that transgender people created "tremendous medical costs." In your experience, how do you respond to these two statements, these two charges, disruption and tremendous medical costs for transgender people serving in the military?
Alan Steinman: Well, they're both false.
Mason Funk: So, tell me what you think of that.
Alan Steinman: [01:40:30] So the issue cited by President Trump for reasons why he wants to ban transgender from the military are costs and disruption. Well, disruption we know is completely wrong, because transgenders have been serving openly and honorably for the last year, and there's been no disruption whatsoever. The Pentagon is not complaining about disruption among the troops. So that's a complete false flag. The worry about the costs was doing gender reassignment surgery,
Alan Steinman: [01:41:00] and is the taxpayer going to have to pay for that. Well, it's more a philosophical objection from right wing politicians than it is a dollar cost. Because you spend more money on providing Viagra, for example, to the troops than you do for the few people that are going to ask for gender reassignment surgery. Besides which, those requiring gender reassignment surgery need it for their mental health. So as a required healthcare for your active duty troops,
Alan Steinman: [01:41:30] you can't just carve out a part of your military population and say, we're not going to give you this part of your healthcare. So he's wrong on both issues, and I don't believe he talked to anybody in the military about it. I think this was a completely political statement, along with the religious right wing people who wanted him to ban transgender. For some reason, transgender has become a touchstone for the right wing.
Alan Steinman: [01:42:00] What's the term? Oh, some guy who just left, he was fired out of the White House staff, published an 11 page screed, and in that screed he mentions transgender as somehow forcing people to deny their sexuality. So that's become a thing with the right wing now. They're picking on transgender people, this small part of our population. But for some reason it's some philosophically important thing for them to hammer at, crazy.
Mason Funk: [01:42:30] Okay. We have four final questions we ask everybody. And then we'll make sure that we haven't missed anything important. But let's do these final four. The first one is, if somebody comes to you, you've had a big coming out story, your own trajectory to reaching that point was quite lengthy. If somebody comes to you today or tomorrow, and says I'm thinking about coming out,
Mason Funk: [01:43:00] whatever that person is going to come out as. And this is intended to be sort of short and sweet, what nugget of advice or guidance do you offer that person?
Alan Steinman: Do it. Do it, be honest. Of course that's funny coming from me, since I had to live in the closet and be kind of not honest the whole time. But if you're going to come out, be proud of yourself, and tell your friends and family first,
Alan Steinman: [01:43:30] and just go about your business as if it's the more normal thing, because it is. That's who you are.
Mason Funk: That's funny. I've got a range of answers, but you and my morning interview said the first two words were identical, do it.
Alan Steinman: Good.
Mason Funk: That's funny.
Alan Steinman: That is funny.
Mason Funk: Secondly, at this moment what is your hope for the future?
Alan Steinman: My hope for the future of the LGBT community is that we have full equality with the rest of our society,
Alan Steinman: [01:44:00] and be treated no differently than our straight and cisgendered peers. No housing discrimination, no job discrimination, no marital discrimination, no discrimination in the military, no other aspect. And for sexual orientation and sexual identity not be a big deal in society. We've seen that as an example already, by the way, this is interesting.
Alan Steinman: [01:44:30] The new commandant of the cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy is a lesbian colonel. And when the Air Force announced her appointment, they didn't say anything about her gender identity. But the last line of it says, Colonel blah blah blah is going to move to Colorado Springs with her wife and kids. I can't remember whether they had kids or not. But it was just a line added on like you do with anybody else. And I said,
Alan Steinman: [01:45:00] that's what we need all over the United States in our society, exactly that. It's just another fact of who you are, and not a big deal.
Mason Funk: Really, as you point out, as I think you've said, the military is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in this issue.
Alan Steinman: I think so. I absolutely agree. They certainly did in segregation.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, say what you're [inaudible].
Alan Steinman: I think the military is uniquely qualified to take a leadership role in both sexual orientation and gender identity.
Alan Steinman: [01:45:30] We saw as an example what happens when the military desegregated under Harry Truman. Harry Truman just said, do it. The [inaudible] was totally opposed to that in a time when segregation was very strong in the United States. And the military led the way with that. Unfortunately, we lagged in Don't Ask, Don't Tell and transgender opportunities, but I think they serve a big role. As I said previously, when you can put your life on the line for your nation,
Alan Steinman: [01:46:00] why should you be discriminated against in any other aspect of your life in civilian society?
Mason Funk: Tell us that story a bit more about Truman. People might not know that story. About him saying to the military basically, it sounds like maybe-
Alan Steinman: It was an executive order, I forget the number. So Truman wrote an executive order-
Mason Funk: Start off with President Truman.
Alan Steinman: President Truman, okay I don't remember the date or-
Mason Funk: [01:46:30] That's all right, just generally.
Alan Steinman: President Truman wrote an executive order getting rid of segregation in the military. All throughout world war two, I don't even remember whether it was the Korean war or not. I'll start again. I can't remember, I don't think the Korean war. All right, I'll start again.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Alan Steinman: President Truman wrote an executive order desegregating the military, which had been segregated all throughout world war two. No consultation with Congress,
Alan Steinman: [01:47:00] no by your leave, he said, just do it. The Commander in Chief wrote the order, the military followed through and did it. So you had a desegregated military at a time in the nation when you still had whites only drinking fountains and bathrooms, and things like that. So I think that was an important moment as an example of how the military can be in a leadership role in issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Mason Funk: [01:47:30] He must have gotten a lot of blow-back from people who said, you know, you're ruling by fiat, and all that kind of stuff.
Alan Steinman: Well he had the sign on his desk that said, "The buck stops here." So I don't think he cared.
Mason Funk: Understood, right. Okay, third of these final four questions. Why is it important to you, you've been very generous obviously being an activist and giving multiple interviews, but why is it important to you to tell your story?
Alan Steinman: [01:48:00] It's important to me because it probably, hopefully in some small way advances the cause of LGBT equality in our nation. I think basically that's it. I hope I can play a role in that.
Mason Funk: And then lastly, this project OUTWORDS where we're essentially collecting stories like yours but from people all over the country, that's the intent. What do you see as the importance of a project like OUTWORDS? And if you could mention OUTWORDS by name.
Alan Steinman: [01:48:30] I think the OUTWORDS project is important because it's going to preserve for history the role that senior LGBT citizens have played in all aspects of U.S. life. And were it not for OUTWORDS making this attempt, or actually recording these stories for its archives, they would be lost.
Alan Steinman: [01:49:00] And I think it's important for the LGBT community going forward to read these stories and see what those of us who are senior went through and fought for on their behalf.
Mason Funk: Why is that important?
Alan Steinman: Because it's going to advance the cause of LGBT equality in our country.
Mason Funk: Okay. It seems like such an obvious thing, but for younger people to see what older people fought for on their behalf.
Mason Funk: [01:49:30] Again, let me ask you what effect or what result do you think that's going to have?
Alan Steinman: I hope that for younger people to see what those of us who are more senior went through and fought for on their behalf in terms of equality, it will help them appreciate what we have now and what tasks are still left. And perhaps motivate them to carry on the fight in a more aggressive manner than just living their lives and hoping somebody else does the work.
Mason Funk: [01:50:00] What do you see as the primary challenge facing the LGBTQ community sort of internally?
Alan Steinman: That's an interesting question. The challenges facing the LGBT community internally. Well one of them that I saw sort of up close and personal in the fight for
Alan Steinman: [01:50:30] Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal is, who gets credit. And the reason that becomes important for the organizations who are activist organizations is because that's their funding. They need to appeal to donors. And the best way they can appeal to donors is to show how effective they are. So you had them fighting each other for credit, and pissing each other off when they take credit where they didn't deserve it. I was sometimes caught in the middle of all that,
Alan Steinman: [01:51:00] and I hated it. I hated to see that infighting. So I imagine that there are still going on in other aspects of the LGBT fight for equality. I don't see it as much because I've sort of been in the military part of it. But I think that probably one of the big downsides, who gets credit, who gets the money. So it's kind of sad, but I guess that's no different than it is in the straight community or the cisgender community too
Alan Steinman: [01:51:30] among organizations who are competing for donor dollars.
Mason Funk: It reminds me like even during the AIDS epidemic, when you would hope that we were working all together, there were turf wars among different cities, and who was getting Elizabeth Taylor to be their spokesperson, all the [inaudible] stuff. So yeah, we probably are just like every other community in that regard.
Alan Steinman: Yep.
Mason Funk: Oh my gosh, what good timing. Is that going to stop ringing in a sec?
Alan Steinman: Let me see who it is.
Mason Funk: [01:52:00] Okay.
Alan Steinman: Oh, hold on a second. Hello.
Mason Funk: Sure. You can cut, and we'll just resume for room tone. And maybe, as you said, what you think of your son, how he views his dad.
Lulu Gargiulo: Wait, wait, I'm sorry. Let's do that.
Mason Funk: Oh that thing sometimes, is it kind of freaking out on you?
Lulu Gargiulo: No, it came unplugged. I just want to make sure-
Mason Funk: [01:52:30] On my sign, you said something about-
Alan Steinman: One of the things-
Mason Funk: Just hold that thought.
Alan Steinman: All right.
Lulu Gargiulo: Actually, I am ready now.
Alan Steinman: So, let's talk about my son's experience, and what he thinks about his dad being an activist. I think he's proud of what I'm doing, and of course he's a very quick witted young man, and has managed to negotiate, he's in middle school now,
Alan Steinman: [01:53:00] and so of course he's experienced some of the inherent homophobia that goes on in the school yard, those kids trying to attack him. But he's really good at the repartee, what he calls roasting each other when you sort of criticize each other. So one day at lunch, one of the kids sitting at the lunch table says, Ethan you're gay. And Ethan said, thank you, I like being happy. And the other kid said, no, being gay is bad.
Alan Steinman: [01:53:30] Ethan said, no it's not. Where does it say that gay is being bad? And the kid says, you read the Bible, the Bible says being gay is a sin. And Ethan says, see that cheeseburger you're eating? The Bible says that cheeseburger is a sin too, because you're not supposed to mix meat and cheese together, in Leviticus. It shut him up. That was the last time they ever went after Ethan and tried to call him gay. So he handled that really well. I was proud of him for that.
Mason Funk: [01:54:00] That's cool, that's a good story. How is it for you being a dad?
Alan Steinman: I love being a dad, it's great. Our family is very close. Dallas and I, and Ethan and his mom, Nicole, is Dallas' sister. The four of us are really close. So I think it's wonderful. It's certainly changed all of our lives. It's really kind of fun. Dallas and I take Ethan on exotic trips just to expose him to various things around the world.
Alan Steinman: [01:54:30] So that's great, every spring during his spring break we go somewhere new and exotic. So we look forward to that.
Mason Funk: That's great. Well, is there anything that you feel like we haven't talked about that you want to talk about?
Alan Steinman: I can't think of anything else. I think we covered it pretty well. Thank you, thank you for including me, I really appreciate that.
Mason Funk: It's our pleasure.
Alan Steinman: It's an important project.
Mason Funk: Thank you.
Lulu Gargiulo: [01:55:00] Now we're just going to do a little room tone.
Mason Funk: Okay. So we're going to record again the sound of, do you want to-
Lulu Gargiulo: Actually I want to do a portrait. So do you mind just looking into the camera lens while we're doing it?
Mason Funk: So literally you'll just stare at the lens, and we're going to also record the sound of this room with nobody talking.
Alan Steinman: What kind of facial expression do you want me to look? This? This?
Lulu Gargiulo: You could try some different things actually.
Alan Steinman: We could do outtakes.
Lulu Gargiulo: [01:55:30] Actually do one that's, not serious, but maybe straight.
Alan Steinman: Straight?
Mason Funk: Straight acting.
Alan Steinman: I'm good at that.
Lulu Gargiulo: [crosstalk] mis-worded there.
Alan Steinman: I had a lot of practice at that.
Mason Funk: Yeah, you should be good at it. Okay, we'll try to do this.
Alan Steinman: [01:56:00] All right.
Lulu Gargiulo: [01:56:30] You're really good. I was trying to get you to smile a little. Keep holding just a second. That's good, okay.
Mason Funk: Okay. That's great.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Lulu Gargiulo
Date: August 15, 2017
Location: Home of Alan Steinman, Olympia, WA