From ‘don’t ask’ to ‘tell the world’
Jase Daniels loves the Navy. The Navy has not always returned the sentiment.
Daniels has the rare distinction of being dismissed twice under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). Fortunately, there’s a happy ending. He’s back in the Navy, working as a linguist at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, and happily married to Matthew Daniels.
He’s also working on his bachelor’s degree in sociology as an online student at Brandman University, where his insights earned him praise from faculty member Dr. Lata Murti for his insightful and thoughtful discussion board posts every week.
Daniels first joined the Navy in 2001, before 9/11. He was a recruiter’s dream at the time, with a semester and a half of college behind him, a family connection to the military and ready to start immediately. He was in the recruiter’s office on Friday afternoon and in boot camp by Monday.
His first tour of duty took him to Washington, D.C., where he served at military funerals and state dinners. “There was a big push for linguists so they had all of us take a test. Apparently I had a really high aptitude,” he said.
The Navy sent him to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, where he learned Hebrew. He was also dating a young woman and decided to get married.
“I hadn’t really come out to myself,” he said. The marriage ended awkwardly and quickly. The consequences for Daniels (his name at the time was Jason Knight) compounded when annulment papers listing his sexual orientation were sent to the military.
“I didn’t really have a choice on being out. I knew about the law (DADT), but didn’t really understand it. I was so naïve at the time. I was sure they would see me as a great sailor, an honest person and it wouldn’t be an issue,” he said.
Instead he was called in and read his rights, which made him feel like a criminal. By that time he was in Augusta, Georgia, and a couple of months later the Navy discharged him following an investigation.
“I was thrown out, not really knowing what to do with my life. I loved the military. I wanted to retire from the Navy. Even though I had joined on a whim, it had turned into so much more than that. My sense of serving the country was so deep by then,” he said.
“I was let down by the country that I was trying to protect.”
He spent a difficult year, working through considerable emotional turmoil. And then one day, there was a letter recalling him. A glitch in the paperwork had him labelled as “inactive reserve.”
“I was super happy, super excited. I wanted to be back in the military. I knew DADT was still around but I thought maybe I was the exception,” said Daniels, who by this time was completely open and had no intention of being otherwise.
True to himself
Daniels deployed to Kuwait, serving openly with the knowledge of his command and the people around him.
“The first time, I was lying to my friends. The second time I was completely open and being myself, and it was so freeing. I didn’t have that whole part of myself that I was hiding,” he said, adding that he always felt accepted and supported. As the tour of duty in Kuwait was coming to an end, Stars and Stripes Magazine contacted him.
He agreed to a story and the headline read “Gay sailor called back to service.”
“So they discharged me again. Right at the end of my 1-year deployment. This time I was aware of what was going to happen. It was a different situation. I was proud of who I was, of my service and had received so much support. I knew I would be able to speak on behalf of those who couldn’t,” he said.
Daniels became active in the Service Members Defense Network and embarked on a speaking tour, educating people about the law and what it was and wasn’t and how it affects people’s lives. Eventually he joined a national effort to get rid of DADT. When it was overturned in 2011, he sued for reinstatement and was back in the Navy by the end of that year.
Since then he’s picked up another language (Farsi), gotten married to Matthew and is now back in Augusta.
“The amount of support my husband gets from the military is incredible. There are not enough words to describe it. It lets Matthew be Matthew,” he said. Matthew Daniels is in charge of the family readiness group at Fort Gordon.
“It’s crazy to think we’ve made this much progress (removing DADT, nationwide legal marriage) in such a short amount of time,” said Daniels. What doesn’t surprise him is that the military has been at the forefront of acceptance. “The military has always been a catalyst for change in our society,” he said, citing racial and ethnic integration and expanding roles for women. “I think that it had a lot to do with marriage equality as well.”
Speaking up at Brandman
His experiences have also made him a valuable student to have in online discussions, said Murti. His most recent class was on globalization and social change.
“Jase contributed wonderfully insightful and thoughtful posts to the class discussion board every week, based on his military travels and knowledge of several languages. He had firsthand experience with many of the issues we read about and discussed in the course, and he shared that experience through his remarkably well-written assignments,” said Murti.
“I think I have a way of provoking thought,” said Daniels. He remembered a discussion about the effects of globalization on families, particularly when it comes to adoption. “Since Mathew and I eventually want to adopt, it’s really important to us. Globalization has changed what a family is and how it’s been defined. I highlighted how the LGBT community has changed what a family means,” he said. Even though he knows not everyone shares his personal feelings and beliefs, he was impressed by how interesting and positive the discussion was.
“That’s what I love about Brandman,” he said. The diversity of backgrounds leads to a lot of support from his fellow students.
His work toward a degree – he hopes to have it completed in a year and would love to be commissioned as an officer once he has it – helps him every day at work. “It solidifies your own learning when you can help someone else’s. I have never had such a great experience (with schooling). The faculty have always been willing to help me with my educational goals. They really want me to achieve my goals. I tell people all the time: take a class at Brandman.”
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