Naval Aviator Tracy Thorne Comes Out and Fights to Serve in the Military

Tracy Thorne-Begland

Tracy Thorne-Begland was discharged twice from the Navy for being open about his sexual orientation. Today he is Cheif Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney in Richmond. Credit ML

On May 19, 1992, Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D – CO) a member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would have ended the ban on homosexual serving openly in the military. The bill would have prohibited discrimination in the military based on sexual orientation. That night, a promising young aviator, Lt. j. g. Tracy Thorne stationed at the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, came out on Nightline. Thorne was a 1989 graduate of Vanderbilt University and was first in his class in flight training and forth in his class in the Navy’s aviation officer candidate school . When he came out on Nightline, Lt. j. g. Thorne was serving as a bombardier-navigator on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, flying A6 Intruders. After his appearance on Nightline, Thorne was transferred to desk duty at an administrative command at Oceana Naval Air Station, and administrative discharge proceedings were begun.[1]

Thorne stated that he came out publicly because he felt that being honest was important to as an officer and that he thought that he hoped to help overcome the ban in the military. He was separated from active duty May 19, 1993, one year after coming out publicly, and placed on unpaid standby reserve.[2] He was discharged on March 9, 1995. Thorne moved to DC for a while and then returned to Virginia, enrolling in the University of Richmond School of Law, while he continued to fight the ban on gays serving openly in the military.[3]

Thorne continued his fight until 1998 when the US Supreme Court rejected his challenge to the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Thorne, an attorney who graduated from the University of Richmond Law School had argued in his appeal that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was based on “bigotry” and “invidious and irrational prejudice."[4]

Thorne, now Thorne-Begland, is the Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Richmond, in charge of the violent crimes, and lives with his partner Michael and their twins. Thorne-Begland says he would still go back into the navy, although he knows he could no longer be an aviator; given the opportunity he would re-enlist as a JAG officer in the reserves. He says he still misses the navy every day that he isn’t flying.[5]

It is depressing to note that even after multiple reports that indicate that lesbians and gay men can serve honorably in the military and that sexual orientation does not in itself disrupt unit cohesion, the debate about gays and lesbians in the military is still raging in 2010. Thorne’s battle with the US Military is just one of many on the road to equality.

References

  1. "Two Navy men come out: Bill proposed to end ban on lesbians/gays in military” Our Own Community Press, June 1992.
  2. Garland Tillery “Depositions, discharge and daily life: An Interview with Tracy Thorne” Our Own Community Press, June 1993.
  3. Ravigo Zomana “Thorne: A (temporary?) victory” Our Own Community Press, April 1996.
  4. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/20/us/national-news-briefs-court-rejects-appeal-of-discharged-gay-flier.html, accessed 4/30/10.
  5. http://news.richmond.edu/features/article/law/793/tracy-thorne-begland-rejoins-debate-over-gays-in-the-military.html, accessed 4/30/10.