The rule is gone, not the culture, gay activists say

Although the U.S. has ended its ban on openly gay troops, Nicole Carry cannot envision a mass "coming out" of gay service members tomorrow or the next day.

The policy has changed overnight. The culture shift might take a while.

"I don't see a lot of people saying, 'by the way, I'm gay,'" she said. "They will be cautiously moving forward and feeling the waters on a case by case basis."

Tom Formisano agreed. "I don't expect anyone to just automatically come out of the closet," he said.

Carry and Formisano are Navy veterans who are gay, although they became aware of their sexual orientation at different moments in their lives.

Carry served in the Navy from 1991 to 1997. She considered herself straight when she enlisted, but her orientation changed while in the military. The policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" went into effect in 1993.

Formisano served from 1985 to 1993, and didn't come out until after he left the Navy, in his mid-40s. He's 47 now.

Carry and Formisano share many views. They hope that repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell becomes another step forward in the battle for gay rights. And both were planning to attend Tuesday evening's celebration of the repeal in downtown Norfolk, which was sponsored by Equality Virginia.

Scheduled to speak at the event were former Norfolk-area congressman Glenn Nye, who sponsored repeal while in office, Tracy Thorne-Begland, who was honorably discharged after revealing his sexual orientation on Nightline in 1992, and Eric Fanning, a deputy under secretary of the Navy who is openly gay.

Supporters of keeping Don't Ask, Don't Tell warned that removing it would harm unit cohesiveness and morale. Others questioned the prospect of openly gay troops when it came to living arrangements on ships or military bases.

But senior military leaders bought into the idea of repealing the ban, partly because it was chasing skilled men and women out of the military, they said. Others complained that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was unevenly enforced. Again, Carry and Formisano agree.

"It depended on the command you were in," said Formisano. "Some were sheltered and some weren't. I have met people over the years that were gay and seemed not to hide it from anyone, and were still in the military. I think it had to do with how much 'out' you were. They didn't want flamboyance."

Carry said being a gay sailor under Don't Ask, Don't Tell added another level of stress.

"You learned not to talk about your personal life, because if you did, you had to use different pronouns," she said. "You knew you were talking to a gay person if they referred to their friend as 'they.'"

Earlier Tuesday, a gay rights group held a protest outside Naval Station Norfolk to call for more benefits for gay and lesbian military members.

Same sex couples are not allowed to live on base together or have the right to be notified if their partner dies in battle, Beth Brooker, the Virginia leader of Get Equal, told the Associated Press.

Copyright © 2018, CT Now