Fall Out

The military turned Ron Falcon into an officer, a gentleman, and a doctor. When the brass discovered he was gay, they kicked him out and sent him the bill.

The panel takes less than 45 minutes to sift through the testimony of the daylong hearing. White's attempts to paint his client as an honorable victim and to cast doubt on how the investigation was carried out notwithstanding, Capt. Ron Falcon is a homosexual. He is likely to engage in homosexual acts. He failed to satisfy the terms of his contract with the air force. Therefore, he will be honorably discharged. He will also be required to reimburse the government for his medical education. Case closed.

When President Clinton proposed a policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" early in his first term, the move was framed as a compromise between gay constituents and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military still wouldn't allow its troops to engage in openly gay behavior, nor would recruits be asked about their sexual orientation when signing up. Homosexuals in uniform could stop worrying, the president claimed, about being victimized by what he and Gen. Colin Powell called "witch-hunts"--fact-finding missions based on rumor and innuendo that had occurred frequently in the past.

Though the policy was trumpeted as evidence of a more tolerant military, statistics suggest otherwise. Figures released by the U.S. Department of Defense in January show that the various branches of the armed forces discharged 1,145 lesbians and gay men and in 1998, a 13 percent increase over 1997 and nearly double the number dismissed in 1993, the year before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" took effect. According to a study by the General Accounting Office (the U.S. government's budget watchdog), the cost of training replacements for gay enlistees discharged in the past five years has exceeded $131 million.

Carolyn Swiszcz

Legal challenges to the policy have become increasingly frequent, in part because the regulation itself is by all accounts ambiguous. For instance, a soldier's sexual orientation may come under scrutiny based on "credible" information--though what is credible and what is not has never been clearly defined. Those who "out" themselves in order to avoid their military obligations are clearly subject to recoupment. But the policy is unclear when it comes to enlistees who are outed by others and who, like Falcon, still want to serve. By filing appeals, opponents aim to expose procedural inconsistencies that might one day pave the way for a constitutional challenge to the policy. They pin their hopes on cases like Falcon's--and for good reason: His is one of the rare appeals they believe a discharged gay officer has a chance of winning.

"When this all got started, Kyle asked me if I wanted to be a gay poster boy," Falcon recalls. "He asked me if it was my intention to really take on the air force. At first, that was not my intention. I just wanted what was right for me. But over time I began to realize that someone has to stand up to this thing."

 

They met in cyberspace in the summer of 1997, in an America Online chat room. They had a lot in common: Both were in their thirties, lived in the Upper Midwest, and were onetime members of the Mormon Church. As they got better acquainted, they learned they were both military men--officers in the reserves. And they were both gay.

In the few years before the AOL correspondence started up, Ron Falcon, who sports the online handle "GayMnDoc," had come out to his family, close friends, and co-workers at St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center, where he was a resident physician. His e-mail pal, who used the handle "Jammer," wasn't as anxious to step out from the shadows. Outing himself, he figured, could easily lead to tarnishing his spotless 16-year record with the Army National Guard. It would also shock his loved ones--a risk he wasn't willing to take. (When City Pages contacted Jammer to participate in this story, he declined.)

"I talked with him in a private room that you can just converse back and forth via typing," Falcon recalls. "Initially he served as a sounding board to bounce issues and ideas off, since we had a similar background with the military. But he was at a much different place in his acceptance of his sexuality. And it became apparent early on that there was some attraction and feelings that were unilateral--that he had for me that I didn't have for him. And as that went on, it became more of a counselor role that I felt that I was playing with him to help him come to grips with the things that I had gone through five years before in the coming-out process. Do you tell people? Do you not tell people? How do you meet people? How did you find a partner? How do you do this?"

It's not surprising that someone in Jammer's shoes might look to Ron Falcon as a kind of role model, a "big brother" as Jammer put it in one online exchange. Falcon's biography is a tale that might well by taken to heart by a man coming to terms with his own homosexuality. At age 18 he was an expert ski bum with a grade point average that barely registered on the chart. Adrift and craving direction, he enlisted, completed basic training, and was appointed as an instructor at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. A rock climber, avid outdoorsman, and unabashed flag-waver, he thrived in the military environment. "The thing is," he says, "if it weren't for the military, I don't think I'd be a doctor today. I'd probably be a long-haired, pot-smoking loser living out of a van."

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