End of 'don't ask, don't tell' means new era for Texas A&M cadets

LGBT alumni from Texas A&M say attitudes towards gays have changed in the school's famous Corps of Cadets.

For generations, any evidence that a member of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University was gay while they were in military training was grounds for dismissal.

Judge Phyllis Frye, who earlier this year became the first transgender municipal judge in Texas history, recalls that an atmosphere of intolerance prevailed in the Corps before she graduated in 1970.

At the same time, she credits the Corps with preparing her for people’s reaction when she decided to transition to female in 1976.

“I went through terrible discrimination,” Frye said. “My first two years in the Corps at A&M had steeled me to survive that.”

But Frye and others say that attitudes on campus toward the LGBT community are changing.

By the time Noel Freeman joined the Corps in 2000, transferring in from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Texas A&M had been taken to task for discriminating against gays. Students had sued the university in 1976 for refusing to recognize a gay student group and won the case on appeal in 1985, setting a nationwide precedent.

When Freeman arrived on campus, he decided it was time to come out. After he told the Corps commandant, he was forced to leave the Air Force ROTC, but was allowed to remain in the Corps as the first openly gay cadet.

Freeman recalls how tough it was to tell his unit.

“It was actually more difficult to come out to my peers in the Corps than to my parents,” Freeman said.

Some cadets stopped speaking to him. Some wouldn’t look at him. Others openly resented him.

Freeman left the Corps the following semester. Then he realized the Corps was the main reason he had enrolled at A&M. He returned -- and became a squadron commander.

Now president of the Houston LGBT political caucus, Freeman remains a Corps supporter. When he married his partner in Washington last year, another former cadet was at his side.

“People call the Corps backward and nothing but a bunch of white Christian men,” he said. “The reality is, the Corps has been progressive,” he added, especially compared to the nation's conservative military academies.

The recent end of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy allows openly gay cadets to remain in both the ROTC and the Corps.

Retired Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez, a former cadet who took over last year as commandant of the Corps, called overturning the policy “the right thing to do.”

“I’m trying to increase or promote diversity in the Corps so we better reflect our state and nation,” Ramirez said.

While some cadets may not like the new policy, he said, “In the Corps, you have a wide diversity of opinions and ideas about the world in general.”

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston

Photo: Texas A&M Aggies members of the Corps of Cadets form a block T formation for the first time in 55 years during halftime against the Kansas Jayhawks at Kyle Field on Saturday. Credit: Thomas Campbell / US Presswire

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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