Spectrum helps CGA produce leaders of character

Mayor Finizio addresses CGA cadets

New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio addresses U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets at the inaugural meeting of the Spectrum Diversity Council. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi.

With contributions from Petty Officer 1st Class NyxoLyno Cangemi.

Following the September 2011 repeal of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy governing the service of gay and lesbian members, cadets at the United States Coast Guard Academy established the first gay-straight alliance at a U.S. military service academy on Dec. 1, 2011.

The Spectrum Diversity Council, led by two cadet leaders from each year group, held its inaugural meeting yesterday. The meeting was an opportunity not only for cadets to gather in support of each other but also to hear from local leaders from the community. Mayor Daryl Finizio and Reverend Carolyn Patierno, both openly gay community leaders in New London, shared their own perspectives on the importance of tolerance and acceptance as both leaders and followers in any community – whether it is a city, a congregation or a military unit.

CGA seal“Spectrum is a group that will allow the Coast Guard Academy and its cadets to broaden their experience and expose them to situations that will help develop them as leaders of character,” said Coast Guard Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz. “As ensigns and future service leaders, these cadets will face a rapidly changing world that demands a more inclusive perspective.”

Following the meeting, Coast Guard Compass sat down with two of Spectrum’s leaders and its co-presidents, Cadets 1st Class Chip Hall and Kelli Normoyle to discuss the goals of the group and how the repeal of DADT has impacted academy life and the Coast Guard.

“I think, first and foremost, it [Spectrum] is about creating awareness,” said Hall. “For a while, we had sort of an underground group of gay and lesbian cadets just kind of banding together and being friends and being supportive networks for each other and it was invisible at the academy. I remember someone saying they didn’t even know there were gay people at the academy. It blew my mind there could be such different perspectives. So, I’m hoping Spectrum will open people’s minds that there are gay and lesbian people serving around you.”

Adm. Bob Papp, Commandant of the Coast Guard, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing to consider the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley)

Adm. Bob Papp, Commandant of the Coast Guard, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing to consider the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Ending a system where any Coast Guard man or woman had to serve in fear of repercussion for their sexual orientation was a driving factor for Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp‘s support of the repeal of DADT.

“Allowing gay and lesbian Americans to serve in the Coast Guard openly will remove a significant barrier to those who are capably serving, but who have been forced to hide or even lie about their sexual orientation,” said Papp when he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in December 2010. “Forcing these Coast Guardsmen to compromise our core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty to continue to serve is a choice they should not have to make.”

Being put in that difficult position almost prevented Normoyle from attending the Coast Guard Academy.

“I actually didn’t come to the academy right out of high school because I knew ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a policy,” said Normoyle. “I didn’t know how to reconcile having to hide a part of myself but also do something that I wanted to do so badly – which was come to the Coast Guard Academy. So, I didn’t. I finally decided that I’d rather be part of changing it than watching it happen and I am so happy and so grateful to all of the people who made it happen. It’s really an incredible feeling to just be able to be yourself and it be a non-issue.”

When asked how she thinks the repeal of DADT will impact future officers the academy will graduate or leaders across the service, Normoyle saw the repeal as an opportunity for the service to continue to build upon a solid foundation.

“I think the Coast Guard’s pretty forward on just having people that are accepting and want people to be able to feel comfortable and feel honest about who they are,” said Normoyle. “I think if it does cause a change, maybe people will be more open to some conversations that might have been awkward before but I think, in general, the Coast Guard’s pretty great with how the leadership handles things like this.”

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  • LCDR John Fiorentine

    Extemely proud of the Cadets for getting Spectrum off the ground.  This will not only be a much needed support mechanism to Gay and Lesbian Cadets but help create an inclusive Cadet Corps.

  • Gen.R.Stehr

    thanks Ladys and Gentlemens

  • Anonymous

    Bravo Zulu, USCGA, and especially to the leaders and members of Spectrum for their courage, honesty and integrity.  As ADM Papp said, now ALL members of the Coast Guard can truly live by our core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty.  The long, hard fight to repeal DADT was well worth it when organizations such as Specturm are welcomed as members of the Coast Guard family.  

  • Magusjinx

    Another step forward for LGBT … And for humans as a whole … 

  • SFC Dane Hays, us army Retired

    A brave step! A needed step!  Perhaps this will set an example for the other branches of service and our country.

  • Kevin Knaup

    Ekim290,

    First, I would like to say that you are hiding behind some alias to share these unsupported thoughts. Second, if you truly shared the open vision that the future Coast Guard is growing towards, then you would recognize the achievement the Spectrum club has attained in promoting inclusion for all peoples. 

    At the Academy there are multiple clubs and organizations that seek to promote awareness of the diversity of backgrounds that Cadets come from and the diversity in the world, in which all of them can learn from to be better leaders of the service. If you believe that this ‘progressive garbage is being forced down the throats of the rest of the military’ then I would ask you why you think it is not appropriate to support a climate where everyone is accepted? There are not different standards for anyone, rather everyone has the same opportunity to succeed or fail. It is important to recognize that people who are successful come from all walks of life.

    You stated, “This country is past the supposed need for black clubs, latin clubs, gay clubs, asian clubs, or any other I’m different so I should be treated special club out there”, but I offer that this country is not past that point. Are people still harassed for their race, gender, religious beliefs or sexual orientation? The answer is yes. And as future leaders in the military, Cadets must be aware that these atrocities still take place in our society today and be able to see them taking place in order for them to continue building up the values of freedom that America stands for.  

    I understand your frustration with different clubs and awards that celebrate the differences people have, but I would ask for your support in helping these Cadets goal of making sure everyone has a voice. Eventually everyone finds themselves being the little guy or the minority, and seeks their voice to be heard. So please, take the time to consider that everyone should have a voice and that by celebrating the diversity that we have in this country we can move towards a better and more inclusive society.

  • LCDR John Fiorentine

    Kevin…well said.  As a gay officer I am particularly proud of what the cadets have established. The post DADT Coast Guard has exceeded my expectations.

  • Paul Duddy

    Well said, Kevin. Thanks for taking the time to respond.