ANCHORAGE — David Hall got an unexpected call a week ago Tuesday, just after 9 p.m. On the line: the Presidential Inauguration Committee. Would he be willing to be a co-chair for the inaugural celebration? Citizen co-chairs are people whose stories help illustrate the president’s first-term accomplishments. The president wanted him there because of Hall’s efforts to overturn Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
The president. Wow. Hall said yes. Less than a week later he found himself in the Oval Office, sitting across from President Barack Obama.
Hall lives in Washington, D.C. now, but his path to the White House began in Anchorage, in 2004. Back then, he was an Air Force veteran and the top cadet in his Air Force ROTC program at UAA, headed for pilot training, which was his dream. He was also gay and dating Jack Glover, another cadet.
They were discreet. Most people thought they were best friends, but they did confide in another student about their relationship. Eventually that student told their superiors. Military lawyers began an investigation. Both men were discharged. (Glover was also a promising cadet. He ranked third in their class.)
Hall was in the Air Force for five years before he entered the ROTC program at UAA. During his service, he completed assignments in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant. In 2002, he earned a slot in highly-competitive pilot training. He grew up in the Army and had always wanted to wear a uniform. He still remembers what it felt like to wear his flight suit for the last time.
“(The discharge) was horrible, very upsetting,” Hall said when he spoke Tuesday by telephone with the Anchorage Daily News. “I think I looked at it and decided, ‘Well what am I gonna do now? I can sit here and have a pity party or I can move on.’ “
After their discharges, Hall and Glover moved to Washington. Hall took a job with what is now OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization that advocates for equality for gay people in the military. Glover found work with the Department of Commerce. They both became plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging DADT. Though their relationship ended, they remain close friends.
The lawsuit made its way through the courts, but they eventually lost, he said. That was 2010. The same year, Congress voted to repeal DADT. The president signed it into law. The repeal went into effect in 2011.
“Both of the senators from Alaska signed on to that,” Hall said. “I met with them several times to talk about the repeal.”
That would be Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich. Rep. Don Young did not support the change.
At the White House last week, Hall met first with Michelle Obama. You might have seen him. He’s in a photo with her that went viral — not because of anything to do with him, but because it was the first time she was photographed with a new hairstyle.
“Her new bangs,” he said, laughing.
The White House was like a living museum, he said, with antique furniture and china. He found the president to be “very down to earth,” he said. He met with the president along with other citizen co-chairs.
“I think he tried to put us all at ease and talk to us as normal people.”
It was humbling, he said. Exciting. All that. He thought about the small town, Hanceville, Ala., where he went to high school.
“I would have never thought in a million years that one day I would be standing in the Oval Office talking to the president and thanking the president for the work he did for gay people.”
On Monday, Hall was escorted to a place in the seated section at the inauguration, where he had a good view of the president as he spoke. It was amazing to hear Obama mention marriage equality for gay people in such an important speech, before millions of people, he said.
“It just shows how far I think our country has moved on this issue,” he said. “It was one of the things I had always told people and one of the things I always believed, really, getting rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would really help our country move forward.”
There is still work to be done for gays in the military, he said. Partners married in states where gay marriage is legal are not entitled to the same benefits as married straight couples in the military. There are also people who were not honorably discharged under DADT and do not have the benefits that come with military service.
Hall tried to re-enlist in 2011, after the repeal, but was unable to because of a knee injury. I asked if he considered himself an activist. He said no.
“It’s more of, you know, I just see there is something wrong and just making sure it’s corrected, that everyone is treated fairly in this country and everyone has the same shot.”