ANCHORAGE — It was the little gestures that put Navy Lt. Gary Ross at ease in the weeks after the repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay service members.
When he went to work, his boss asked him: “How’s Dan?” — a reference to Ross’ husband. And when it came time to select a coordinator for the arrival of his new ship at its home port in San Diego — a post traditionally held by a military spouse — officials asked Dan Ross.
The fears that repeal of the ban would be met with diminished morale were nowhere to be seen.
“We’re realizing that it was not the disaster that some people predicted,” Gary Ross said. “The day after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was the same as the day before, except now we weren’t forcing a cross-section of our military to lie about who they were.”
Gary and Dan Ross (who was Dan Swezy before he took his husband’s last name) said they’ve encountered nothing but support from the military.
The Rosses were in Anchorage last week because the Navy’s newest warship, the USS Anchorage, was in Alaska’s largest city for a weekend commissioning ceremony. Gary Ross is assigned as a combat systems officer for the vessel.
It was also a homecoming for Gary; his mother and stepfather own a fur business in Anchorage and donated a moose hide for the ship’s Alaska collection.
While they were in Anchorage, a local gay support group, Identity Inc., held a dinner in their honor as part of commissioning week activities. Dan Ross said the ship’s commanders asked them to reach out to the Anchorage LGBT community to include them in the four-day celebration.
“It’s nice to be part of a crew where you are accepted and appreciated based on the job you do, not some internal or external characteristic that really has no meaning to the value of the work we provide,” Gary Ross said.
Overwhelming acceptance seems to be the experience of most gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender service members, said Dr. Lori Hensic, director of educational affairs for The American Military Partner Association, a support network for gay military families.
She said the organization also hears from service members or their families who experience a barrier they suspect is related to sexual orientation.
“There are far more accounts of individuals being incorporated in their unit, or their squadron or their command regardless of the branch, with open arms, and that’s really wonderful for not only the service member but the family as well,” she said.
The Rosses were among the first couples to exchange vows after the policy was repealed. Together since 2000, they married in Duxbury, Vt., traveling specifically to the Eastern time zone so they could exchange vows at the stroke of midnight the day the ban was lifted.
Life was much different for the couple before the repeal, when they were forced to live in the shadows, an existence separate of the military.
They found housing miles from base so they wouldn’t chance running into another sailor and risk being discovered. Gary Ross had to skirt questions at work when asked if he was married, or even when asked something as simple as what he did the previous weekend.
“We had to live our life in hiding,” Dan Ross said.
More than 18 months later, life has changed.
“To walk on a ship with Gary and to come in contact with another sailor, another officer, and to have Gary say, ‘Oh, have you met my husband?’ after more than a decade of being the secret, it makes me feel good,” Dan Ross said.