Joshua Fontanez, NU 2012, Oral History Interview
January 14, 2015
2015 Kingwood Dr. Killeen, TX 76544
Interviewed by Sarah Yahm
SARAH YAHM: Can you tell me where you were born? Where are you from?
JOSH FONTANEZ: I was born in Willingboro, New Jersey. I grew up -- was raised myentire life in New Jersey. I lived in a small town called Browns Mill, New Jersey in the pine lands, cranberry bogs and blueberry bushes and right outside a huge military base, Fort Dix-McGuire in Lakehurst.
SY: Sorry, I need to have you say your full name. If you will, just say who you are.
JF: Yes, Joshua Aaron Fontanez.
SY: Excellent. So you grew up next to a big military base, so when did you startbeing interested in the military?
JF: Oh, I always wanted to be in the military. I can remember first grade myfirst grade teacher used to -- her husband was in the military, and he used to come in and he'd talk all the time, so I always had that desire to be in the military. What rank or what job I wanted changed but I always had that passion that calling to be in the military in some form or fashion.
SY: And you didn't come from a military family?
JF: Neither of my parents were in the military. A lot of my aunts and uncles, mygrandparents were all in the military.
SY: Interesting. I've been asking everybody this question: did you play games asa kid? Did you play imaginary games where you were in the military?
JF: We played like soldier and stuff like that. My dad still has pictures of mewith tree branches running around outside, or you know not necessarily modern-day military but also like medieval times, sort of. My cousins and my sister and stuff like that or as I got older you got like little toy guns and stuff like that and we used to do war games inside the house clearing rooms and stuff like that, you know, hide and go seek with little toy guns and stuff like that.
SY: Interesting. So you always kind of wanted to be in the military, when didyou figure out that you were gay?
JF: So I look back in history and it's kind of like -- Look, the signs werealways there, when I look back, I think I first, I want to say, I first was kind of like okay I had a hint of it my freshman year of high school. That was when I started to actually, not just the emotional aspect but going into that part of my life becoming more sexually attracted to men and stuff like that.
SY: And, how -- were you freaked out about it? It's interesting because in allthe interviews I've read with you and about you, you seem super confident, pretty angst free about being gay. So what that the case when you were fourteen?
JF: It was not at all. It was even like the mentality -- I look back and I wantto give my fourteen year old self a big hug, and just tell him that it's going to be okay. It's going to be better. There was a lot of nervousness and even though like my parents are completely supportive of who I am and my lifestyle and stuff like that. I grew up in a Christian home -- it did play a huge role in that. So I remember, I want to say it was like the first time I ever kissed a guy. I went outside to mow the lawn, and I was just praying that I would be healed and that I could be normal and stuff like that, almost to the point of tears. But, it was definitely a huge, huge struggle. A lot of loneliness, depression, not really understanding, a lot of denial at the same time, because you know even in high school you get the questions, Why don't you have a girlfriend? Why aren't you hitting on girls? You are going to this ball or this prom or this or that, why aren't you chasing after them or getting dates or anything like that? So--
SY: Yeah, so did-- were there adults or mentors who supported you?
JF: I wasn't even out. I didn't come out until college, so no one really knew,like some people, like I talked to my sister now and she had like a hint later on in high school, but really no one really knew, just kind of like a couple of other gay people like I would meet knew, but usually they were all in the closet too. It was not something we were ever open about, and it was to a huge point in my life until I accepted who I was that the people who were even in high school who were out, both male and female-- So you know, I was extremely mad at them and it was like the whole aspect of -- I would make fun of them just as much as anyone else would and that's one of the things I look back, and I'm like "Wow, you were horribly wrong for doing that." It was part of my own insecurity of fear of if I can't be who I want to be they shouldn't be who they want to be either.
SY: Were you is afraid that they would recognize something in you and out you insome way?
JF: In some way, like, even when I talked to some of my friends a lot of themwere like, Yeah, we knew. It was very clear and then I would respond, If you knew why didn't you say something and support me tell me and come up and confront me? There was a huge aspect of would they, and it was even a societal thing because even in high school I got involved in student government or JROTC or the different mentoring things they had in high school, I always thought, I can't be that leader and that role model and be gay at the same time. I remember when I came out to my best friend, I told him-- I came out to him, I want to say right after I graduated high school so it might have been like our first break back from Norwich. I told him, listen, I don't have this pressure on me to be this role model anymore for the high school, for all these leadership positions, so I want to tell you that I'm gay, and the reason why I never told you is because I never thought I could. Like, I couldn't be gay and be a leader. I couldn't be gay and be a role model at the same time.
SY: So most people don't describe going to a military academy as realizing thatthey can be gay and be a role model, but it seems like that's what happened to you. So, what happened at Norwich that enabled you to come out that first semester?
JF: So coming out to my -- I only came out to my friends back at home. I didn'teven come out. It wasn't until my senior year that I came out to friends at Norwich and that was a whole different fear, that was a huge fear under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but I started out to my friends back at home just simply because I needed -- it got to the point where I needed to tell someone. The pressure was just overwhelming. The additional stress that comes with going to college, being away from family for the first time, financial independency, all the different clubs and activities I was involved in, and to throw into that, ok now your emotional life, and this part of my life I was still, there were still times when I was like, maybe I can convince myself to be straight. Maybe if I just try hard enough that I can just overcome this. It did for a long time, like even, I want to say up until my junior year of college, a lot of depression, mental stuff. You know, because on the weekends, because it was a dry campus -- so if we left campus to go drinking and stuff like that, a lot of binge drinking, it was just emotionally destroy me and physically it had a huge aspect on me as well.
SY: Were you accessing like the gay community in Vermont? Or were you justpretty closeted?
JF: So a little bit, so there was -- you have like the gay, for one anycommunity, ironically, I always laugh because it was like you would think a state as liberal as Vermont there would be a huge gay community, and there's a pretty good one that I found out later on definitely as I started getting more active in activism but it's like then you have Northfield. So even like my freshmen year, I didn't have a car in college until the second half of my junior year. Even trying to reach things, you have to go to Burlington, Vermont. Even in Montpelier there is a very, very small, in my opinion, community where you constantly can meet. Then a big aspect of it which we try to put out there is that no one knew. Like no one knew that there was all these different communities out there and organizations you can go to and different activities and conferences. I spend hours and hours and hours researching and sending out hundreds of emails to different colleges and professors up and down the east coast trying to find out information, tons to people in the different colleges in Burlington, trying to get help from them, whether it was UVM or any of those different colleges. It was definitely difficult in that aspect.
SY: I wonder if there was a point in your time at Norwich before you came outespecially under Don't Ask, Don't Tell when you were like, Hey these two parts of myself are incompatible. Did you doubt being in the military?
JF: I never doubted being in the military because like I said, my mentality wasalways this that I loved the military so much and I love-- I'm such a patriot that is how I used to view it and I was so dedicated to serve my country and defend the Constitution and our way of life and I knew that I was willing to be trained and do things that my family couldn't do. I knew they couldn't defend themselves, and I was will to, so if sacrificing my happiness and sacrificing who I was as a person was something that I needed to do to accomplish those goals that was something that I was completely willing to do. To being able to complete my military service, to complete that obligation I feel I had to for my country, my values, my beliefs, I was willing to stay in the closet as long as I needed to be able to accomplish that mission.
SY: So when did you decide to come out at Norwich?
JF: We actually-- I'm trying to remember when I first came out -- see the firstperson I came out to, the very first person I came out to at Norwich was -- okay when I say come out, there were a couple of cadets -- when you found out who the gay cadets were, you talked or you know gay civilians, but actually openly came out to was, I want to say, was Dr. Newton, and it was, I want to say when it was, it was right after Junior Ring Ceremony of my junior year. In tradition of Junior Ring Ceremony, big party, big condo events, and stuff like that, and so everyone was drinking and at the party I kissed a guy. Just like the rumor mill spills, before I could get to campus the next day, everyone knew. I remember going to the office the following Monday, sitting down with Professor Newton and she saying like, You know Josh a couple of the cadets were talking and a couple of my students were talking and they said that you kissed a guy this weekend. And I was like, You know to be completely honest, Dr. Newton, I think I feel you already know but I do identify myself as a gay man. She said, "I know. I've known for a while." And at this time the repeal, Congress had officially passed it, but it didn't come into effect until the following, the upcoming fall. She said, just be careful there are some -- at this time, I was still a very controversial leader on campus, even at this time.
SY: Why were you a controversial figure on campus?
JF: My junior year I was elected the student government president, and by thistime I have accepted that I was gay. I knew I was gay, and I knew I wanted to start a club on campus. By this time, we knew we had to wait. Everyone saw the writing on the wall. Sitting in ROTC classes, the instructors would talk about the repeal and the possibility of repeal and what we thought about it.
SY: How would they talk about it? Would they talk about it in positive terms ornegative terms?
JF: They would pretty much just ask -- They would just use the Socratic Method.They would just come in and be like, Hey, Congress is talking about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
SY: And what would your classmates or rookmates-- what type of things would theysay and did that have you frightened?
JF: Most of them would say, I really don't care, that's what would shock me themost. A lot of them say, Hey, I really don't care as long as they do their job. But, they would then go and make jokes, gay jokes, and they would still put down people if they thought they were gay and it was still viewed as a negative thing.
SY: How much were slurs like faggot thrown around? How much were there gayjokes? Was the culture hostile in that way?
JF: It was. Even to the point of my senior year, it was still a societal thingand in a lot of aspects it still is. Perfect example, my second semester, I got moved into a new room my freshmen year and Cadet [Ringcone? 0:18:28], now Lieutenant [Ringcone? 0:18:29] in the Army, he's an Apache pilot, probably my best friend. I was the best man at his wedding. But, his freshman year we got into a big discussion, and he swore that being gay was a psychological disorder and it could be fixed. And, he is now probably one of my biggest supporters after I came out. Even when the club came up, he was at every meeting, when we did Pride Week he was there cooking. When I got threats and different letters slid under my door and stuff like that, he would chase people down the alleyway trying to catch them after they did it, or he would walk with me around campus because certain staff members were afraid I would get jumped and stuff like that. One of my greatest supporters and still one of my closest friends, just seeing that change -- Some of my other close friends, they would see how using words like "That's so gay" even something that is so easy and is used by society so much they would catch themselves and look at me and say, "Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that." Or they would stop people and correct them, like an underclassman would come around and be like, Hey, stop being so gay, or they would use different slur words and they would stop them and be like, Are you serious? Well, what wrong with being gay? You'd see how much someone's attitude would completely change when they actually get confronted by someone. They did that.
SY: Just wondering, it sounds like when you were around people corrected theirlanguage and stuff, but I wonder how much it was a real part of them. What do you think?
JF: I would say, if I was a betting man, I would say it probably it would stillbe a big part of the culture, because it takes someone who is consciously there holding people to standards. One of our biggest examples when we would have discussions, you wouldn't do it with race or with gender, but at the same time, someone can't hide their gender and they can't hide their race but if you make fun of someone so much and make the environment hostile enough you can force someone not to admit that they were gay. That was a big thing, even with the repeal people would be like, I have no problem with you being gay and being in the military, but just don't be gay around me. And we had this one student, he -- long, long post -- Pride Week was very controversial, and this guy who was a very popular guy in the Corps of Cadets came out as being gay, and put on Facebook that he didn't need a Pride Week to come out, and he pretty much said that, Me being gay makes my friends extremely uncomfortable and because it makes them uncomfortable that I have enough respect for them not to be gay around them. So pretty much it was the mentality -- in my opinion it was like good that you came out but at the same time look at what you just openly admitted is. Who you are, who you can't change, the people you love, you're not even willing to show that emotion around people who claim to be your best friends because it makes them feel uncomfortable. That's what a lot of people would do, they would be -- the aspect because all the conversations I used to have with newspapers and stuff like that, the university would make it very clear that they've never had a policy that would restrict students from being gay. They would never kick them out for being gay, but you look at our civilian population who is never restricted by Don't Ask, Don't Tell like our Corps of Cadet students were through their ROTC scholarships and stuff like that, but they still fully admitted, I'm scared to walk around campus holding my boyfriend or my girlfriend's hand. I'm afraid to bring them to the Junior Ring Ball. I'm afraid to show them affection and caring in an open environment because I don't know how people would react. I don't know how that would -- so, in that aspect its different than being able to -- you're never able to -- used to say the term is, you know, you can serve freely not get kicked out but you can't serve openly. You can't be who you are. You couldn't, you know, because a lot of people would get a lot of looks or sayings and I mean, they were, they were pushed back into the, not into the closet, but people would know they were gay but they wouldn't ever bring their significant other around. We had our senior year, our regimental XO came out as being gay, and I knew he was gay since my freshman year. When he finally got the courage to come out, he came out in more anger because he didn't think-- he though a lot of the attention on the gay community put a spotlight on it but even after he came out as gay, he was still afraid to bring the guy that he was dating to the Junior Ring Ball. So he didn't even show up to the event. It was that aspect of, Yeah, like okay, we know you are gay, the [real? 0:12:42] is done, but you just can't be gay around me.
SY: How did you know he was gay? Did he come out to you? Or was it a sort ofsub-culture where people who were closeted on campus but out to each other?
JF: Yes, so there were, so it was always that difficult thing, mentality of howto find out who was gay. You had a lot of different avenues. Clearly, we didn't have meetings or anything like that like we did when we had the club, but usually there were two different ways. There was an online dating site. You would go on there and you would see different people.
SY: Online dating like Grindr or something and Norwich?
JF: No, no, no, it was called, what was the name of it, this was old school, Manhunt.
SY: Oh, Manhunt.
JF: Yep, and I remember -- I know what Grindr is, I didn't hear about Grindr,ironically it was my straight friend who told me about Grindr, but not until my senior year. Manhunt was like the big, back then, the big dating site. I remember being on one night, and I saw him on there, and we talked and stuff like that. Ironically, he lived three doors down from me. We lived on the same floor. So we would talk and stuff like that. So that was one way, but that wasn't a huge way, because unless you knew about the website, no one would go on it. The other event was, and yet again, unless you knew about it, you didn't go either, but it was -- So Vermont doesn't have a gay club. Vermont has a gay night. So in Burlington, the club Higher Ground has what's called First Friday. So the first Friday of the month, the club is a gay club. People travel hours from all over Vermont to come there because it's really the only outlet, that one day a month. So you would go there and you would actually see different cadets there and stuff like that.
SY: Can you talk about that a little more? Do you remember your first time goingto Higher Ground, going to your first First Friday? How did you get there? Did you hitch a ride? Were you scared?
JF: My very first time was-- When was it? It wasn't until my junior year that Iactually went to the club. I'd heard about it, but I really didn't know about it, and I went with a civilian who was -- it was her and her girlfriend. I went as support. Because even all the equality stuff we did up to my junior year, I always did as an ally. No one else has the courage to stand up and do it that would be my line. So, I will be the one that takes the brunt force and stand up and help the people who have no voice.
SY: Oh, I see, so when you were a controversial student council figure becauseyou were doing equality work but you were doing it as a straight ally.
JF: Yeah, roger, one of the first things we passed, as student governmentpresident was, I passed an executive order that declared that the student government represented everyone equally and it was one of the first -- My research, I hadn't been able to find any other documents, I mean, I'm sure there's a couple, but it listed based up on sexual orientation, gender identity, and of course it went through the standard stuff like, sex, age, student lifestyle whether they are civilian or Corps. We ended purposely with sexual orientation and gender identity, and that was like a huge thing. Strategically, we did that on purpose because we literally spent all of our junior year building up this controversy of having people start talking about it, breaking the ice, so that when we created the club, it wasn't such a -- even though it was a huge shock, it wasn't as big of a shock.
We went to Higher Ground, met a couple of cadets, saw a couple. It was reallyawkward because you walk in and you kind of like ignore each other. It's kind of like, Oh, I didn't just see this person here. We would do that, but we went a lot more often my senior year. We actually, as a club we would go up, and that would be like a club outing. We would also be networking because we would work a lot with the different universities would meet us up there and all the other kind of stuff. It was interesting, you'd find out, I actually met -- so ironically, I know you mentioned how it worked with my military service. At the time, without mentioning names or rank, I remember being on Manhunt one night, and I saw an Army ROTC instructor on it, who was stationed at Norwich and worked there. It was kind of like the same thing. I didn't message him, he didn't message me. It was kind of just like, okay, log off real quick. I remember, at this time I was a work study at the Admissions Office. I used to work at the front desk as a, I want to say receptionist, but I guess, I don't know what the masculine term for that is, but I was there answering the phone and stuff and greeting people when they came in. He came in and he said, "Fontanez, can you help me carry some stuff back?" And, I was like, "No problem, sir," and I carried it back. He sat down and he asked me if I ever heard of this site Manhunt. By this time, I am terrified, my heart is beating, I'm thinking, I'm going to lose my scholarship, and I couldn't pay for Norwich without my Army scholarship. There was no way. And I was like, Sir, I don't think you can ask me that question, and I don't think I can answer that questions. Pretty much citing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and he was like, Okay, that answers my question. He told me, "I just want to let you know that I saw you on the app and clearly I'm gay too." He was like, "Do you plan on having a family one day? Do you want to fall in love and stuff like that?" And I was like, Yeah, I do. He was like, "Okay, you need to not make the military your life then." He was like, because -- In my mind when I look back, I think when he said that, he never envisioned the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, because he had served under it for so long, but he was actually getting out of the Army, so he could be with his significant other and moving away from Vermont. But that was his tip to me, Listen, if you actually want to be happy in life, you want to have a family, you want to have a significant other that you care about and can care about you and you can live your life openly, do your initial service and get out because you can't do it while you are in.
SY: How did you feel after that conversation?
JF: I don't think what he told me really sunk in as much as I was scared out ofmy mind that he knew. Even going through my senior year, thinking about it, the mentality always shocked me how some people just can't envision it any better. Great guy, but he couldn't see it getting any better. He just saw the worst, and I see a bad situation I want to make it better, doesn't mean -- I'm an extremely controversial person at nature. I have no problem, I don't care who you are or what your position is, if you are not doing something right or if I feel like I am being wronged then I'm going to say it. I will try to be political about it, I will be respectful but like, you can threaten me, you can do whatever, it really doesn't matter. I mean, I remember sitting in the office of the Commandant of Cadets and yelling at the top -- We were pretty much yelling at each other and another commandant had to come in and pull him out, but I knew I was right and he knew I was right. He just wasn't willing to admit to me that he knew I was right.
SY: What were you yelling about?
JF: It was about Pride Week. He didn't agree that we should have a Pride Week.He didn't think that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was a big issue. He thought that everyone was fine with it, that society had changed. He quoted that he just got back from a deployment with the National Guard. He was like, We didn't have any issues with people who were gay on the deployment. We actually joked about them being gay and stuff like that. Did you just hear what you said? You just openly admitted that you were making fun of one of your soldiers on a deployment because of who they were. Just because you can joke with them, and maybe they laugh back with you, doesn't make it okay. We just got into the huge aspect of the culture of fear. I mean it was. The aspect of -- It all came about because what we did to fund Pride Week we would go to each department, so we would go to Math and ask, Hey, can you sponsor an event? Like we had in seven days, we had over fourteen events. I want to say we had fifteen or sixteen events. Unprecedented. Some colleges like UVM and Saint Michael's and all the other colleges, they'd never even had anything like that before or to the level that we were having stuff. We had speakers coming in from all over the place, we had the Governor of Vermont come to an event. So we were just trying to get like, Hey, can you sponsor this event? We had a veteran who came in and he talked about how he was in the Navy under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, CID [criminal investigation division] would show up to the gay clubs and literally hunt them down, and he remembered like being in a club and someone coming in warning him and him having to run out the back door. So we got Veteran's Affairs to sponsor that event. We just had all these different things to sponsor, and we were trying to get the Corps of Cadets to sponsor an event. The commandant had a very religious and moral objection to it, not only the club but the lifestyle, so he wasn't willing to sponsor it. I said, "No problem, but at the beginning of every event, we are going to list by name the organizations which support us, and it is going to be very evident that the Corps of Cadets did not. And, he was so upset about that.
SY: He wanted it both ways, huh?
JF: So he was like, You can't put us in the spotlight like that, and I was like,Listen, it's no problem, you can have your morals and beliefs but you need to be willing to publically stand by it. I was like, We will, yet again this is my real controversial part, I am going to put out a press release to everyone from CNN to NPR to -- and I just listed all these different news agencies and they will know that you didn't stand with us. Then it escalated, because it was the mentality like, You are a child, we are the adults and you need to listen to us, and my aspect was like, I am a twenty-two, twenty-three year old tax paying citizen, don't call me a child. It would go on and on from there.
SY: Let's step back for a second, and I wanted to ask you about the day youfound out that Don't Ask, Don't Tell had been repealed, how you felt, and you had a meeting that day, didn't you? December 20th?
JF: Yeah, so what we did was, well, so Congress passed it, as soon as Congressfound out, they lost the majority in the House. They took a vote in December of 20 -- so they took a vote on December, if I remember my history right, 2010, because they knew when January come around, they would lose the majority in the House. So this was literally the last time they could do it. So I remember, I remember joy, but at the same time, fear, because it was, like, now I have no excuse. Like, every excuse now has been removed from me actually being who I was.
So at this point it came -- like, the writing was on the wall. It was, like,listen, we have so much time to actually laying the foundation, if we want to get this club put out. And by this time we start networking, we start calling people. We actually started drafting executive orders to try to lay on the foundation, because, you know, the club just didn't pop up one day. It was pretty much two years in the working of just getting different clauses put into the student government bylaws, which would allow us to do stuff a year down the road that led to the club being successful and stuff like that. So after we knew the club was going to be founded, Don't Ask Don't Tell, the legislation passed 2010, they said they were going to give a year so the military knew how to respond to it. That spring of 2011, the -- so this plays an important role, because I was going up for the regimental commander, I put my name in. And I was one of the top three who was almost going to be regimental commander. And I told myself if I got regimental commander, I could never focus on this fight. I couldn't do both at the same time.
So after I wasn't chosen for regimental commander, I took that as a sign, like,listen, okay, this needs to be your role and your passion for the next year. So I remember sitting down that very afternoon, because I was student government president with President Schneider, and I said, "Hey sir, I want you to know, I want to ask you, what is your -- within six months the appeal's going to be up. What do we plan to do as a university?" And his answer to me was, "Well, we're going to wait to see what guidance the Department of Defense puts out." And I told him, "Sir, I think we're missing a huge opportunity. We've always been the first. We have ROTCs here, we don't have to wait for the Department of Defense." I was, like, "There are students here," you know, without coming out to him, I was, like, "You know, there are students here who are hurting. You know, they're suffering." And he said, "Okay."
So then we went in the -- we had the re-election for student government, and Ididn't win, so at the inauguration of the incoming president, my last act as student government president was to pass an executive order which created the club. So the student bylaws for the student government allows a student government president to recognize a club up to 14 days; they have 14 days before the student body government, like, the Senate, had to pass that club. So there were only 10 days left in the school year. So we announced it that day so that the club would officially exist with full authority of the university throughout the entire summer, so we could strategically plan and set up. We had the full weight of going and saying we're a university club.
So we announced it then, which of course you can imagine being shocked, like,sitting in -- we used to do the inaugurations on the top floor of the Wise Campus Center, so everyone being, like, you know, holding their breath. But then we used the summer to start working with different news agencies and they did different articles about, you know, the first gay club at a military college. We used that time to do a lot of different strategical stuff when it came to planning conferences, and, you know, how are we going to do the club fair, and stuff like that? What type of videos are we going to do? And we came back, and by that time -- we also used that time to, like, lobby our Senators, because, you know, by this time, though they weren't out, there were different elected officials in the student government who were gay, so we knew who they were. And you know, we went up to then, we're, like, listen, this is time for you to actually stand in defense of who you were.
So we lobbied them and we utilized them to lobby their other friends. And by thetime we came back, we had a unanimous vote, not one objection. And then like you said, we met on the same day the appeal ended, we met in the Kreitzberg Library. I was told Dean Mathis was really, really skeptical; she was more scared and more concerned for us than anything. She's, like, "Listen, Josh, if you can get five people there, it'll be a success." We had over 25 individuals there; top officials from the university, civilians, Corps of Cadets, straight, gay, bisexual. And it was just a good time. And people started talking; I mean, I remember one civilian stood up, and she's, like, "I've been at this university four years and I literally thought I was the only person here like me. To walk into this room and know that for four years, I actually wasn't alone; that I had people who were just like me. I had a family here." And she just broke down in tears. And that meeting that day was probably one of the most memorable things in her life, you know? There was such a movement for her. And it just relieved so much weight off of her.
And it was just a stepping stone. That meeting was really the stepping stonebecause we did it in a pu-- and we did. We strategically chose the location. We wanted it to be in a library, you know, demonstrating knowledge. We made sure none of the blinds were closed. We wanted to make sure everyone knew what we were doing. We had a booth at the club fair, so everyone knew when the meeting was. Everyone was welcome. We had a newspaper reporter there, she did a news article on it. So yeah, I mean, it was definitely well thought-out, but it was just a starting point, because that was at the beginning of the year. And like I said, just that year went through the roof. So it was definitely a great starting point.
SY: And yeah, I guess I want to talk about Pride Week, and I want to also talkabout the response to -- what was the response to that first meeting?
JF: So the first meeting wasn't bad. It was kind of, like, real neutral. Becauseour aspect was, we initially started the club of -- so a lot of people had different opinions. So a lot of people said, like, I want to be part of a club. But I'm not ready to be out. So they wanted the club to be held in, like, you know, a secret room where only you would be invited if your friend knew you were gay, or something like that.
SY: Okay, great.
JF: So no one would know. And then we had the aspect which I sided with, whichwe just asked if we struggled a lot with was, hey, this is our first year of the club, it's very controversial, we have to be public.
JF: So it was, like, the aspect of, we still made sure we took precautions tomake sure people who weren't out still had an avenue to come and talk with us. You know, we did some things behind the scene. But we moved our club meetings to the Wise Campus Center, that open -- it was literally a full wall of glass. And we did it purposely during chow hour. So everyone had to walk by and had to see the club happening. You had to see people getting education on -- you know, anti-bullying, anti-harassment, safe sex, the different political movements. How to get involved. You know, we had speakers from different places come in and talk to us and stuff like that. But no one could deny it; no one could say, "I didn't know." No one could say, "Why didn't you tell me?" Or, you know, "If I just knew."
JF: So the responses were mixed, because some people were, like, "Well, you'rethrowing it in my face." You know, I remember we had a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps who was a student there, he was a MECEP [Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program]. And he said at a meeting once, he said, you know, "I have no problem that you're gay. You just need -- the fact that pretty much that I have to see that you're gay, that you throw it in my face, that you make it public."
SY: (inaudible) [00:09:08]. Because it seems like there are a lot of people whosaid that about Pride Week. They were, like, "Well, there's nothing wrong with being gay, but why do they have -- why does it have to be a whole week? Why do they throw it in my face?" So what's your response to that statement?
JF: I guess the best statement is, so we had a Pride Week, so that's one weekout of the year. But we look at all these other weeks that are based around the heterosexual culture. We have Junior Ring Ceremony where you and your date walk under the sword arc, or you have Regimental Ball where you do pretty much the same thing. You dance, and you do this. We have the Winter Carnival, and all these different Valentine's Day, and just event after event after event. And Pride Week wasn't -- the majority of Pride Week wasn't even about just for individuals who identified themselves as being homosexual. A lot of the knowledge behind it was, they were extremely controversial topics no one wanted to talk about. So we have this university full of 18-year-olds, depending on how long you're taking to graduate, 26, 27-year-olds, but who are extremely uncomfortable to talk about safe sex. So we had multiple seminars about safe sex, you know? What it means to actually be responsible and use a condom, and the different apparatuses out there for safe sex, including abstinency, so abstinence. So we covered every base.
We had classes out there about bullying, which is not just an issue that happens-- it wasn't even focused on a heterosexual versus homosexual kind of thing. It was just bullying in general. One of the events was an arts and craft event, which, ironically, was the most attended event. Because oh, I can get free stuff? I can get free food? OK, I'm going to show up. We had a movie about religion accepting all cultures, not just homosexuality, but different religions and different walks of life in a wide spectrum. We had the prom. We had a dance. So, I mean, it was just a wide, wide spectrum of events.
Now, we purposely did say it was going to be a Pride -- because there were, onthe other end of that spectrum, there were different things that dealt directly with the homosexual community. I mean, we definitely were depending on some of the speakers we brought in, such as our veteran speaker, when he spoke about his fear living under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and how his life had changed and stuff like that. But it was that aspect of, one, no one had to attend any of the events. None of these events were mandatory at all. It wasn't any Corps of Cadets, you know, we have to do an afternoon training event where we march the entire Corps of Cadets down and they have to sit down and they have to listen about how difficult their life is going to be now that they have to treat everyone equally and with some dignity, no matter who they love.
You know, they weren't giving up their Saturday afternoon to march down to thefootball field to sit and watch a drag show, or something like that. There were options. And I think more importantly, at least to me that spoke was, you know, the university -- and I'm sure it will always maintain this line -- that it never did anything to prevent an individual from being gay, but they never took steps and they never gave options for individuals who were gay. There were no options. And that's what we gave during Pride Week, was a unified effort to show that there were so many options. But at the same time, no matter if you were gay or straight, there are a lot of things that affect us all, like, bullying, alcoholism, depression, safe sex. Those go across it. So a lot of individuals just took it back and were like, OK, I don't need to go to these events, because I'm not gay. And some people didn't even show up who wanted to show up because they were so afraid. You know, the university had meetings after meetings about what happens if protestors show up? What happens if there's violence? What happens if someone gets jumped? You know, anything like this. But --
SY: Did the university make any effort to keep people safe who were coming out?
JF: I mean, they did. I got a lot of threats. Both my junior and senior year, Ihad a camera outside my door, my dorm room door, because I'd get threats. People would slide letters under my door or send me emails or Facebook messages, or cut things, you know, because we used to have our schedules, our door cards, and they'd cut it up, or they would throw trash at my door and stuff like that. Or, like, throw the entire --
SY: How did you make sense of that, and how did that make you feel about Norwich?
JF: It made me feel like I was doing something right. I mean, if people don'tact out -- I mean, there's always resistance. You look throughout history, I mean, there's always going to be resistance to change, right? If I was doing something right -- if I wasn't doing something right, I'd probably be the most popular kid on campus. If I just went with the flow, you know, I disputed the lines of traditions, and this is how the old Corps was, and this and that, I'd probably be the most popular person in the world. Anytime anyone ever did something like that, it just motivated me. I knew I was doing something right.
SY: And how did you feel, you know, how this fit into the idea of the citizensoldier? How did you feel like you fit into their idea?
JF: I mean, it's the aspect of, you know, what is citizenship? Unfortunately, Ithink a lot of the Corps of Cadets focus on the soldier aspect more than they focus on the citizenship aspect. And it makes me funny, because it's, like, okay, yeah, we're soldiers. But then sometimes it's like we're soldiers until it comes to discipline and, say, physical fitness. Because, like, you know, people talk about, like, you know, there's the alcohol policy on campus. So yeah, I'm a soldier, but then when it comes to following the rules, it's, like, well, I'm a college student, you know, don't get too crazy with that soldier stuff.
And then it's, like, you know, well, physical fitness, which is one of thepillars for the university. And it's, like, well, at the same time, I'm a college student. Like, this is the time I'm supposed to live and stuff like that. Well, to be a soldier, you need to be physically fit. So we focused a lot on the soldier part, like, wearing the uniform, training the freshmen, you know, the rank structure, the saluting and whatnot, which are great; great disciplines, great lessons for life, no matter if you go military or civilian, it's a great foundation. And a lot of aspects, we do forget about the citizenship aspect, in my opinion, and we don't focus on it a lot.
And I think that is the constant struggle between the academic professionals atthe college and the Corps of Cadets in the Commandant's office at the university. Because I think one of the things that really made me the person I am is my education, is having professors, like Professor Miana and Professor, you know, Dr. Newton, who taught me so much in life. And definitely Dr. Newton, when it came to just politics in general, and being who you are, and the ability to articulate what you mean in an effective way, but at the same time being strategic.
And there's always butting the heads, and I think they really do butt heads alot, because you have, you know, well, what's more important? Sergeant's time training or actually doing your academic work? What's more important? You know, that parade we do on Friday, or making sure that our students go to an extra study hall session? And there's that constant thing.
But at the same time, I mean, even citizenship on the aspect of -- you know, Iused to tell when I was battalion sergeant major, I used to tell my NCOs, I would, like, listen, got it. You have sergeant's time training. Now, what's going to do your cadet more -- prepare them better for life? Are you going to sit there and have them remember all these dates in the Rook Book and in two years, they're not going to remember a single thing, because upper classmen aren't required to remember that? Or is it more important to understand, like, you know, at least 30 of your cadets are going to raise their hand and promise to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States. Have they ever even read the Constitution? Other than the first amendments in our Bill of Rights, and most of them probably couldn't even tell you all of them, you know, could they even tell me what the Constitution had in it? What does Article 1 cover? What does Article 2 cover? You know, which one's more important? There was always the mentality, well, this is how we did it when I was a freshman. This is how my father used to do it when he was here as a cadet.
And we really do, we do miss the citizenship -- and through that whole struggleof founding the club and Pride Week, and all the fallout and stuff like that, and the strategic planning over years, you know, I used to sit down with Dean Mathis, and I would sit down with her at least three to four times a week, if not daily, depending on the week. And I used to sit down with her, and my line to her would be, it's, like, "Dean," you know, "I sit back and I really do wonder, you know, if Captain Alden Partridge was here today, would he be proud of what he saw?"
SY: What do you think he would say? And what do you think he would be and whatdo you think he wouldn't?
JF: I think on the aspects of us as a university, I think we have some greatvalues. I think we have some great foundations. I think we've put out some great leaders. I think that's what he would be proud of. I think he would be proud of the tradition, and the university still being there. You know, the university does have a very high academic standard, and it does. Every time Dr. Kelly would sit down with us and he said, there's no reason why our retention rate, academically, shouldn't be higher, and that's what we need to strive for. And the Corps of Cadets, even from my freshman year to my senior year, the focus on academics was improved greatly. And they do, they put out some great, great leaders throughout the world.
But I think it would be -- he would be ashamed on -- for an individual whofought so hard to have women go to college, you know, you look at the archives, or you hear President Schneider talk about the archives, and how hard he tried to get women to come to college, to see professionals in that college discriminate against individuals for whatever reason. Or for the mentality of -- you know, our college was founded on the mentality that he left West Point because he didn't like that, the mentality, the leaders could only come from that one avenue, that we weren't putting out civilian leaders simultaneously. To see such closed-mindedness. And that's what I used to tell them. I'm, like, listen, our college is great, because we are the first. The first Corps of Cadets to have women, the first Corps of Cadets to allow African American. These were extremely controversial things in the time. So why wouldn't' we want to be the first to have an open LGBT organization on college? You know, that is where I feel he would kind of shake his head, and say hey, what's happened? You know?
And trying not to get so political, but a huge feedback we got was, do all theAARs [after action reports], because you can imagine Pride Week went up to the board of directors and back down, everyone did an AAR. And a lot of it had to do about the alumni and the funding, and the threats that came from funding from alumni.
SY: I'm glad you said that because it looks like nationally, Norwich's PrideWeek got a ton of incredibly positive attention in the press.
SY: And within Norwich and some of the alumni it was, pardon my language, a shitstorm. So what happened after the club fallout?
JF: Well, here's what -- I mean, simultaneously, like, even when Pride Week washappening, I used to get Facebook messages from alumni all the time. And they'd be, like, "Hey, you're destroying the university," you know, "You need to put a stop to this right now," and all this other kind of stuff. But the ball was rolling. So Pride Week wasn't just like a random event, right? We didn't just randomly say, OK, this week we're doing it. Like, over in January, we got approval from President Schneider to hold the event, like we had a full outline, we went to General Kelly, we went to President Schneider, we had a full event. They approved it all. Got funding. Now, our shield, on the strategic aspect was, we got two sitting Congressman, a sitting Senator and the Governor of the State to all support us. So President Schneider couldn't back out of it by this time. And then we got CNN, MSNBC, NPR and stuff like that to also do articles on it. So it was happening. And we purposely did it that way, and strategically did it that way, that no matter what type of pressure we got, it was going to happen.
But they didn't tell the alumni. And that's something they personally take blamefor; we didn't tell the alumni. But I remember sitting down -- I'm trying to remember his name, unless it's Dave Whaley? Dave -- no. I'm trying to remember who's the Head of Alumni Relations. But I remember -- I can't remember his name now. But I remember him saying -- I want to say this was right at the end of Pride Week when we were doing all the AARs, and then we knew it was just -- I mean, the president had to go and put out a video because people were threatening not to come to Alumni Weekend; people were threatening not to donate, and it was crazy. But he -- I remember the Head of the Alumni Relations said, "It's not the fact that you had the event, or that it was a gay event. It's the fact that you did it too soon."
And pretty much what he was telling us was, "We're not telling you not to begay. But the alumni aren't ready for you to be gay and the alumni aren't ready for a club like this. And because the alumni aren't ready, you shouldn't do this event." And he gave me a metaphor about a highway, like yeah, "We all have to travel on the same highway, and you guys just came out of the exit without thinking about the consequences, so quickly. And you cut off the vehicle in front of you and it caused this huge wreck." And my response to him was, "Well, sir, I remember a couple of years ago we had the second in the hundred-something year our university has existed, second female cadet Colonel. And that individual got a lot of hassle as well." And I was like, "The alumni were not ready for that." I was like, "The alumni -- she got so much harassment, I remember her very first meeting as a cadet Colonel, she said, 'I only think I got this position because I am a woman.' And the room went quiet. And I stood there in shock, I don't believe she just said this." So I told him, I was like, "I will not allow you sit here and put these people back in the closet because the alumni aren't ready for them. This is their life." Yet again, this is on the top floor, right outside the president's office, top floor, and I said, "I will not allow you to do that. They have their lives." I was like, "You cannot tell a 19-year-old to go back in because someone he's never met before isn't comfortable that he's gay at a university they attended 20, 30 years ago." I was like, "That is completely inappropriate." And yet again, I was like, "We are not living up to our values." You know, and we used to sit there when we did events and stuff like that, we'd list the different values of the university. We'd list down, this event is covering this value, you know? To not just act, but also to think, and things like that. But yeah, I mean it was --
SY: It was really pretty brilliant.
JF: So yeah, I mean, it took a while. I mean, I always used to tell Dean MathisI find it funny that Norwich gave me the education to eventually cause them all this problem, all these problems.
SY: Yes, that's right.
JF: Because a lot of it did come from the academics that I learned from Norwich.I mean, at the least, they can at least know they were very successful in educating their student body. And knowledge is power, which yet again, they should be very proud of. But yeah, but I mean, so another result of it was, yet again, they waited until I graduated, because they knew if I was still there it wouldn't happen. But they literally waited until after I graduated, and President Schneider announced that the following year they wouldn't be holding a Pride event, that he felt -- pretty much he said it caused too much hassle, like no club should have so much attention on them because it's not fair to the other clubs. Though, you know, yet again if I was still at the university, it would have been -- I gave the students who were still there some tips and came back for Alumni Weekend and had some very nice conversations. But they waited until I was out the door to make that announcement, and they did that purposely.
SY: And there hasn't been a Pride Week since?
JF: There hasn't, no. The club still meets, they'll actually be meeting today --today's Thurs-- no. No, they actually do have a -- I'm trying to remember if I just saw the Facebook -- they're meeting Thursday. So they still meet on Thursday.
SY: I'm going to interview Meche when we actually can line up our schedules. Buthe told me it seems like there's -- he's really upset that the club's losing momentum.
JF: Yeah, it is. I mean, so for a club like this, it takes a really, really,really strong -- it takes a strong leader, because you have to be willing to be controv-- as much as I hate to say it, you have to be willing to be controversial. You have to be willing to stretch the limits. You have to be willing to say, hey, this isn't right. And yet again, some people, they really do get tied up on rank, right? Like, okay, the cadet -- the Commandant is a Colonel in the Vermont State Militia, I can never question that authority. I respect the authority, I'm not going to be disrespectful. But at a certain point, there's a lot of different avenues where I can question it if it's not being conducive to my life or to my education.
SY: That's where I think the whole civilian soldier thing is interesting,because it seems like one side of Norwich teaches you to follow orders. And another side of Norwich teaches you critical thinking. And those two sometimes collide, right?
JF: Oh, they do, yes. Very much so.
SY: Yes. And so I guess in your time since Norwich, how do you think this, whatyou learned in Norwich, which, in some ways, is how to push to sort of improve and change a military system? How has it served you since you've left?
JF: It served me pretty well, I mean, as soon as I graduated, I got some goodnews. We got invited to the White House. So we were able to go to the White House for a social there. I mean, it was -- I thought it was kind of, like, I was like, I thought it was kind of a hoax, because I started getting some hate mail sent to my home address and then I got a letter, big card stock, saying, you know, from the White House. I'm like okay, this is kind of random. And yeah, it was an invite, like you know, we're having the first national LGBT Social at the White House, we would like you and a guest to attend. I'm like, no! And then I got an email, you know, from the head, like yeah, we need all this information because Secret Service has to do a background check on you. And I was like, okay, I was like, great! I was like -- so I contacted a really good friend of mine, Sue [Follen?], she's a former Captain, she's a West Point grad, she's really involved at West Point. I was like, "Hey Sue, I'm going to the White House. Can I wear my uniform?" And she says, "Yes." She's like, "Because you know, if it's at the White House, it's not a political event, so you can still wear your uniform." We had JAG look into it, that was great. Perfect. So you know, brand new Second Lieutenant, and I got my dress blues on, I invited Rob Morris who's a Navy pilot now, straight ally, one of our best. He was actually our Coordinator of Allies for the club. I said, "Come on, man, you definitely deserve this." He came, great. We met people from -- there was a bunch of military people there we met. We got to witness the first same-sex engagement proposal at the White House.
SY: That's neat.
JF: Yeah. We got tons of pictures, like, we went in the China Room, we went inthe First Lady's room, the Lincoln Room, the Green Room, just taking pictures, all that kind of stuff. And President Obama came out and gave a speech. Came up, you know, we were in uniforms, so he came and shook our hands, he thanked us for our service. But, I mean, we just met people, I mean, we met authors for NCIS from California, to lobbyists, the director of the -- I don't know his official title, but he's, like, the advisor to the president when it comes to the AIDS epidemic, both in the United States and worldwide. So we got to meet with him and talked with him, and just made great connections. So that was a great experience.
But from there there's a national organization called OutServe-SLDN[OutServe-Servicemember Legal Defense Network], so it's an international organization that represents LGBT soldiers and veterans. So we have -- there's organizations and there's clubs, chapters. Anywhere there's a military base. So every state has a chapter. We have chapters in Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, England, anywhere where there's a military presence, there's a chapter. So I met with them and I started getting involved with them. And then just about a year ago, I got invited to serve on the board of directors. So at 24 years old, I sit on the board of directors of an international nonprofit organization. We work with the White House, with Congress, the Pentagon, State legislatures, of course other nonprofits, like HRC and stuff like that. So I get invited to different events all the time, depending on my travel and stuff like that, I get to make some of them. But we get invited to the Pentagon from time to time. But now we're actually working on -- because even with the repeal in place, there is no discrimination law protecting LGBT soldiers. So you can serve openly, but you can still legally be discriminated against, and nothing can happen to the person who's discriminating against you. So we're actually, as an organization, we're working with Congress and different DOD individuals to actually get in the EO policy LGBT. So one of the things that just happened was in July, I want to say, if I'm remembering my data properly, Secretary Hagel signed -- added LGBT into the Military Human Rights Charter, which is the first step to getting the LGBT, or LGB since they still don't identify transgender as service members --
SY: (inaudible) [00:34:04] in there, yeah.
JF: Yeah, into the EO policy.
SY: That's (inaudible) [00:34:07], right?
JF: Yeah. So, I mean, it's helped me a lot, working out like I'm just -- I mean,I'm about to go down to Austin in a little bit to -- in a little bit -- but in a couple of days to start working and volunteering with HRC, now that my training is a little bit more steady. So it's been good. It definitely gave me the education, the foundation, the courage, the drive to do what I need to do to meet my goals and passions.
SY: So I just want a couple more questions, and then you must be exhausted(inaudible) [00:34:44]. So first of all, I bet there were some gay alumni who contacted you, right? I would imagine that you've had positive encounters from alumni?
JF: Yes. Yes, I mean one of the most positive -- so when the news first brokeout that we were going to have a Pride event, I remember one of my first messages I received was from a Board of Fellows, and she contacted me, and she was, like, "I want to start off with letting you know I'm extremely proud of you. Extremely proud to call myself a Norwich alum this day." She was, like, "I also want to warn you, though, that you're about to go through some hell." She says, you know, "Through this, I just want to let you know that I want you to stay strong. If you ever need someone to talk to, let me know. And I'll be there to help you, whether it's through a phone call," or, you know. And then we had just this past -- I want to say it was just this past Alumni Weekend, this past one that we just passed, or maybe it was the one before that. A transgender Corps of Cadets member contacted me. So when she went through the Corps of Cadets, she was a he, and she just got interjected into the old guard. So she's saying, like, "I'm extremely proud of you guys," you know, "I'm going to this huge" -- it's going to be, I mean, 70-something going into the old guard as a female, but went through the Corps of Cadets as a male --
SY: This is Georgia?
SY: Yeah, I mean, I did interview her. I did.
JF: Yeah. You know, so she contacted us. What was another really positive one?Even more recently, I had positive one. I was at the HRC dinner in DC, so thousands of individuals. And they hold it at the conference center there in DC. And this guy comes up to me, he says, "You're Joshua Fontanez, right?" And you know, by this time, I'm still in my dress uniform, this was -- oh, when was this? This was recently. This was, like, this was in September of this year, so years after this all happened. So I'm like, "Yeah." He's like, "I'm on the Board of Fellows at Norwich." He's like, "I just want to let you know that even though it happened years ago, I still remember when the articles first came out. I'm extremely proud of you still. Keep up the good work. Keep in contact," like he handed me his business card. So yeah, we got a lot of positive support. And that was definitely one of the things we talked about, you know, when we talk about it strategically, is how do we get more alumni involved when it comes to the positive aspect? And unfortunately, it was, like, yeah, of course we have a lot of pressure when it comes to alumni not liking organizations like this, or liking a movement like this or liking events like this, and they have financial influence to try to slow it down or stop it. So how do we find the alumni who actually have the money to push it along and stuff like that?
SY: Well, one of the largest donors we have right now is Jennifer Pritzker.
SY: So, I mean, you know, there's some hope in that direction, I would think. Interms of the LGBTQ.
JF: Yes, because I remember, I think the Pritzker fund, the donations actuallywent up from -- that was, like, one of the things -- I think that was one of the things that really did save us, is their donations went up as this club got more notice. And that was one of the things that we were told. So that was definitely a saving grace in that aspect.
SY: Yeah. And she gives millions of dollars to the university.
SY: Another question I have, and this is, like, me putting my academic historianhat on, and like, we both know that, like, Norwich's gay history when, like, you know, your club had its first couple of meeting on September 20th, right?
SY: And I wonder if there is any way to sort of capture some of these stories ofthe, like, many, many closeted years of Norwich's history. So if you can think of any alum who are up to talking with me about their experiences when they were here in classes, decades, you know, in the decades before this, that would be great.
JF: Yeah, definitely. And I --
SY: And have you heard any stories? Have you heard any stories that you can tell?
JF: I haven't heard a lot of stories, so my stories have always been, like,second-hand stories, so, like, definitely to get the names of the individuals you want to talk to, the two people I would say talking to is Dean Mathis, because, I mean, she was there when it was still two colleges, you know, when we had the off-campus civilian college. And she tells stories all the time about students coming up to her, begging her for a club like this, and her always telling them, I mean, and this was the one thing she always regrets, is she used to tell them, like, "Listen, I'm scared for you." Like, "It's not that I wouldn't support you, that I don't think the university needs it," she goes, "I don't think I could protect you." You know, "I think you would physically be assaulted," or, you know. And that would be her advice to them, it's, like, not that I don't want to support you, but my advice to you is to stay safe, and I don't think you can safely do this. So she could probably give you some good names, I mean some really good names.
And at the same time, President Schneider. Because President Schneider use totell, I don't know, I forget the alumni, but he used to tell me, "We have an alumni who works in the Pentagon who used to, I want to say he used to be in the Navy, and now he's just a civilian contractor in the Pentagon. So he'll bring interns in and stuff like that, and they'll work for him for a couple of months, and at the end, he'll tell them, like, 'Hey listen, it really doesn't affect your internship, but I want you to know that I'm gay, and that we worked together for this entire time. So now that you go through your life, you know that, one, there are successful gay people out there, and we're just like everyone else.'" And then I think the alumni -- I don't know if you've been -- I'm sure you have been -- in the main building, is it Jackson? Jackman. It's only been a couple of years, I'm already forgetting -- my memory -- so Jackman Hall, they have the long Corps of Cadets pictures, where they used to put the whole Corps of Cadets and they have the long ones, I guess the photographer, whoever used to be the regimental photographer for that, who actually came up with the idea to do the photograph like that is gay, and is open. I can't remember his name, President Schneider used to mention him from time to time in our meetings, when we had our one-on-one meetings together.
So those are two individuals I would say definitely sit down with and talk,because they can give you, like, 10, 15 years ago, you know -- I can tell you a couple when --
SY: I'd love to get 40 years ago.
SY: You know? I would love to do that. But I, you know, and this is the problem,of trying to turn over a queer history, and it's hard to do. But, you know, it would be great if I could get somebody from the '50s or the '60s to talk. But I don't think that'll happen, sadly.
JF: I mean, with timing, Alumni Weekend, or as you hit up one alumni, maybe theygive you a couple other names. I mean --
SY: Yeah, yeah.
JF: There's definitely that domino effect out there.
SY: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. All right, so I'm just wondering, my last question, anyother people I should talk to? Any other students that were active with you at the time who you feel would want to be interviewed?
JF: So right now, and she just got back from her study abroad from China, Rickie[Feitner?]. If you try to look up her Norwich email, her real first name is Rebecca, but everyone calls her "Rickie." She was extremely, extremely active. She was a freshman my senior year. Extremely passionate. Dr. Newman is an individual I'd talk to. She currently doesn't work at the university, she works in Delaware. The head of the Civic Center --
SY: Oh, yeah, I've already met with her.
JF: OK. Perfect. Nicole.
JF: Yeah, Nicole. Who else? The -- Dr. Kelly. He's --
SY: Dr. Kelly, oh, yes?
JF: Because he's in the engineer department now, if I'm tracking correctly, still.
SY: Yeah, no, he is. He's still here. Was he very supportive?
JF: Yeah, I mean, he was. Because he was always that father figure, like, he wasvery -- oh. He always had that aspect of, like, he knew -- it's not necessarily like he agreed with the lifestyle, but he knew it was the right thing to do. And he used to have this story about, like, you know, I don't know if it was his sister-in-law, but she had a wife. And he said, "I've never seen two people ever show so much love for each other or so much care for each other, than these two."
SY: I think it's his cousin.
JF: It's his cousin?
SY: She's (inaudible) [00:43:51].
JF: OK. So yeah, he used to have a family member, and he used to tell that story.
JF: But him and his wife showed up to the prom that night, and he said, like,you know, "In all my years here in Norwich, it's the first time I ever saw two same-sex individuals actually dance together, with each other. And they didn't care that I was watching." As a Commandant, or head of Student Affairs at the time, you know, one of the top officials, you know, for the university. I mean, he was extremely, extremely supportive. He was always one who never spoke quickly. He used to think before he spoke. You could just look at his face, and you know he was thinking. He always took that time to think before he spoke, which unfortunately, in society today is a lost art. I'm trying to think of other students, I mean, I can email you a list of other students.
SY: Yeah, why don't you email me, just when you think about it.
JF: Yeah. I mean, I can get you a list, but I want to give you full names. Ialready have, like, four or five people in my head, like, both allies and individuals who identified as either being gay or lesbian. I'm actually thinking of people who were on both sides of the issues, because I definitely want to have a full 360 of the event and the issues, and stuff like that. I mean, it was. There were some individuals who were gay who didn't agree with the club, or who didn't agree with the movement, and who were very content on being in the closet and this being an issue that was never brought up. So I think they definitely deserve to be heard as well.
SY: And I really do think, you know, 20, 30 years from now it will be, somehistorian is going to go into the archives and be, like, look at this moment on this military campus, right? Look at the controversies, right? So the more people I can talk to who can speak to the issue and all the complexities about it.
JF: Yeah, and definitely on the historical aspect, I said, like, I'm sure youhave or you will talk to President Schneider, because I remember he got a call from VMI. And the four-star there pretty much called him and said, "Listen, I have -- because of your college having this club founded, students want to found one at my college. And I have no clue on how to react to this. How did you deal with this?" I got an email from a girl in Taiwan who wanted to know how we could help them found their club. We mentored both the West Point and the Air Force Academy with getting their clubs started. We sent students down to a private school in Massachusetts to do lectures with them on how to be supportive of LGBT students, and stuff like that. So the scope of just how much instantaneous in one year we affected multiple universities and high schools and stuff like that was astounding.
SY: Yeah, it's pretty amazing. Do you think you to some degree you shifted theculture of the university too? Maybe not even in terms of gay issues, but in terms of (inaudible) [00:46:44].
JF: I think so. I think, I mean, it made people -- it called a lot of people outon an issue. Because, I mean, a lot of people, I would say the cultural aspect undoubtedly, because I remember everyone used to be, like, you know, in public, because you know, it's taboo to be, like, oh, "I hate" -- to openly say, like, "I hate a gay student." No one would openly say that and keep their job. And I remember Dr. Kelly got every faculty member -- so not the academic staff, but all the other faculty. So all the Commandants, all the Sergeant Majors, all the support staff, and he brought them down to the Milano Ballroom and had a meeting. And afterwards, I went to Dean Mathis, and went, "How was this meeting?" She's like, "Josh," she's like, "You don't believe the beehive you just smacked." She's like, "An individual who I literally work" -- because her office was combined with one of the Commandants' office, because they were redoing his office. She's like, "He sits there every day, sees you come in and talk to me about this club and about your movements, and about this stuff." She's like, "He is probably one of your least supporters." She said, "Behind closed doors, he doesn't believe this club should exist, he doesn't believe in your lifestyle, he doesn't believe in what you do." And she said, "Let me tell you this right now." She's like, "General Kelly put them all on notice." She was like, "That meeting officially was their official warning to HR. If they do anything" -- because the big mentality really was, their concern was that a Commandant would turn their back. Like, say, like hypothetically, I was getting jumped or something like that, that they would turn their back and not do anything about it. Or, like of an event happened and a Commandant -- because if the Commandants had to be on duty during these events, like if they had to show up, that was their biggest fear, is, like, if they would see something happening or know something was going to happen and not do anything about it. Which is kind of a shame to say if, you know, a 40, 50-year-old adult who the majority of them had prior military service.
JF: But he put them all on notice that day. And I mean, it's the mentality, thiswas our faculty and staff. It was like, now you -- it wasn't even the student body, you know, LGBT members were scared of. It was their own professors, their on Commandants, their own mentors, you know? I think we destroyed a big culture of fear. We definitely established that students can make a change, and students can question and still be successful. But yeah, a lot of stuff when it came to bullying, when it came to acceptance, I mean -- and I always find it funny, because some of our individuals who were completely against us in the gay community would have never came out unless there was this controversy. It was, like, some of these individuals who were, like, "Oh, I know you've been gay for a year," or two years or three years. "You never had plans on coming out, not until this" -- "I don't even care if you were against us," I was like, "But you came out." So I'll take that as a win, because I know you may not thank me now, but in five years when you find your significant other and you're extremely happy, you know, you're going to thank me for that, 'Hey listen, four years ago I came out,' you may regret why you came out, or the stance you took when you came out. But you're out." So it's like, I'll take --
SY: People evolve, right --
SY: I mean they feel when they first come out, it's better than when-- Here'swhere they (inaudible) [00:50:15], I'm sure they changed their mind.
JF: Oh, like I said, I have complete empathy, because I know, I was in theirshoes. Like I said, I was in high school making fun of individuals who were out. So, I can -- I never held that against them, because I knew the process of what I went through when I came out. And I knew the process, I know the fear, I knew the pain. I knew the loneliness that can be there and the reaction of human nature, I want to be -- you know, if it was cool, if it was okay and accepted, you wouldn't be a minority, you know? People don't make fun of the majority of people, you know? So therefore, you want to be in the majority, you want to be the accepted person. You want to be the cool side of the lunchroom, or whatever. So you naturally migrate towards them. And unfortunately, unless you have individuals who constantly remind you or keep you accountable, you do give up some of the aspects of who you are, or what you believe in, to assimilate to that culture.
SY: Yeah. Did you get physically attacked at any point? Or just a lot of threats?
JF: Oh no, just a lot of -- I was a big muscular guy, I mean, I could --
JF: I could handle myself.
SY: [That's good?].
JF: No, like, and I was never fear -- I mean, there were, I mean, like I said,there were definitely some staff members who were extremely afraid that, you know, that I would be beaten up, or if, you know -- I was told never to walk around, like, at night, you know, alone. They had the cameras outside my room and all this other kind of stuff. But I never had fear, I mean my mentality in life has always been, like, I'm destined for greater things than being beat up, or pushed down some stairs, or something like that. I'm, like, you know, that was never a fear of mine.
SY: I don't know if I have any more questions, any last things to add? Wecovered a lot.
JF: I think we did. I mean, it's definitely -- I enjoyed it.
SY: You enjoyed the interview, or just other --
JF: Oh, I enjoyed Norwich, I enjoyed the interview, I enjoyed the events, I mean --
SY: So you did this, yeah, and that's what's going to be great, that you reallydid enjoy Norwich. Even through all of this, how do you feel -- I guess that's it. How do you feel now when you reflect upon your four years at Norwich?
JF: Oh, I'm extremely proud of -- I mean, I would go back again. People tell meall the time, like, I mean, I have a lot of coworkers from all the different military colleges, whether it's Citadel, VMI, West Point. I think I'm the only one who says, like, yeah, I'd go back and do it in a heartbeat again. Absolutely. Met a lot of people.
I don't know, maybe it's just my first -- because I'm not sure, I met somepeople from Norwich who said, like, "No, I'd never go back," I mean, between the knowledge I gained there, the connections I gained, the friendships I gained, you know, the high-speed pace that was between, like, okay, have to balance classes. I mean, I literally would leave my room at 6:00 in the morning for PT and usually not get back until 8:00 at night, just because between classes, meetings, sitting in the board of director's office, with President Schneider, and you know, all the Commandants, and voicing the opinions of the student body, whether it was through student government or the Corps leadership, or working with volunteer organizations, through Nicole's office, or working with Greg and student activities. I mean, I loved it. It offered so much. That's why it was shocking when people say, like, "Oh, I'm bored at Norwich," or, "There's nothing to do." I'm like, "There's absolutely an amazing amount. Norwich gives you the potential to be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do. You just have to be willing to actually tap into that potential, tap into the resources that are there, utilize them properly." And I mean, what you can do, where you can go is unlimited. And some places don't give you that opportunity. And, I mean, Norwich gave me the opportunity, and I feel that I utilized it to the best of my ability.
SY: Well, that seems like a good place to end. Thank you for talking today.
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