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Published: Tuesday, 8/31/2010

Hometown Findlay disappoints gay student following resignation

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY - Army cadet and Findlay High School graduate Katie Miller dropped a bombshell this month when she announced that she is lesbian and would resign from the U.S. Military Academy because she could no longer conform to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Her resignation letter quickly gained national media attention after it appeared on a Web site of an organization of gay and lesbian West Point alumni.

On Aug. 11, Ms. Miller appeared in uniform for a televised interview on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, telling the host - herself a lesbian - that the emotional, mental, and social toll of hiding her sexual identity had become too great. Two days later, the story hit her hometown newspapers.

As she now prepares for a life outside the military at Yale University, where she is a transfer student, Ms. Miller said that she feels the reaction to her coming out as a lesbian and leaving West Point has been largely positive - with the notable exception of Findlay.

"I was shocked that I didn't receive more support than that from my hometown," Ms. Miller, 20, a 2008 Findlay High School graduate, said in a recent phone interview. "I think the Findlay area has been especially harsh on me - just really wary of what my intentions were."

She continued, "These are the people I spent most of my childhood growing up with … so I was hoping that Findlay would be able to accept me as one of their own and to support me in this. But I ended up getting some of my toughest critics from my hometown, and that personally disturbed me."

The daughter of Lisa Miller and Bob Miller of Findlay, Katie Miller has not returned home since the news broke. Back in high school, Ms. Miller was mostly closeted about her sexuality, with only her mother and some close friends knowing of her secret and that she had a girlfriend.

"I got a phone call about 40 minutes before she was on Rachel Maddow. That's how I found out," her twin brother, Thomas, said last week about a telephone call he got from his mother.

Ms. Miller's sense of a lack of hometown support drew largely from the reader comments to Aug. 13 news stories that appeared on the Web sites of local newspapers.

Opinions were divided on Ms. Miller's decision to out herself and leave West Point.

She had some strong supporters, but many of the anonymous comments were biting.

The negative ones tended to fault Ms. Miller for having even applied to West Point knowing that she would be up against the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding homosexuality. A few expressed outright disgust for gay people.

Ms. Miller submitted her resignation just days before she would have signed a commitment to finish her last two years and serve five years in the Army. Cadets who sign but then drop out can be responsible for paying back the monetary value of their education.

"She knew what the rules were when she accepted the appointment, and now to stick the government with the tab for the first two years of college is just wrong," wrote one commenter under the name "J."

Yet Ms. Miller is hardly alone in exiting West Point after two years. Of the approximately 1,300 cadets admitted to the academy each year, about 20 percent leave before graduation, most voluntarily, said Lt. Col. Brian Tribus, director of public affairs and communications.

Mr. Tribus said he knew of no other cadet who has cited "don't ask, don't tell" as a reason for dropping out.

In sidewalk interviews last week in downtown Findlay, several residents said they hadn't followed Ms. Miller's story but are supportive of her. Most agreed that their city is more socially conservative than Ohio's urban centers.

"I know the Bible does speak against homosexuality, but it doesn't speak against the person," resident Melissa Gertz, 44, said. "I don't believe you throw people out when something happens. You embrace them."

Lifelong Findlay resident Bill Frack, 75, who served in the Army in the mid-1950s, said he read about Ms. Miller's decision in the newspaper and wasn't bothered by it as some online commenters were.

"She apparently is very bright. I feel bad [she is leaving West Point] because she is obviously a good cadet. I'm sure she will do well at Yale," Mr. Frack said.

Ms. Miller said she has always wanted to have a positive impact on her hometown. "Hopefully I have inspired at least the people there that knew me before this and don't think that I'm a total crook," she said.

By all accounts, Ms. Miller was well known in Findlay for her academic and athletic success, and as one of the few female students who chose to attend a military academy. About 15 percent of West Point's cadets are female.

"She was a wonderful student, talented athlete, involved in a lot of different sports but predominantly softball," said Craig Kupferberg, the principal of Findlay High School during Ms. Miller's years and now the district's assistant superintendent.

"In reading the article in the Courier, I think the silver lining for me was her high academic achievement. She was very successful at Findlay High School, but she seemed even more successful at West Point," he said.

Ms. Miller was ranked 17th in her West Point class of more than 1,000. She said she maintained a 3.8 GPA and would regularly "super max" the Army Physical Fitness Test of push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run.

She was initially on track to major in chemical engineering her first year, but said she settled on sociology because she wanted to study and write about the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The policy, adopted in 1993, bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this year that they supported a repeal. In May, the House of Representatives approved an amendment that could end the policy.

Among those voting no was U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana), who had nominated Ms. Miller for the academy two years ago.

At 16 Ms. Miller became enthralled with West Point after receiving a school brochure in the mail. She considered other service academies but stuck with West Point because "they were the hardest academically, physically, and militarily compared to the other schools."

She wasn't the first of her family to go into the military. Her father is a master sergeant in the Army who has done two tours in Iraq, she said.

Even in high school, West Point was a reason for Ms. Miller to conceal her true sexuality, "not necessarily because I wanted to be [closeted] but because I knew the profession I was entering."

Ms. Miller said she entered the academy believing that she could keep her sexual identity a secret because she wanted so badly to be there. But midway through her second year, she realized that she could no longer ignore her self-discovery.

"You can't reverse personal progress and the self-awareness that you gain," she said.

Early this year she submitted transfer applications to several colleges, and wrote her essays about her personal struggle with "don't ask, don't tell." She eventually chose Yale's offer over one from Stanford.

Although Yale carries a reputation for being the "Gay Ivy" of the Ivy League, Ms. Miller said she chose the school as much for the prominence of its graduates as its accepting campus culture.

Ms. Miller said she hopes to apply to transfer back to West Point if "don't ask, don't tell" is repealed. Until then, she intends to be politically active at Yale to help end the policy.

Her twin brother, who lives in Findlay, said most people he knows have been supportive of his sister since the news broke, especially the younger generations.

"No matter what her sexual orientation is, she's still my sister and I still love her," he said.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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